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.
There's a follow-up on my previous post about the Mexico City torching of two federal agents. As reported on the AP wire, two of the 29 people arrested for killing the federales are local Mexico City cops. This probably means that the local cops knew for sure that the men in the car were cops and not suspected child abductors. The AP story went on to say that there's been a long smoldering feud between federal and local cops throughout Mexico over collars and jurisdiction. I'd venture to say the feud also extends to disputes over lucrative payoffs from drug dealers and gangsters. It's happened before.

Friday, November 26, 2004

As if to underscore my Nov. 22 post about Mexico's lack of cooperation in sending wanted fugitives back to the U.S., the local and national media have covered an unbelievable story coming out of Mexico City. It appears three undercover Mexican federal cops were staking out some drug dealers in Tlahuac, a suburb of Mexico City.

The local citizens mistakenly thought that the three cops sitting in an unmarked car with binoculars and a video camera were child abductors. The word went out through the neighborhood and 2,000 residents descended on the three cops. The cops were beaten and two of them were doused with gasoline and burned to death. The third cop was rescued by some 300 riot cops who responded to the radio call for help. All three cops might have been saved if it hadn't taken the riot cops 3 hours and 35 minutes to respond. The arriving cops said that heavy traffic kept them from responding sooner. Nice try. You have to wonder how reporters and news crews got there hours before the cops and broadcast the incident live on national TV.

The responding LEOs arrested some 22 residents after spending all night sweeping house to house looking for suspects.

This Fallujah-like torching illustrates how deeply the average Mexican citizen distrusts law enforcement and feels completely powerless in the face of rampant lawlessness. After decades of gangsters, drug dealers, murderers, child molesters and corrupt officials skating on charges after paying off cops, judges and politicians, otherwise law abiding Mexicans feel they have no alternative than to administer some vigilante justice. They don't trust the government to keep them safe.

Given this level of police incompetence it's not a stretch to imagine how easy it would be for hard-core Islamists to smuggle a radiological or biological device into Mexico and across the tissue-thin U.S. border. As some far-sighted national security experts warned years before 9/11/01, "Not if, but when."

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

A reader asked if there has ever been a connection between the Mexican Mafia and the Italian Mafia. The short answer is, yes. The closest tie I'm aware of involved the late JOE MORGAN, widely regarded as the GODFATHER of the Eme and an Italian mobster named JIMMY COPPOLA. Coppola was reputed to be tight with CARLO GAMBINO, the New York mobster whose family eventually came under the flag of JOHNNY BOY GOTTI.

Morgan and Coppola had some dealings in the heroin business, the exact nature and extent of which is unknown to me. From the sketchy, but so far reliable information I have, Morgan had a heroin pipeline to Mexico and was bringing it across the border in RVs piloted not by homies but by otherwise innocent looking vacationers. Coppola went in on some of the heroin deals.

What prevented this long-ago coperation from blossoming into a full-fledged alliance was the difference in style and culture between the Italians and the Mexicans. While both did business employing the accepted tools of murder, violence and intimidation, the Italians came to see the Mexicans as being too high profile and lacking in the sort of discipline that made the Italians into a criminal empire.

The Italians have traditionally tried to move through society as average citizens. No tattoos, no shaved heads and no standard uniform of the day. In short, nothing to raise suspicion. Even low-level Wise Guys just making their bones look like any other guy getting on the subway in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn or Bayside, Queens. The crew bosses and capos, in three-piece suits and alligator shoes, looked like prosperous lawyers and businessmen.

The same can't be said for the Hispanics. They fly the gangster flag proudly and don't seem to care that even to an untrained eye, the clothes, tattoos and attitude just scream SUSPECT.

The differences go beyond appearance and extend to organizational and operational structures.

The Eme was founded on the principle that there would never be leaders. It was and remains an orqanization of equals. One man, one vote. A true democracy perhaps, but as its history has shown, it often leads to chaos and personal agendas that undermine the growth of the organization as a cohesive group.

In LA COSA NOSTRA, the org chart is rigid. There's the national council, the family heads, capos, crew chiefs and soldiers. Areas of operation as clearly defined and transgressions, as we've seen in countless movies, are settled by meetings. The result -- murder -- is often the same, but the means of getting there are different and they're harder for law enforcement to decode and make sense of.

Unless there's a major change in the way these entities do business, the connections will probably never develop into anything significant.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

We recently got an email question that's probably on the minds of many inthehat readers. It has to do with homies leaving behind their street beefs once they land in prison. Why is it, for example, that members of rival neighborhoods with long and bloody feuds, call a cease fire once they land in la pinta?

To answer that adequately, we have to first come to some understanding of who and what we're talking about with regards to sets, set loyalty within the larger structure of prison gangs and, of course, race.

The situation on the streets is uncontrolled chaos. You've got set rivalries within and outside racial gangs. You've got black on black, brown on brown, asian on asian and to a lesser degree, white on white. And then of course you've got all the possible combinations and permutations of the above. You've got decades-long feuds, for instance, between Hispanic Compton sets and Black Compton sets. Same goes in every other part of the city and county. And you've got Hispanic neighborhoods like The Mob Crew constantly at war with other Hispanic neighborhoods like T-Flats and Cuatro Flats.

