FBI: Gang ‘dropouts’ pose threat
By MARIA INES ZAMUDIO • The Salinas Californian • May 21, 2008
The FBI has warned law enforcement agencies that two groups of ex-Norteño gang members gaining strength in the prison system could spur more violence in Monterey County and elsewhere in Northern California.
A May 5 classified report, intended only for gang-intelligence officers, says Norteño “dropout” groups such as Nuevas Flores (New Flowers) and Northern Riders pose an increasing threat on the streets of Monterey, Santa Clara, San Francisco, Sacramento and Mendocino counties as they gain influence within the state’s lockups, attracting large numbers of recruits.
The groups are made up of ex-Norteños and former members of Nuestra Familia who’ve joined forces, in part, to offer each other protection from their former gangs.Once released from prison, the report says, these gang dropouts aspire to establish official territory in areas already occupied by Norteño and Sureño street gangs.
Their focus, however, is more on organized crime such as drug sales and car theft than on winning turf by force.
Norteños and Sureños, which mean “northerners” and “southerners” in Spanish, are the two major rival gang groupings in the Salinas area. Nuestra Familia leaders in prison direct Norteño gang activity at the street level, while Sureños answer to the Mexican Mafia, also a prison gang.
The FBI’s threat-assessment report is based on gang activity on the streets and in prisons from 2004 through this year.
“We are still not sure how strong (Nuevas Flores) are,” said Monterey County Gang Task Force Cmdr. Dino Bardoni. “(Nuevas Flores) are a byproduct of prison, just like the others (Mexican Mafia and Nuestra Familia).”
‘Keeping an eye on them’
The report says Nuevas Flores is loosely organizing in neighborhoods throughout Northern California, working with Northern Riders. Salinas police, however, say the groups haven’t gotten a foothold in Monterey County, at least not yet.
“We are aware of them (Nuevas Flores), and we are keeping an eye on them,” said Salinas police Cmdr. Kelly McMillin. “But they are not a big problem here.”
Sgt. Mark Lazzarini, a supervisor for the Salinas Police Department’s Violence Suppression Unit, agreed, saying Nuevas Flores hasn’t been a factor in this year’s shootings and homicides.
“It has nothing to do with the new gang,” he said of the street violence. “What we’ve seen is typical north and south problems – the same problems this community has seen for years.”
Lazzarini, who read the FBI report this week, said he hasn’t encountered anyone who’s admitted to being with Nuevas Flores in Salinas, though he said he knows the dropout group is in the city. He said there are about 2,500 Norteños and more than 1,000 Sureños in Salinas.
But with a “clean-house” order now in effect – in which active gang members receive an order to assault ex-gang members – from both Norteño and Sureño gangs, this year’s uptick in violence is likely to continue, local gang experts say.
So far this year, there have been 10 gang-related homicides in Salinas and 16 gang-related shootings, including those that didn’t result in injuries.
Dropout boost growth
When an active gang member – either Norteño or Sureño – decides to leave the gang, his name is placed on a “no-good list,” Lazzarini said. Anyone on this list may be a target for a violent assault, which can prompt dropouts to unite for protection.
The growth within Nuevas Flores and Northern Riders largely coincides with an increasing number of inmates being sent to “special needs” yards – also known as dropout yards – at state prisons, said Sgt. D. Silva, a gang expert at the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation who’s worked with its gang intelligence department for 10 years.
CDCR is still not sure how many members are active in Nuevas Flores, in part, because the department has not been able to launch a full investigation, Silva said.
Nuevas Flores formed inside the “sensitive needs” yards at Calipatria State Prison and Mill Creek Correctional Facility in 1998, Silva said. Members used the name Nuevas Flores because its initials, NF, are the same as those of their former prison gang, Nuestra Familia. The name also suggests a new beginning, Silva said.”We don’t know the structure of Nuevas Flores,” he said. “But we have to keep in mind that they bring the influences from their former gangs.”
Unlike Nuestra Familia, which follows a military structure with generals, captains and soldiers, Nuevas Flores has a looser structure, he said.
While the gang was organized to provide protection and financial gain inside prison, those motives are at work on the streets as some of the members begin parole, Silva said.
“They still want to gang-bang,” he said. “They still have the same gang mentality.” Inside prison, Nuevas Flores and Northern Riders get along with each other, Silva said, as there’s not much difference between the two, except for the age of the members; Northern Riders are usually younger.
Prison status investigated
The CDCR’s gang intelligence unit classifies both Nuevas Flores and Northern Riders as “disruptive groups” as opposed to prison gangs. A “disruptive group” consists of inmates who pose a threat to the physical safety of other inmates or prison staff members because of their activities, according to prison guidelines. Gang experts have not completed a full investigation to determine whether the groups should qualify as prison gangs, Silva said. Gang intelligence officers determine whether a “disruptive group” has grown into a prison gang by conducting a thorough investigation. They usually look for rank structure in the group, tattoos, colors and whether the group started in prison. Once they have the report, it is sent to Sacramento, where it is determined whether a disruptive group is a prison gang, Silva said.
If Nuevas Flores and Northern Riders ultimately achieve this classification, they could become more organized both at the street and prison level and inflict more crime on communities as their memberships expand, Silva said. There are seven prison gangs in California: the Mexican Mafia, Nuestra Familia, Northern Structure, Black Guerilla Family, Nazi Low Riders, Aryan Brotherhood and the Texas Syndicate, said CDCR public affairs officer Paul Verke.
Of dropouts, the Salinas Police Department’s Lazzarini said, “We have to remember that they (ex-gang members) are criminals. Just because they are no longer with the gang, it doesn’t mean that they are going to become Boy Scouts.”