Let’s begin at the beginning. Many people do not know that actually, the Mexican Mafia is not some far-off gang south of the border, but a gang that began in and continues to operate in the United States- and mostly from behind bars, I might add. No matter how terrible their crimes, no one can say that is not impressive. The highly-organized criminal organization was formed in the 1950’s by Luis “Huero Buff” Flores and 13 Hispanic street gang members who were all doing time at the Deuel Vocational Institution in California. They formed to protect themselves from other prison gangs they were incarcerated with, but the gang became much more than they had anticipated.
The Mexican Mafia is nothing if not respectful; their gang’s name was chosen to honor and show respect to powerful criminal organizations such as the American Mafia. Now, six decades later, it has definitely succeeded in that goal, as this group is responsible for everything their revered American Mafia is: theft, intimidation, and murder to those who go against them in any way, shape, or form.
So what do we know about the infamous Mexican Mafia? Plenty, although most of it is not pretty. Whether you had no clue what the Mexican Mafia even was until stumbling upon this article, or you are well-versed in all things organized crime, here are 15 fun (and sometimes scary) facts about one of America’s most notorious prison gangs, the Mexican Mafia.
15. Female Roles
One Mexican Mafia member named Rene “Boxer” Enriquez explained the role of women within the Mexican Mafia in an interview with jezebel.com. He said that in the 1970’s, the gang was considering creating a female faction called “carnales”, which is Spanish slang for “sisters”. The plan was to use the women to house paroled members, sell drugs, and set up potential victims. But women in the Mexican Mafia have actually been utilized even more than that; since the 70’s, they have been given titles like secretarias, female facilitators, and senoras, who are the wives and girlfriends of the actual gang members and have the biggest role of the females, as they relay sensitive information to the street crews and other members. Since women were rarely considered suspects way back when, it was easier for them to help out, away from the watchful eyes of law enforcement, who have since realized that women can indeed be dangerous, too.
14. Recent MM Headlines Involving Women
Speaking of women, less than a year ago in 2016, one woman closely affiliated with the Mexican Mafia was sentenced to six and a half years behind bars for helping her mobster boyfriend do business from jail. Peter Ojeda had been the longtime head of the Orange County branch of the Mexican Mafia until he was caught and tried alongside Susan Rodriguez for felony counts of racketeering and criminal conspiracy to commit murder and assault with serious bodily injury. Together for five years, Rodriguez helped run messages between her incarcerated boyfriend and his allies. He received 15 years, she less than half that, after members of the gang turned against them and offered their testimony for plea deals. This was one of the more recent headlines involving the Mexican Mafia.
13. The “New” Version
Since 1984, there has been a prison gang calling themselves the New Mexican Mafia, which is easy to confuse with the “old” Mexican Mafia. Technically, since the original gang was only formed 10 years prior in 1974, they are both kind of old, but they are still two distinct groups. Both groups’ members consider themselves wholly autonomous in relation to one another. The New Mexican Mafia came about after the original gang split into two groups in 1978. One of the groups retained their name, the Mexican Mafia, and the other would go on to become the New Mexican Mafia. Basically, at least from an outsider’s perspective, they do not seem that different other than location (the New Mexican Mafia is in Arizona, the old primarily in California). These two Hispanic prison gangs originated as one, have almost the same name, and are both insanely violent. But to say that to one of them would probably be very offensive.
12. Aliases and Allegiances
Like many other gangs, the Mexican Mafia goes by many other names. These include 13, Black Hand of Death, The M, and La Eme, which is Spanish for “the M”. The number 13 and the letter M both play a big role in Mexican Mafia aliases and symbolism, some of which we have seen so far throughout this list. 13 is traditionally known in the West as an unlucky number, but it is also part of several other gang names, such as MS-13, Sur 13, and Florencia 13. Also, M is the 13th letter of the alphabet, so really, it works all around when you consider the Mexican Mafia’s Spanish name of La Eme. Some of the younger gangs in the area, such as MS-13, Sur 13, and Florencia 13, all use the number 13 to show their allegiance to the Mexican Mafia.
11. Tests of Loyalty
Sounds dark, doesn’t it? Well, it is. Like in many other kinds of mafias, the leaders of the Mexican Mafia also like to test their members’ loyalty in different ways. This is expected by all. Theft or murder are two tasks that are commonly given to members to prove their loyalty to the gang, as they are two crimes that require a hell of a lot of dedication to commit, given the severity and nature of the crimes. Even scarier, if a gang member refuses one of these tests of loyalty, it is common that they will be punished with death. Although the Mexican Mafia is not presided over by one single leader, still there exist authority figures within the gang that can order these loyalty tests, and order the punishments for those who refuse.