You also have to keep in mind the various tax-free, resistance neighborhoods like MS which is always verde on the Eme books, and the occasional Maravilla crews that are sometimes in the hat and sometimes not.

What a homie does in prison will ultimately depend on what he did on the outside and who he cliqued up with.

If you're from LOWELL let's say and you've had one of your homies lit up by AVENIDAS over something that was strictly business, you've got to pretty much drop the beef when you land in prison. There are several reasons for you to not to want some get even -- at least while in the joint and under direct control of the brothers.

Regardless of how tough you are, you're going to need friends and backup in prison. Few are those that can survive in prison completely alone. Without some kind of backup, you're just fish on the line and prey to every convict who wants your property.

The brothers don't want you wantonly assaulting other Hispanics, even for good cause while on the street, because it causes dissension in the ranks. And dissension leads to fragmentation and to a loss of power. If set beefs go unchecked, instead of having let's say 100 Surenos who go with the Eme program, you've now got 10 different cliques with 10 people each beefing with each other. Having that many sets feuding just means fewer soldiers in the ranks. To use a military analogy, other groups, especially the NF, can now divide and conquer and take out one set at a time until there's no one left to oppose them. Ultimately, it's in your best interest to check the vendetta at the gate and go with the program for the simple reason that you need the brothers and the protection they provide.

This is not to say that once you put your revenge aside, everything is rosy. To use another military analogy, the Eme is like the US Marine Corps: No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy. It operates under a completely different code of ethics, of course, but the motto applies nonetheless.

If you toe the Eme line, do what you're told, don't politic, and back up Surenos against other prison gangs, you can count on some measure of protection. If you buck the system and start taking out Surenos without permission because of something that happened on the street, then it may be greenlight time. There are always exceptions, of course. But for the most part, it's in your best interest to let the past go until you're back on the street.

On the other hand, non-Surenos and long-time Eme enemies are free-fire zones. Taking care of a few of those will earn you points with the brothers and maybe an invitation to join.

Of all the prison gangs, the Eme and NF are the best organized and clearly dominate the prison system. There is no comparable Black, Asian or White gangs either in terms of numbers or in the amount of power they wield in the prisons or can project to the streets. And none of them have the intelligence and information network of the brothers. So basically, if you're from a Sureno neighborhood you really don't have much choice other than to mob up. If you want to survive, that is.
RED ROUNTREE died yesterday two months short of his 93rd birthday. He died in the Federal pen in Springfield, MO where he was serving a 12.5 year term for bank robbery. What makes Rountree unique is that he didn't start robbing banks until he was in his eighties. Up to that time, he'd been living a crime-free life. You can just imagine poor old Red beating a hasty retreat with his walker and oxygen bottle and a dye pack billowing green smoke behind him. Apparently, he didn't need the money. He robbed banks because he said it made him fell "good, awful good." I guess it beats watching the soaps and playing shuffleboard at the rest home.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Local readers may already know all about the escape hatch provided to criminals by the Mexican Government. International readers on the other hand, (we seem to be popular overseas) are probably not aware that Mexico has dug in its heels and refuses to extradite US fugitives wanted on a variety crimes, including murder.

At one time, Mexico refused to extradite fugitives who were facing a possible death sentence in US courts. Mexico has no death penalty and it believes the US shouldn't have one either. But then, Mexican politicians went one step further and refused to extradite fugitives who were looking at a possible life sentence in the US. Apparently, Mexico doesn't believe in life without parole (LWOP) either.

As a result, Mexico is now home to some 3,000 wanted US fugitives. Despite political efforts at the national level, Mexico isn't giving them up. Los Angeles County District Attorney, Steve Cooley, decided to put some grass roots pressure on Vicente Fox and the dubious Mexican criminal justices system by launching a website -- It covers a number of the more celebrated and heinous cases.

Mexico is neither a model of prisoner rights or of proactive, corruption-free law enforcement. Local and regional Mexican cops, despite some straight-up heroes, can be bought. The heroic cops are usually either killed or driven out of the force. And a few media heroes who took a shot at corruption in print were assassinated.

The average Mexican citizen, caught between official corruption and rampant crime, has frankly had enough. Earlier this year, over 100,000 citizens marched in Mexico City demanding better police protection and aggressive prosecution of murderers and kidnappers. Buying off judges and prosecutors is commonplace. It's the elephant in the living room that nobody wants to acknowledge.

Check out the website and you'll get a sense of the scope of the situation as well as the personal stories of the survivors.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Last week, the PRISON LAW OFFICE got the CALIFORNIA YOUTH AUTHORITY to sign a consent decree to change the way the CYA handles its wards. In the recent past, there have been reports of abuse, inadequate supervision, beatings and two suicides that could have been prevented. For more insight on the CYA, its troubles and its successes I can refer you to an excellent blog -- It's run by an ex-offender who turned his life around decades ago and went on to become a college professor. Good stuff and worth your time.

The CYA consent decree articles have run in all the usual media -- LA Times, LA Daily News, Fresno Bee, and Sacramento Bee. You can read them on their sites.

