Mexican Mafia ("La
One of the first prison gangs to develop in the United States,
the Mexican Mafia began in 1957 in California, where a few dozen
Latino convicts banded together at Pelican
Bay State Prison. The Texas chapter of the Mexican Mafia was
founded in a Huntsville prison in 1984 . The founder was serving
three life terms for murder conspiracy and racketeering when he
was given permission by the California chapter to establish his
own branch in Texas. There he wrote the constitution that is followed
by members to this day, and continues to collect and manage revenue
generated by criminal activities. The organization has always enforced
a strict rule against homosexuality, reading the bible, disrepsecting
other members, or publicizing a member's connections with others.
Membership is for life, and the blood-in blood-out doctrine applies.
As a previous spiritual leader of the Mexikanemi Science Temple
of Aztlan, the founder of La EME followed a pre-Hispanic creed that
related his desire to establish a legitimate network built on "character,"
and an emphasis of love over hate. However, police claim the actual
objective of the Mexican Mafia is to earn money through criminal
Police and news reports say the Mexican Mafia members are imprisioned
across several jurisdictions, including California, Arizona, Corpus
Christi, Texas, El Paso, Texas, Houston, Texas, Dallas, Texas, and some Midwestern southern areas of Texas. While California and Texas prisons house high
numbers of both the California branch and Texas branch of the Mexican
Mafia, the two states' respective prison gangs are not officially
linked. While they both operate by the same broad title, the Texas
branch identifies itself as "Mexikanemi," (Soldiers of
Aztlan), or La EMI, while the California branch identifies itself
as La EME. In addition, southern California's branch of the Mexican
Mafia calls itself the Surenos
(or Sur-13), as opposed to the Nuestra Familia's subdivision in
northern California, the Nortenos.
La EME is particularly responsive to its branch in prison. Often,
directives that have been issued by top officials inside prison
have resulted in significant reductions or increases in the crime
rate on the street, such as that which occurred in Los Angeles in
the early 1990s. Beginning around 1991 prison-based Mexican Mafia
members began to take a more operative role in street operations.
Today La EME is a large presence outside of prison, allegedly responsible
for 10% of San Antonio''s total homicide rate, with thousands of
members estimated to be operating across the United States.
With the exception of sergeants, all positions of MM members are
elected on leadership and negotiative capabilities. All members
cast 1 vote each in order to enact proposals into decisions, and
all decisions must meet unanimous approval. Contract killings of
fellow Mexican Mafia members require volunteers. If no members volunteer,
names are drawn. For killings requiring one executioner, any member
who draws the number 1 will be designated as the killer; and for
killings requiring more than one, members who draw 2, 3, and so
on will also be assigned killing duties. In reality, however, many
contract killings are implemented without unanimous support, usually
by unit lieutenants abusing their power.
In contrast to the Texas Syndicate, the Mexican Mafia have no safeguards
to constrain intra-gang conflict. While the Texas Syndicate avoids
conflict within its ranks by reverting even high-ranking Mafia members
automatically back to the status of solider once these members get
reassigned to a different prison unit, the Mexican Mafia preserves
rank in all situations.
Member recruitment is loosely based on the "homeboy connection,"
an informal, long-standing relationship between the recruit and
an active gang member. After this connection is established and
made known, a "background check" is performed by unit
chairmen, who look into the prospective member's history to ensure
he has no prior law enforcement or informant connections. If he
passes this test, a unanimous vote will determine his acceptance
into the organization. If he does not pass this test, he is often
forced to pay protection fees, or is coerced into prostitution within
the prison. In some cases, acceptance into the Mexican Mafia only
comes after members have been rejected first by the Texas Syndicate.
In this context, the Texas Syndicate's level of recruitment-selectivity
will thus indirectly determine the number of new recruits entering
Mafia Members must also pass "loyalty tests," such as
committing theft, fraud, "approved," or murder. When rules
are violated, retaliation is swift and certain. After the 1997 botched
robbery of a West French Place residence, two of the participating
gang members were found dead by police shortly after. One was found dumped on the side of a road in Bexar
County, after being choked, stabbed, and run over by a car, while another was found stabbed to death a week later. As the Mafia's
constitution states: "Any member of Mexikanemi, no matter if
he be president, vice president, general, captain, lieutenant, sergeant
or soldier, who violates the rules of Mexikanemi must pay and suffer
the consequences." In addition to the reasons given for the
contract killings of Santos and Tenorio, four general principles
in the organization's constitution also exist as guidelines for
retaliation: members cannot:
- be informants
- be homosexual
- be cowards or
- show disrespect against fellow members.
