U.S. indicts 36 in Mexican Mafia crackdown

U.S. indicts 36 in Mexican Mafia crackdown
U.S. indicts 36 alleged members under organized crime statute. Many were already in state prison and all but four are in custody.
By Tony Perry
Times Staff Writer

June 17, 2006

SAN DIEGO — Thirty-six alleged members or associates of the Mexican Mafia were indicted Friday in a case that federal officials predicted would be the beginning of the end for the violent gang’s stranglehold on some of San Diego County’s Latino neighborhoods.

“Any organization built on violence and drugs has to be dismantled, and today we begin that process,” U.S. Atty. Carol Lam said.

The charges include racketeering, drug trafficking, murder, robbery, extortion and money laundering.

The indictment represents the first time that officials in San Diego County have used the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization statute to attack the Mexican Mafia, authorities said.

Sixteen of the 36 were already in state prison — some serving life sentences — but were able to order killings and drug deals by smuggling out coded messages, often with the help of wives or girlfriends, the indictment said.

One Mafia leader was able to continue his leadership despite being held at Pelican Bay, a maximum security prison, the indictment alleged. A federal indictment means the prisoners can be moved to federal prisons anywhere in the United States, making it more difficult for them to communicate with the outside. At day’s end, only four of the 36 were still at large.

Daniel R. Dzwilewski, special agent in charge of the FBI office, said the Mafia members “are urban street terrorists … the closest thing to traditional organized crime in San Diego.”

Although there have been similar indictments over the last decade in Los Angeles and Orange counties, the 21-month effort dubbed “In the Hat” is the most vigorous attempt to date to combat the Mexican Mafia in this border county.

The name for the operation is a riff on slang used by Mafia members. Someone who is “in the hat” has done something to offend the Mexican Mafia and must be killed, Dzwilewski said.

The defendants have ties to Latino street gangs in San Diego and several suburban cities, as well as in San Bernardino and Los Angeles, according to the indictment.

Many of the Mafia members and associates, active in drug dealing, extortion and violence, went by street names such as Carnal Kenny, Evil One, Young Stud, Howdy Doody, Richie Cunningham, Jarhead, Buzzard and Snoops, among others, according to the indictment.

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