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Mexican Mafia ("La EME")

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 Deuel Vocational Institution under the leadership of Luis 'Huero Bluff' Flores. By 1961, the Mexican Mafia exercised so much control over Deuel that administrators attempted to transfer some members to San Quentin Penitentiary, which helped spread the gang to other prisons in California. The Texas chapter of the Mexican Mafia was founded in a Huntsville prison in 1984. The founder of La Eme 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 operations.

News reports say the Mexican Mafia members are imprisoned in 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 La EME.

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:

  1. be informants
  2. be homosexual
  3. be cowards or
  4. 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 USP 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 prison cell.

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 John Thompson."


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.



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