The suit was filed by the Prison Law Office on behalf of MARGARET FARRELL, the aunt of a CYA ward who was locked down in solitary for months and fed "blender meals," a vile concoction that's as tasty as it sounds. A whole meal is put in a blender and fed to the ward. This is intolerable.

What the usual media didn't mention is that this Margaret Farrell is the same woman who was indicted by the US Attorney in Los Angeles in 1999 in a RICO case along with some 40 other individuals. Those individuals included legendary Eme carnal BEN "TOPO" PETERS, Peters' wife SALLY and other associates and brothers.

Farrell was charged with passing messages from locked up homies and shot callers to Southern Soldiers on the street. The indictment claimed that at least one of the messages passed by Farrell resulted in a homicide. The charges against her were ultimately dropped. It's unclear whether a deal was struck or what.

For crime history fans, there are interesting connections here. For one, the Prison Law Office has its roots in the Sixties. It began as the PRISON LAW PROJECT and was created as a prisoner advocate organization by another legend in the annals of crime and justice -- FAY STENDER. Stender was a lawyer who took on the case of GEORGE JACKSON, the BLACK PANTHER field Marshal, and that of the SOLEDAD BROTHERS. You regular readers already know that JACKSON started the BLACK GUERILLA FAMILY in the '70s, a prison gang that exists to this day and has spawned other black prison gangs and splinter groups.

According to the literature, JACKSON had asked Stender to smuggle him a gun into SAN QUENTIN. His plan was to escape, make his way to Angola, build a revolutionary army, invade the U.S. with it and bring down the "system." He was nothing if not ambitious. Not to mention delusional.

Stender, though dedicated to THE CAUSE, was no idiot. She refused to get him a gun. And she began to distance herself from the prison and revolutionary movement. Eventually, she was paid a visit one night by persons unknown, but apparently known to her, and shot five times. She survived but was paralyzed from the waist down. Fearing for her life from the Panthers, she moved to Europe. Broken and disillusioned she eventually committed suicide.

Other connections. EDWARD BUNKER tells a story about Fay Stender at then time he was housed at San Quentin. One of Bunker's crimies, a white guy, was also represented by Stender. He told Bunker that Stender wanted to know why the white inmates weren't assaulting and killing prison guards like the blacks. There had been dozens of serious assaults and a half dozen prison guard killings at the time and Stender wanted that increased and she wanted the white inmates to step up and take some action like JACKSON and the PANTHERS were doing. Bunker, as did most white and Hispanic inmates in Quentin, considered her a Marxist loony who didn't care how many guards, or inmates, were killed as long as the "movement" continued to stir up agitation.

A significant branch of these connections leads to STEVE BINGHAM, a lawyer who ran in Fay Stender's circles. He was accused of smuggling the gun to GEORGE JACKSON, the ultimate step of committment to the cause that Stender refused to do, triggering the bloodbath that resulted in the death of San Quentin guards and a couple of inmates, not to mention Jackson's death from two rounds fired by a gun guard. Bingham obtained phony travel documents through his friends in the San Francisco undergound and lived in Europe for 13 years as a fugitive. He came back to face the music and was found not guilty of the gun smuggling charge.

Yet another connection leads to ANGELA DAVIS, the one-time revolutionary. A year before George Jackson's failed escape attempt with the gun Bingham smuggled in, JONATHAN JACKSON, George's younger brother, tried to bust out some of George's homies. The place was the Marin county Courthouse. These were the days before metal detectors and pat downs in all city buildings.

Three of George's crimies were on trial in Judge Harold Haley's court. Jonathan Jackson came into the courtroom carrying a satchel full of guns, one of which was a .30 cal M1 carbine. He flashes the carbine, disarms the bailiffs and hands out the guns to defendants RUCHELL McGEE, JAMES McCLAIN and WILLIAM CHRISTMAS, all associates of George Jackson. They took the Judge, the prosecutor and three female jurors hostage and walked out of the courthouse. There was a shootout in the parking lot and only the female jurors, the prosecutor and Ruchell McGee survived. Judge Haley had his head taken almost completely off by the shotgun that Jackson had taped and wired around his neck. The prosecutor was paralyzed by a round in his spine. The carbine and ammunition Jonathan Jackson used in the breakout attempt was purchased by Angela Davis at a San Franciso sporting goods store. She became a fugitive for a while but they name things in Universities after her now.

There are further connections that extend like a root system from the PRISON LAW PROJECT and George Jackson to the Eme, and include such disparate names as Bruce Dern, Tom Hayden, Candace Bergen, Robert Scheer, Mundo Mendoza and a wild cast of characters and events that would make a pretty good epic novel. Or film.

What's the point of all this? Just that it pays to know your history if you're going to read the paper or watch a news show with any kind of critical mind. Or read a blog for that matter. Nothing exists in a vacuum. It's been said that what we see in the news is a snapshot in time. I prefer to think of it as a couple of frames from a reel of film. And the reel is big and goes back a long, long way. I'm just trying to run you some frames from an earlier screening. Enjoy the show and watch for coming attractions.