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San Diego Prosecutors Bring Mexican Mafia Prison Gang Case

The San Diego Superior Court is shown in this undated photo.
Nicholas McVicker
The San Diego Superior Court is shown in this undated photo.
San Diego Prosecutors Bring Mexican Mafia Prison Gang Case
San Diego Prosecutors Bring Mexican Mafia Prison Gang Case GUEST: Dana Littlefield, court reporter, San Diego Union-Tribune

The top story, after convicts are sentenced to life or set to death row in California, the general consensus is that society will be safe from the criminals. I prosecution underway claims that members of the prison gang, the Mexican Mafia have been behind a series of assaults, kidnappings, and other crimes. Last week, 11 people were charged with crimes and they were arraigned in Superior Court and prosecutors have named 20 defendants. Joining me is pretty, court reporter with the Union Tribune. Welcome. Hello. Thank you for having me. Tell us about the Mexican Mafia. What power does it hold within the California jails and prisons? As you mentioned, the Mexican Mafia is a prison gang. There are various tiers of authority, including people who are incarcerated, who have a very strong influence on people who are inside and outside of the prison. It has to do with them being able to communicate with those on the outside, give orders and expect orders to be carried out. If the orders are not carried out, there are consequences, and usually they are violent. How are the people who are incarcerated able to avoid the state efforts to cut off contact between leaders inside the prison and those outside ? It is, if there is a will, there is a way situation. Communication happens between inmates. It happens in conversations with those on the outside, whether it is written or phone conversations. Contraband and cell phones make their way into the institution. Those can wind up in the hands of these leaders, the gang leaders and they are able to send information to the outside. 11 people were arraigned in San Diego last week. What have they been accused of? It is a number of crimes. A lot of them are charged under conspiracy laws. There are those accused of conspiracy to sell drugs, to kidnap for ransom, there is extortion and conspiracy to commit torture. There is a wide range of crimes within them. What is the connection between them and the people who are arraigned and the prison gang ? That is not entirely clear. I can tell you that according to the information we have been given by the district attorney office, the arrest were a result of a long investigation into the conduct of the Mexican Mafia. They were able to determine that the defendants in the case are a legend to a worked in two groups. One is led by Josh#233; Marquez who is in federal custody. Another, there is a group of activities that was led by Rinaldo who is a death row inmate. The men I just mentioned are supposedly heads of the Mexican Mafia. They are calling the shots. The defendants are accused of caring -- carrying the orders out. The men who are believed to have run the operations inside the prison, they are not charged. Why not ? Correct. The district attorney office is treating them as on charged co-conspirators in this case. Presumably that is because they are spending a lot of time behind bars. One of them is on death row. The other, Marquez is expected to spend the rest of his life in prison. The way I understand it and the way I have been told by other attorneys associated with the case is that they are going to be in prison for a very long time and it did not make sense to charge them directly. Researchers have studied the Mexican Mafia extensively. What do they say about members devotion to the gang ? Experts say that basically, you have to do what you are told to do by the Mexican Mafia. Essentially, the Mexican Mafia will get its due. If you are out there on the street and you are selling drugs, the Mexican Mafia will take a tax. They take their percentage of whatever you sell. If you do not give up that percentage, the Mexican Mafia will get it somehow. They might break into your house. They might rob you directly. They might take things from your home. They will get their do is what I am told. In your article, you said the order of loyalty is Mexican Mafia, God, and family. Yes. That was described by an expert, a man by the name of Raffaella who researched the Mexican Mafia for a number of years. He was describing how one person who is a member or an associate of the Mexican Mafia can carry out an attack on someone he has known since childhood, someone who has been in the neighborhood. The answer to that is because in this lifestyle, in this criminal culture, the Mexican Mafia comes first and that is true not just for the Mexican Mafia but a lot of prison gangs. They are not the only one that exist. I have been speaking with Dana Littlefield with the union Tribune. Thank you. My pleasure.

Twenty people have been charged in San Diego Superior Court in connection with the Mexican Mafia prison gang, local prosecutors announced earlier this month.

The case comes after a three-year investigation, dubbed "Operation Emero," which found members of the gang were using prison phones, contraband cell phones, email and mail to communicate with members outside. Prosecutors allege the gang ordered members to extort victims and sell drugs. The charges include conspiracy to commit torture.

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Eleven of the defendants pleaded not guilty on July 24.

“This gang is extremely gruesome and calculated in their violence to inspire fear and intimidation,” District Attorney Summer Stephan said in a prepared statement when the charges were filed. “This investigation has far-reaching implications across the organization and sends a message that law enforcement will protect the community from gang violence.”

San Diego Union-Tribune courts reporter Dana Littlefield joined KPBS Midday Edition on Monday with more on the gang's influence both inside and out of California prisons.