Mexican Mafia's roots run deep in San Gabriel Valley
By Fred Ortega, Staff Writer
Posted: 02/10/2008 09:55:57 PM PST
Gangs: From Prisons to Back Yards
Frank Girardot's Crime Scene blog
Ralph "Perico" Rocha and Rafael "Cisco" Gonzalez-Munoz committed what is considered a mortal sin among the ranks of the dreaded Mexican Mafia prison gang: they encroached into the drug territory of a senior gang member.
Their transgression marked them for death according to county prosecutors, who in early December charged six individuals with trying to murder Rocha and Gonzalez-Munoz on behalf of another "made" Mexican Mafia member, Jaques "Jocko" Padilla. The six, including Padilla's wife, La Puente resident Maria "Lola" Llantada, are in L.A. County Jail awaiting a March 7 court date.
Despite the arrests, Rocha and Gonzalez-Munoz are likely still in mortal danger; sheriff's officials have confirmed that Rocha was shot last week in the Norwalk area. His injuries were minor, however, and he was treated from a local hospital and released.
Law enforcement investigators and gang associates say the Llantada case, along with a spate of other Mexican Mafia-related cases over the past year, illustrate the influence exerted across vast swaths of the San Gabriel Valley by the prison gang, also known as La Eme. The cases also show that the pilfering of "taxes" on drugs by rival gangs is behind many cases of Eme-related violence, which has plagued the area for decades.
Law enforcement experts trace the birth of La Eme - named for the Spanish pronunciation of the letter "M" - to 1957, when a small group of juvenile gangsters
from East Los Angeles banded together for protection at the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy.
Since then, the group has grown to include between 200 and 400 "made" members and is considered the most powerful prison-based gang in California, controlling narcotics distribution inside and outside prison walls and enforcing its edicts on the streets through murders and mayhem carried out by members of affiliated street gangs, which number in the tens of thousands.
"If your gang is from Southern California, you are going to answer to the Eme," said a former Mexican Mafia associate from the Norwalk area who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation.
And the San Gabriel Valley has long been the Eme's backyard. The first murder attributed to the Eme beyond prison walls occurred in late 1971 in Monterey Park, according to declassified FBI documents, when Mexican Mafia member Alfonso "Pachie" Alvarez was found shot twice in the head in a secluded city park. His offense: collecting taxes on narcotics dealers without kicking up the profits to Eme leaders behind bars, known in the gang as "Big Homies" or Emeros.
As early as 1974, according to the FBI documents, the Eme had carved the San Gabriel
Valley into seven districts for "the organized trafficking of narcotics." The territories were named for the communities they encompassed - Chapman Woods, Arcadia, Temple City, El Monte, Santa Fe Springs and Whittier - and were each assigned to a different Emero, who was in charge of collecting taxes on gangs and drug dealers operating in the area.
"Based on our intelligence they take about one-third" of the profits from criminal activity in their territories, said Guillermo Moreno, a special agent for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation who specializes in La Eme.
Crossing a powerful figure
Moreno characterized Jocko Padilla, who is serving time in Corcoran State Prison, as one of the most high-ranking Eme members in the San Gabriel Valley.
Padilla was originally an Azusa gangster, but was granted control of the La Puente area based on his relationship with his wife, said L.A. sheriff's Homicide Detective Brian Steinwand, who investigated the Llantada case.
"Llantada was from the La Puente area, so when the families got together, that whole La Puente area became his," said Steinwand.
It is not uncommon for Eme members' wives or girlfriends to control their territories once they become incarcerated, said Moreno.
"It is always someone they trust, and most of the time it is going to be a girlfriend or wife because they start helping them out during their visits, doing stuff for them," he said.
Detectives investigating the 2006 shooting of a Valinda man by alleged gang associates stumbled onto Llantada's proxy control of the La Puente drug territory, and the murder conspiracy against Rocha and Gonzalez-Munoz.
"We heard from informants that (Rocha and Gonzalez-Munoz) were encroaching on La Puente and surrounding neighborhoods," said Steinwand. "We heard rumors that (Padilla) controlled parts of Baldwin Park or El Monte but we have also heard of other Eme members controlling those areas. As far as the actual boundaries (of drug territories), I don't think they even know what they are."
The blurry nature of the rules of criminal enterprise, combined with rivalries between different hierarchies within the Eme and old-fashioned greed, often escalate into internecine rivalry within the Mexican Mafia, as it did in the Llantada case, investigators said.
Federal versus state
Steinwand said Gonzalez-Munoz was from La Puente and was part of a clique of the Puente Trece street gang before he became a full-blown Eme member in federal prison. Trece, Spanish for the number 13, is a moniker used by gangs swearing allegiance to the Eme - M is the 13th letter of the alphabet.
Rocha is the more senior of the two. Like Gonzalez-Munoz, Rocha, originally from the Norwalk area, became an Eme member in the federal penitentiary system, after he was indicted on federal racketeering charges along with high-ranking Eme members like Benjamin "Topo" Peters, Ruben "Nite Owl" Castro, Raymond "Huero Shy" Shyrock and Randy "Cowboy" Therrien.
But the fact that both were "made" in the federal prison system automatically put them in a position of competition - and subservience - with state prison-based Emeros like Padilla, Moreno said.
