Money-making operations of Mexican mafia in Los Angeles County jail

Authorities were listening when Ramon Amaya called his wife from Pomona City Jail.

Amaya, a gang member nicknamed “Happy,” said on a taped line that he hoped a judge would not release him until he was sent to the county’s main jail in downtown Los Angeles.

“I’m going to tell the judge, ‘F—you, keep me,'” Amaya said, adding that he would “spit in his face” to ensure he was detained.

He complained about the “nasty” macaroni he ate in prison. “I should stop eating,” he said to his wife, “because I’m going to have to—.”

For authorities investigating the prison’s drug trade, Amaya’s words make sense.

After getting his wish to be transferred to the Men’s Central Prison, Amaya was caught smuggling around 2 grams of heroin and 7 grams of methamphetamine. An FBI agent testified that the inmate had hidden drugs “inside his anus” and “he didn’t want anything to spoil that” — be it a lenient judge or an upset stomach — “until he got in Los Angeles County Jail.”

Authorities say Amaya was a cog in a lucrative Mexican mafia operation in the county jail. The Mexican mafia, which has about 140 men in prison and on the streets of Southern California, controls Latino gang members, and has long viewed the Los Angeles County jail complex — the largest in the country — as a base of power and a source of wealth.

The county jail system does not appear to be adequate. Most of the more than 15,000 people held in the six prisons are poor. They are not allowed to carry cash, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which oversees the prison, controls sales at the commissary.

But in the recent trial of Gabriel Zendejas Chavez, an attorney accused of working for the Mexican mafia, and in other cases brought by federal and county prosecutors, gang members and law enforcement officials have confirmed that the Mexican mafia is racking its brains through these schemes tens of thousands of people. Withdraw dollars each week from the prison’s overcrowded population and identify underworld figures where the money goes.

Former attorney Gabriel Zendejas Chavez and his legal team left federal court in downtown Los Angeles after testifying on the first day of a criminal trial.

(Meghan Kunif/Law & Crime)

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The Mexican mafia uses two main schemes to make money in prisons. The first is called “Kitten”.

Prisoners can buy snacks, toiletries and clothing at the prison’s commissary. Luis “Hefty” Garcia, a senior partner in the Mexican mafia, explained in a recent trial that for every $7 spent by a Latino gang member, he must donate $1.50 worth of items to collectibles or kittens.

“It may sound like a small sum,” Garcia testified, “but in the big picture, it’s a huge sum.”

The collectibles were sold inside the prison to an inmate who paid for the goods by instructing friends or relatives on the street to send money to an associate of a Mexican mafia member who ran the facility.

Joseph Talamantez, an FBI agent investigating the Mexican mafia’s control of the prison system, testified in a related case that the kitten sold quickly because it was usually worth $50 to $60, but The price is only about $35. The members of the Mexican mafia who control the kitten don’t care that it’s undervalued because it represents pure profit.

Garcia testified that the kitten was earning between $1,500 and $2,500 a week from Men’s Central Prison, $1,000 from the Twin Towers and about $3,200 from Castaic Prison, known as Wayside. This adds up to about $23,000 per month.

Another option is a “two-thirds” tax.

County jails are full of drugs. For example, Garcia testified that he sold methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, marijuana — “most drugs you can think of” while in custody at Men’s Central Prison.

According to Garcia and law enforcement officials, every Latino gang member who sells drugs in the prison must supply a third of the drugs to members of the Mexican mafia who control the facility. The Mexican mafia members would then have their subordinates sell “two-thirds” of the taxed money and pocket the money.

“You didn’t choose to give that third,” Garcia said, though tithing isn’t without its benefits. He said customers knew not to “burn” tax-paying dealers, who could use Mexican mafia law enforcement officers to punish defaulting debtors.

Witnesses testified that, like this kitten, inmates who bought drugs would have people outside the prison send money to the dealer’s colleague, usually using a Green Dot or other prepaid debit card.

Agents seized a ledger from the home of Garcia’s girlfriend, who took his money; the notebook contained dozens of green-dot numbers with the names of customers, the facility they were in, and the amount they paid.

Witnesses testified that to compensate for the risk and difficulty of smuggling drugs into prisons, drug dealers could charge 10 times or more the price of drugs on the street. Garcia testified that a gram of heroin costs about $50 on the street, but a quarter of that can cost $150 in jail.

Because of the profit margins, many gang members are eager to smuggle the drugs into the sojourn. After secreting anesthesia into the rectum or swallowing a balloon filled with drugs, they would turn themselves in for an outstanding warrant, or be deliberately arrested on minor charges.

Ensuring that drugs are taxed, kittens collected, debts paid, and violators punished requires communication. Much of this is done via prison calls, which prisoners know are recorded and monitored by sheriffs but are seen as an unavoidable risk.

