Money Trumps All, Even Mexican Mafia Edicts

Sam Quinones, Los Angeles Times, November 8, 2007

Under orders from the Mexican Mafia, Florencia 13 gang members allegedly patrolled their neighborhood to “cleanse” it by assaulting and killing members of rival black gangs.

At the same time, the Latino gang also allegedly sold large quantities of drugs, and in some cases, guns, to blacks, including Crips gang members.

This complex and contradictory picture of underworld life in which race, drugs and gangs collide emerges from four federal indictments announced last month against Florencia 13. It also highlights a basic principle of the street: Money trumps all.

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The case illustrates the influence of the Mexican Mafia prison gang—also known as Eme, the letter M in Spanish—on Latino street gangs and race relations in some of the Southern California neighborhoods they terrorize.

Although most Eme members have been locked away in maximum security in Pelican Bay State Prison for decades, they remain feared and admired by many Latino gangs. They order younger gang members to do their bidding or face reprisals if they go to prison, authorities said. The edicts include murder, extortion, taxing drug dealers and warring with blacks, violence that has often spilled over gang lines and taken the lives of innocent victims.

The federal indictments also display the limits of Eme influence. Orders allegedly issued by an Eme member in prison were at times trumped by the greed of drug dealers and the personal relationships they have with customers, according to authorities and court documents.

Many of the Latino and black gang members indicted had grown up together in the Florence-Firestone area.

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In 2004, Florencia 13 was ordered to control the neighborhood drug trade and tax drug dealers, prostitutes, ice cream vendors, pirate taxi operators and peddlers of phony green cards, Hernandez said. The gang was to turn 40% of the proceeds over to Castellanos and his associates. [Arturo Castellanos, a reputed Eme member housed in Pelican Bay who many in law enforcement believe controls Florencia 13 activities.]

There was another order, according to the indictment: Rid the neighborhood of black gangs, primarily East Coast Crips. Once predominantly black, the unincorporated Florence-Firestone neighborhood north of Watts has undergone a dramatic demographic shift in the last two decades and is now mostly Latino.

For the next two years, Florencia 13 and the East Coast Crips were at war, with homicides skyrocketing in the community of 60,000. In 2005, there were 41 homicides, surpassing the homicide rate in some of the nation’s most dangerous big cities.

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The random killings have terrified residents and corroded relations between neighborhood blacks and Latinos.

Still, the lure of money also seems to have tempered the ardor with which Florencia 13 follows Eme edicts. The indictment lists instances in which Florencia members allegedly sold weapons, as well as drugs, to Crips.

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Indeed, Latino drug dealers and gang members may be given orders by Eme members, but they are also trying to expand their drug business, said Richard Valdemar, a retired Los Angeles County sheriff’s sergeant and Latino gang investigator.

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Also, Eme members isolated in Pelican Bay don’t know the day-to-day operations they presume to control, Valdemar said. This allows gang members on the street wide latitude in following orders, he said.

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