U.S. prosecutors have charged more than 80 members of the violent Mexican Mafia gang with taking part in a conspiracy to run drugs and carry out violent assaults ordered from inside Los Angeles County jails.
The Los Angeles County jails are technically run by the sheriff, but the reality is, the Mexican Mafia wields the power in the underworld behind bars.
The organization made up of leaders from various Latino gangs operated like an illegal government, collecting “taxes” on smuggled drugs, ordering hits on people who didn’t follow their rules and even calling the shots on street crimes, federal prosecutors said.
Their clout was diminished as 83 members and associates were charged in a pair of sweeping federal racketeering conspiracies that alleged drug dealing, extortion, violent assaults and even murders.
“We just delivered a blow to a cold-blooded prison gang and their associates,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said during a news conference.
In an effort to disrupt the gang’s stronghold, the suspects will be held in federal facilities, and those already in custody in state prisons will be moved, authorities said.
Sheriff Jim McDonnell acknowledged that others will follow in their wake, as leadership in the gang that operates in most prisons and jails in the state is always changing.
“These Mexican Mafia members and associates, working together to control criminal activity within (LA County jails), have become their own entity or enterprise and effectively function as an illegal government,” an indictment said.
In some instances, gang members would deliberately get arrested on low-level charges so they could smuggle drugs into the jail and be released days later.
Because the Mexican Mafia controlled drug trafficking in the jails, they got the first shot to sell their supply of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin or marijuana, prosecutors said. Other groups had to wait and give a third of their contraband to the Mexican Mafia leadership.
The fee, known as a “thirds” tax, gave the name “Operation Dirty Thirds” to the investigation that led to the indictments and arrest of 32 people Wednesday. Another 35 defendants were in custody and 16 were fugitives.
One of the group’s facilitators was attorney Gabriel Zendejas-Chavez, who was able to carry messages to the gang members while operating under the shield of attorney-client privilege, the indictment said. He is also accused of enabling a plot to extort $100,000 from the Mongols outlaw motorcycle gang.
Zendejas-Chavez was arrested Wednesday. A woman who answered the phone at his office was unaware of the arrest and didn’t comment.
Mr Americana, Overpasses News Desk
May 24th, 2018