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San Diego federal indictment sheds light on the Mexican Mafia’s power and influence within the prison system

July 31, 2017  |  Posted by: Francesca Falzarano
San Diego federal indictment sheds light on the Mexican Mafia’s power and influence within the prison system Jose “Bats” Marquez (Left) and Ronaldo Ayala (Right)

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Federal indictment sheds light on the power of the Mexican Mafia within state and local prisons
CBS News 8 – San Diego, CA News Station – KFMB Channel 8

Court documents presented in a federal indictment unsealed in recent weeks against 20 reputed gang members in San Diego sheds light on the power maintained by the Mexican Mafia in prisons and local county jails.

Twenty individuals are facing charges related to their involvement with the gang.

Twelve men and eight women are accused of multiple felonies after a three-year probe, dubbed “Operation Emero,” was carried out by a multi-agency gang task force. The investigation was headed by the Sheriff’s Department, FBI and a special services unit of the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

Several of the defendants pleaded not guilty in San Diego Superior Court to charges such as extortion, abduction, assault likely to produce bodily injury, drug possession, and conspiracy to commit torture, assault, arson, and robbery.

Twenty gang members were indicted on charges including murder, drug trafficking, and extortion

Others, including those now behind bars on other convictions, are expected to be charged over the next couple of weeks, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

One expert described the power and influence the infamous prison gang, also known as “La Eme,” holds over people in prison, as well as those on the outside, where gang members are asked to put the Mexican Mafia above everything else.

Tony Rafael of the Southern Poverty Law Center, writer Tony Rafael — who spent years studying the Mexican Mafia — explained how the gang’s leaders gave orders to members of Hispanic or Latino street gangs that included harassing, assaulting or murdering others on behalf of the group.

Failing to carry out orders is typically punished, usually violently.

“When you click with a gang that’s loyal to the Mexican Mafia, the Mexican Mafia comes before God, your family, and friends going all the way back to childhood,” Rafael said, who published a book on the group in 2009. “When they tell you to do something, you do it.”

The co-conspirators indicted included twelve men and eight women

Felix Aguirre, a retired San Diego detective who leads training and information sessions on gangs, said the Mexican Mafia is one of the several gangs that flourish in correctional institutions in California and across the U.S.

“It controls everything from prostitution to drugs — a lot of the criminal activities within the institutions,” he added.

When someone is sent to prison, it’s typical for that person to seek out a group of inmates to identify with — usually other members of their race — for protection and safety, Aguirre stated. Those who associate with the Mexican Mafia are eventually told to “put in work” for the gang, either inside a prison or on the streets.

The “carnales,” which is translated from Spanish as “brothers,” are the heads of the organization, the “shot-callers,” Aguirre said. Below are the “comrades,” which are second-tier leaders, and then the crew members who carry out their orders. They also rely on women to express their directives on the street.

Alleged Mexican Mafia leaders Jose “Bats” Marquez (Left) and Ronaldo Ayala 

The gang is also known to “tax” from anyone carrying out other criminal activities in areas controlled by the gang. For instance, if dealers are selling drugs in Mexican Mafia areas, they have to pay a percentage to the group.

“The consequences are assault, robberies … They take what they want,” Aguirre added.

San Diego County prosecutors haven’t disclosed many details about the case, but have said the defendants worked in two groups, one of which was headed by federal prisoner Jose Alberto “Bat” Marquez, the other by California death row prisoner Ronaldo Ayala.

Neither has been charged in the San Diego case, presumably because both men are expected to spend the rest of their lives behind bars. However, their names appear throughout the 40-page complaint in a long list of “overt acts” prosecutors included to back up the charges.

Marquez is accused of telling a female defendant to give a prisoner “knuckles” over a debt. On another occasion, Marquez told the same defendant to hit a woman and collect the money she owed.

They say Ayala used a contraband phone to make calls from death row, including one in which he ordered the stabbing of an inmate at Centinela state prison in April.

The suspects have pleaded not guilty to the charges listed in the indictment.

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