Other information was passed through what one investigator described as a secret “mail system.”

When a Latino gang member entered the county jail, L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputy Devin testified himself that he had to register with an inmate overseeing the prison floor for the Mexican Mafia and provide his legal name, nickname, gang , reservation number and next court date. These commanders add this information to a “roll call,” which Self describes as “a list of every prisoner they have, every gangster, every soldier they have at their disposal.”

Self explained that members of the Mexican mafia use roll calls to pass information and drugs between facilities when they go to court — this is where inmates in the prison system communicate.

For example, if a Mexican Mafia member at Men’s Central Jail needs to message someone at the North County Correctional Facility in Castaic, he will consult a roll call and find a man at Men’s Central Jail who has a relationship with someone from that jail. Prisoners on the same court date. other prisons. He would then give a note to the inmate at the Men’s Central Prison and tell him to turn it over to another inmate at the courthouse. After the court appearance, the recipient will take the note back to his locker and deliver it where it needs to go.

Through roll call, kittens, and the two-thirds system, “the Mexican mafia works in the Los Angeles County jail — I guess for lack of a better word — a well-oiled machine,” self testified.

Given the amount of money involved, county jails have been a coveted asset for the Mexican mafia.

Arms and hands of prisoners are seen through iron gates in a cell in the Men's Central Prison

Arms and hands of inmates can be seen through a steel gate in a cell in the Men’s Central Jail at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles.

(Damian Dovarganes/The Associated Press)

In 2007, Mexican mafia member Eulalio “Lalo” Martinez from the Ross Midlomas gang was taken from Pelican Bay State Prison to the Men’s Central Prison to face charges in a decades-long murder case.

Prosecutors allege that for the next six years, Martinez ran the prison. According to the indictment filed by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, Martinez collected tens of thousands of dollars in drug taxes, bribed a sheriff’s deputy who was smuggling heroin and methamphetamine, and boycotted Darren, another Mexican mafia member. Lille’s campaign. Owl” Baca, taking over part of the prison system.

Prosecutors said an altercation between Martinez and Barca, who is being held hundreds of miles away in Pelican Bay, led to a spate of stabbings at the prison in 2009 and 2010.

After Martinez died of a heroin overdose in mid-2013, Jose “Fox” Randa Rodriguez, a Mexican mafia member from the South Los gang, took his place, authorities said.

When Pete “Crazy Pete” Trejo called from jail a week after Martinez’s death, agents heard the transition of power.

Trejo, who ran the Men’s Central Prison and the Twin Towers on behalf of Martinez, called Miguel “Big Speed” Calderon, a member of the Westside Primera Flats gang who worked for Landa-Rodriguez. Trejo wanted to make sure the transfer of power was “legal” so there was no “chaos.”

After the greeting, Calderon announced: “I see condado” – County – “For the Fox”.

“It’s completely different now,” he said.

Garcia, who became Randa Rodriguez’s right-hand man, testified that his boss accused another of Martinez’s lieutenants, Avenue gang’s Rafael “Stop” Carrillo, of being indebted to the Mexican black hand Party money emptied. Garcia said Carrillo was forced to pay Randa Rodriguez $15,000.

Fines are another way that members of the Mexican mafia can make money in prison. Prisoners have no way to pay other than to go to the authorities and enter the prison’s protective holding area.

“Basically, a brother can fine anyone for whatever reason he wants,” a Mexican mafia associate told investigators, according to a transcript of the interview seen by The New York Times. “We don’t really question what they say. If they say it’s blue and it’s black, it’s blue.”

Authorities testified that Landa-Rodriguez took control of the Men’s Central Prison and the Twin Towers, but ceded the roadside complex to another Mexican mafia member, Robert “Peanut Butter” Ruiz, who was released in early 2014.

To provide for the money they made, Miguel “Peeve” Rodriguez, one of Ruiz’s subordinates, testified that he received monthly charges from North County Correctional Facility, one of six prisons in the county system. $20,000 in kitten earnings and drug taxes.

By 2016, the prisons were back in the hands of those who controlled them before Martinez: Michael “Mosca” Torres, a member of the Mexican mafia from San Fernando, according to evidence presented in the indictment against Lieutenant Torres.

Torres, whose nickname means “flying” in Spanish, was previously incarcerated in the county jail system in July 2003 on attempted murder charges, according to witness testimony in the case.

Torres, who has served 45 years in state prison, has taken on a caretaker role at the Men’s Central Prison, the most lucrative of the county jail, according to a transcript of an interview with one of his colleagues. Records say Torres shared profits among “all the brothers.”

Men's Central Prison in Downtown Los Angeles

An inmate at the Men’s Central Prison in downtown Los Angeles.

(Al Seib/Los Angeles Times)

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