"The state prison guys were the founders of the original Mexican Mafia, so they have more power in California - and in La Puente," said Moreno. "And you are not supposed to disrespect any family member of an Emero, so she (Llantada) should not have been disrespected since she was working for (Padilla)."
Making a move
But prosecutors say that is exactly what Gonzalez-Munoz and Rocha did upon being released from federal prison in early 2007. Officials with the the's Office would not comment on how much drug tax money the two intercepted, but at least two former gang associates said Perico and Cisco pilfered tens of thousands of dollars from drug dealers in Padilla's territory.
"Norwalk and surrounding barrios are dry right now and the San Gabriel Valley is still a good earner for the Eme so Perico moved in," said the former Eme associate from Norwalk, who said he is related to a deceased Eme member. "A Big Homie like Jocko would control his surrounding area like Puente, Bassett, El Monte, Covina, Bolen Parque (Baldwin Park). So what (angered) Jocko was that Perico was moving in on his turf."
He said drug dealers in the area, and even legitimate businesses including a tow company owner, had been visited by Rocha's associates as recently as two weeks before the Llantada arrests.
"They would say, `The Big Homie Perico has the blessing of' and would name Jocko or another well-known Emero, and these guys out of fear would kick up (the tax)," the associate said.
It is a common tactic employed by Eme members or associates while encroaching on one another's turf, said Steinwand.
"Drug dealers are paying one guy because he is Eme, and then another comes and tells them they have to pay him now," he said.
An official with the the's Office involved in the case likened the tactics used by Mexican Mafia members against one another to a hostile corporate takeover.
"Control of territory, narcotics sales and prostitution are very important to these criminal organizations," said the prosecutor, who declined to be identified for security reasons. "It is analogous to a corporation. If they are vulnerable to being taken over, they can be taken over. It is all about the money."
Marked for death
Rocha and Gonzalez-Munoz apparently miscalculated Padilla's influence. Prosecutors allege that Padilla gave his wife permission to target the two by issuing a "greenlight" - gang parlance for an assassination order - from prison. They believe Padilla used family members to sneak out a "kite," a small paper note with his orders printed in miniature writing on them, in order to ensure the hit.
And despite the disruption of the hit, those orders apparently still stand.
"Word on the street is that Perico is still `off the (reservation),' a target," said the Eme associate.
And that could be why Rocha was shot last week. Sheriff's officials would not release details about the incident, only to say that they received a call Friday night about a shooting involving Rocha. He was uncooperative with detectives when they interviewed him, and he was treated for minor injuries and released the same day.
Steinwand would not speculate on whether the shooting was related to the greenlight issued by Padilla.
"I have no idea," he said. "This guy is involved in so much (criminal activity), it's hard to tell."
Still on the streets
While prosecutors disrupted the alleged murder plans by Llantada and her co-conspirators, Rocha and Gonzalez-Munoz are still free and possibly continuing their criminal activities, in apparent violation of the conditions of their supervised release.
And like the Emero that they allegedly crossed, the two have been convicted of serious crimes. Rocha was rolled up along with other high-ranking Eme members in one of the first federal racketeering indictments of the Mexican Mafia in 1994, accused in court documents of attending Eme business meetings, drug dealing, ordering the stabbing of a rival gangster and conspiring to murder others.Gonzalez-Munoz was indicted in 2002 of stabbing a fellow federal inmate on behalf of the Aryan Brotherhood, a white prison gang which is allied with the Mexican Mafia.
Both had served their sentences by 2007 and happened to find themselves as the targets, and not the aggressors, in the Llantada case, said one sheriff's official involved in the investigation.
"They were the would-be victims and we did not target them in the investigation," said Lt. Pat Nelson of the sheriff's Homicide Division. He said that information about the case had been passed on to federal officials.
Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Los Angeles, could not comment on whether officials were investigating the two for possible violations of their conditions of release.
The Llantada case is only the latest example of the influence that the Eme wields in the San Gabriel Valley.
In April 2006, four men were arrested in Pomona in connection with an attempted Mexican Mafia contract killing. Their trial is scheduled for this year.
Last November, reputed Emero Frank "Frankie B" Buelna, 61, was shot to death in a Pomona sports bar. Buelna was reputed to have broad power within the Mexican Mafia, and officials are still investigating the motive behind his killing. The perpetrators are still at large.
And in December, reputed Eme member Eulalio "Lalo" Martinez, 46, was charged with ordering the killing of former gang member Donald "Pato" Schubert in Rosemead in 1998. In that case, prosecutors allege that Martinez runs the Lomas Rosemead street gang from Pelican Bay State Prison, where he has been incarcerated for the past 15 years.
La Eme's deep roots in the San Gabriel Valley became clearly evident to Steinwand, the sheriff's homicide investigator, when he moved to the Industry Station from the South Central Los Angeles area early in his career.
"Over there in South Central when there were orders from the Eme to stop drive-bys, guys would go out and do five of them in one night just to spite them," said Steinwand, who has been a detective for 18 years. "But they have a lot more control on this side of the 710 (Freeway).
"When I came to work at the Industry Station, it was amazing," he added. "When the Eme said something, (the gangs) listened."firstname.lastname@example.org
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