Violation of these rules will result in disciplinary action.
The murder contract is known among members as "bringing down
the light," and while it was once a requirement for serious
violations only, it is now used superfluously with even minor infractions,
such as disputes over $80 dope deals. Murders between members must
be first approved in a vote by 3 members, but murders between a
member and a nonmember require no prior rubber-stamp.
The Mexican Mafia's "trademark" contract-murder known
among law enforcement officials consists of kidnapping, gagging,
and binding the informant or violator with duct-tape before putting
several bullets into the back of the head. The body is usually wrapped
in a blanket and tossed into a remote rural section of the county.
Such ritual was reported in 1997, when gang members, during a botched
robbery attempt on West French Place, blindfolded and duct-taped
5 people and shot them multiple times in the back of the head.
As of 1998, heroin supplied the organization with most of its drug
profits as well as personal use for its members. Drug-trafficking,
which makes up the bulk of the organizations total earnings, is
usually secured through correctional-staff channels into and out
of prison. Guards willing to supply the gang drugs within the prison
are given a 40% cut of the profit. Only resignation from the Department
of Corrections is sufficient to terminate the guard's relationship
with the Mexican Mafia.
In 1993 the Mexican Mafia signed a nonaggression pact with its
historic prison-gang rivals, the Texas Syndicate. This was an important
event in the development of these two prison gangs. In 1985, for
example, the Texas Syndicate declared war on the Mexican Mafia and
murdered four of its prison members. The Texas Department of Corrections
responded by immediately placing both groups of members in separated
confinement, with assaultive members housed in security detention
group A and non-assaultive members in security detention group B.
After such administrative segregation became an accepted means of
quelling gang-related prison disturbances, segregation populations
almost doubled in under 2 years. In any event, the 1993 truce suggested
the beginning of a more powerful prison gang, and a larger challenge
for law enforcement.
In 1993 FBI agents arrested the leader of the EME in his cell at
Leavenworth, where he was just finishing a 22 year sentence
for cocaine possession. Believed to be president for the prison
gang, despite his terminal sentence in a Colorado prison, he was
charged that year directing criminal operations from within his
In June the most recent president was apparently shot to death
by two men with AK-47 assault rifles while he was idling in his
Corvette on San Antonio's West Side. Before him, the preceding vice-president
was assassinated in his West Side garage following reports that
he had fallen "out of favour" with the existing order.
Tattoos and Symbols
The Mexican Mafia's primary symbol, which members display in tattooed
insignias, is the national symbol of Mexico, an eagle and a snake,
on a flaming circle, lying on crossed knives. In prison, Mexican
Mafia members communicate by conducting meetings in the prison yard,
sending messages out of prison through visitors or parolees, and
using small notes called "kites." Sometimes, unique alphabets
are used, or periods are aligned with letters and combined to come
up with a phrase or sentence, often times a contract hit identifying
someone's name. Members often display tattoos of black-inked hands
on their body.
Communication within units is usually achieved verbally. Communication
between units is achieved through visitations, prison transportation
and prison bus, and US mail, the latter of which usually employing
hidden codes and secret patterns within letters or words. For instance,
some correspondences will employ a letter-numbering system, where
"a" might equal 5, b=4, c=8, d=2, e=6, and so on. Numbers
interspersed throughout the message will then be matched with their
corresponding letter, until a phrase is spelled out, such as "hit
San Antonio Express-News, 6 April 2005
The Dallas Morning News, 23 May 1993
San Antonio Express-News, 19 October 2003
The Dallas Morning News, 13 September 1998
Fong, Robert S., Federal Probation (1990). The Organizational
Structure of Prison Gangs. 54(1)
"Lawyer's Sights on Power of La EME, Mexican
Mafia said to be gang of gangs," By Dennis Love, 09 February
1997, Los Angeles Daily News
"Prison gang leader executed in double killing,"
Houston Chronicle, 7 March 2007.