Saturday, November 27, 2004

On November 21, 2004, the LA Times ran a story on the way street taxes were collected and funneled to the prison accounts of Eme brothers. On the street it's called "kicking up" and the practice has been going on for decades.

Just to give you some background, prisoners are permitted to have a bank account that they can use to buy goods sold in the prison store. Prisoners aren't allowed to have cash so the goods are often used to barter for anything from smuggled heroin to brand new "whites" from the prison laundry, extra food from the kitchen staff and even "maid service" from other prisoners.

The other thing they can do with their prison accounts is send out checks to family and friends on the outside. Of course, they also send out checks through third parties to associates on the outside who use the money to buy drugs, guns and hits. The profits from the drug sales are then sent back to the prisoner's account. Basically, shot callers can still run neighborhood business from prison.

Some of the brothers run hundreds of thousands of dollars through their prison accounts. According to CDC regulations, anyone from the outside can send a prisoner a money order or cashiers check for any ammount and put it into the prisoner's account. There's no routine investigation of who sends the money or the original source of the money.

It's a system that for the most part, improves the lives of the average inmate by providing some of the luxuries that make prison life less harsh. It's also a system wide open to exploitation and abuse by the shot callers.

The LA Times piece on this issue comes on the heels of a similar, but far better researched one that appeared in the Sacramento Bee written by Andy Furillo on October 17, 2004. Furillo provided deeper insight and greater context than the Times piece. On the whole, Furillo's crime and gang pieces are way more informative that the ones that appear in the Times. Read both pieces and judge for yourself.

While these stories are important and worth covering, the fact is, this situation has existed for decades. Just to provide some historical context and give you a sense of how long this has been going on, you can go all the way back to the 1970s and George Jackson.

After Jackson's prison book, SOLEDAD BROTHERS was published with the legal and significant editorial help of prison rights activist Fay Stender, Jackson found himself in control of hundred of thousands of dollars. The money was sent to the SOLEDAD BROTHERS DEFENSE FUND supposedly to help Jackson defend himself in his murder case for killing prison guard JOHN MILLS. Some of the money was used for that purpose. A lot more of it was used to buy guns, explosives, cars and rural property in the Norcal mountains. The property was used as a guerilla training camp and bomb factory for groups ranging from the Black Panthers to the Weather Underground. The land was also a killing ground for suspected Panther snitches and enemies of the Revolution. Several university professors were used as the front men to buy the property.

In more recent times, FRANCISCO "Pancho Villa," "Puppet" MARTINEZ ran a huge drug/tax operation from prison. When the FBI raided his wife's house in Monterey Park in 2002, they grabbed $450,000 in cash. Martinez' gang, the COLUMBIA LI'L CYCOS, was netting $85,000 per week in taxes and drug money. Martinez controlled the cash flow and drug business from his jail cell, using the prison bank account system for some of the laundering and pay offs to neighborhood homies.

Charles Carbone, a prisoner rights advocate, was quoted in both the LA Times and Sacramento Bee articles. In the Bee piece he says, "The Department (the CDC) is hypersensitive and somewhat paranoid when it comes to any innocuous communication or transfer of money between inmates." He also claimed that the Eme has undergone what he called a schism in recent years and "is not the threat it once was."

What's significant about Carbone's comment is that this is the first time I've ever heard a defense attorney or a prisoner rights activist admit to the existence of the Mexican Mafia. In virtually every court case I've attended or gotten testimony on, the first defense objection is that there's no such thing as the Eme. And therefore the crimes the defendants are accused of are not part of a criminal conspiracy.

In the famous US vs. AGUIRRE et al RICO case in 1995, defense attorney ELLEN BARRY claimed that the 13 EME meetings video recorded by the FBI in a ROSEMEAD motel room were nothing more than paroled prisoners forming an ad hoc "support group" to help each other adjust to life on the street. This is a sentiment that echoes the famous Italian Mafia Congressional hearings in the 50s when capo after capo sat in front of the panel and claimed there was no such thing as LA COSA NOSTRA. They were just legitimate businessmen unfairly stigmatized because they were all Italians.

As to the relative strength or weakness of the Eme compared to the past, Carbone is dead wrong. There are more brothers now than there have ever been. And despite some high level dropouts and high profile federal prosecutions, business is good and expanding into virgin territories. Look at it this way. The worst that can happen to a shot caller is to be locked up in prison. But as both articles point out, being in prison doesn't mean you're out of the business. It just means you're running the local branch from the head office.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Wally, in the last paragraph of your article dated Saturday November 27th 2004 is 100% correct. There are some of us in LE/Criminal Justice at times think that due to a "Big Arrest" or one RICO prosecution that the "Back" of the EME is broken. Time and time, again the news media will quote a "high public official" says that with this arrest/prosecution, the EME is through. The truth is that this insidious organization is now 47 years old, and still going strong. As you undoubtfully know that it is no longer limited to only Califas, but has spread it's tenacals across the United States. It is
this writers humble opinon that when "Huero," "Chy" and the other 11 original members put this "gang of gang" together on that cold night in December 1957 at Deuel Vocational Institution that they had the slightest notion that it would become the most feared group in not only the jails, but state and yes federal prisons too...more as I await your next article. (By the way, not that you care what I think, but I agree whole heartedly with the rest of the article.)