10. Black Hand of Death
The so-called Black Hand of Death is symbolic of the Mexican Mafia. Members of this gang tattoo themselves on the chest with this symbol, which is (appropriately) a black hand. This image is an homage to Sicilian Mafia members, who used it to describe a method of extortion. More synonymous in modern times with the Mexican Mafia than the Sicilian Mafia, the Black Hand of Death is only one of this gang’s many symbols. Others include the Aztec Sun God, Aztec Death God (for high-ranking members only), and the number 13. Its primary symbol, however, is actually an eagle and a snake, which is the national symbol of Mexico, atop a flaming circle over crossed knives.
9. “American Me”
The critically-acclaimed 1992 film American Me was very offensive to the Mexican Mafia, which it was based on, that they carried out retribution slayings upon a trio of consultants to the movie. They also threatened to kill the director and star Edward James Olmos. There were many things the Mexican Mafia did not appreciate about the film, but to them, the worst was the multiple male rape scenes. This is because the Mexican Mafia vehemently forbids homosexuality within their gang (although there are reports that homosexual prostitution is rampant among imprisoned members). It is reportedly because of these scenes that the informants were murdered. All three were gunned down, one at point-blank range in her driveway right in front of her boyfriend and son.
8. Their Allies and Enemies
All gangs have certain other gangs they consider to be their enemies. For the Mexican Mafia, their enemies are primarily the Nuestra Family and the Black Guerilla Family, however more recently the Bloods and Crips have become their enemies, as well. The Mexican Mafia is the controlling organization for almost every Hispanic gang in Southern California, and therefore these other Hispanic gangs must essentially work for them and carry out their orders or be met with the threat of death. In this sense, they are allies with the Mexican Mafia, although sometimes unwilling ones by the sound of it. The Mexican Mafia also has a loose alliance with the Aryan Brotherhood due to their common enemies within the prison system, such as the Black Guerilla Family and other black gangs.
7. The Rules
Following are 11 rules that are imperative to follow if you belong to the Mexican Mafia:
A member may not be an informant or rat.
A member may not be a coward.
A member may not raise a hand against another member without approval.
A member must not show disrespect to any member’s family, including sex with another member’s wife or girlfriend.
A member must not steal from another member.
A member must not be homosexual.
A member must not politic against another member or cause dissention within the organization.
Membership is for life.
It’s mandatory to assault/kill all dropouts.
La eMe comes first, even before a member’s family.
6. Reign of Terror
This time period, in the Mexican Mafia’s earliest years, was so bloody that it was actually referred to as the Reign of Terror, which is more commonly associated with the purge of France from its enemies in the Revolution. So you can see how violent this time must have been to give it the same name as those months during the French Revolution. After its inception in 1957, the Mexican Mafia grew rapidly in size and strength. In fact, prison authorities attempted to break up the gang by moving members to other local prisons, but this only served to spread them out and recruit more and more numbers so they controlled more drug trafficking, extortion, contract killings, and debt collection. The Mexican Mafia enjoyed unprecedented power within the Southern California prison system, until the 1990’s, when 22 people were arrested and charged with racketeering, murder, kidnapping, and extortion in an effort to end the Reign of Terror and cripple the Mexican Mafia. However, although this did diminish their power, they have continued to do business, and even thrive, since then.
5. The First Defector
One particularly interesting person at the center of the Mexican Mafia’s history is one of its first members, Ramon “Mundo” Mendoza. He was one of the main guys who founded the Mexican Mafia, and he has since defected (it feels funny using that term when talking about anything other than North Korea!) and has proven, in some people’s eyes, that redemption actually is possible. He once led a murderous criminal life, but after a bunch of rigmarole, being released on a technicality, turning a new leaf in life, and experiencing true regret and empathy for his victims, he wound up in the U.S. Witness Protection Program after deciding to work undercover against his former gang brothers. He went from the dangerous job of a mafia hitman to the even-more-dangerous job of informant of a gang that is strictly blood in, blood out.
4. The Second Defector
Rene Enriquez was once an influential mobster that ranked high within the Mexican Mafia. He is a convicted killer, gang rapist, and the perpetrator of a jailhouse stabbing, but he managed to walk free in 2016. Since then, he has worked closely, like Ramon Mendoza before him, with law enforcement. He has testified in several cases, filmed training videos for police, lectured at law enforcement conferences, and even taught a college course via Skype and collaborated on books. It was a difficult road to parole after two decades in prison for all of his crimes, and his parole was initially denied. One of his victims’ children stated that while he believed people could change, he did not believe they could go “from an angel to a devil.” Enriquez, as well as his fellow defector Ramon Mendoza, definitely challenge that, as they are both living life on the straight and narrow, and even helping law enforcement.
3. The Numbers
Statistics and numbers are always helpful (and very telling) whenever learning about a new subject, or in this case, a group of people. There is of course the number 13, which we have already discussed (see number eight on this list). That is the most obvious number associated with the Mexican Mafia. Having been founded in 1957, it is officially 60 years old this year. There are an estimated 350-400 active members, but only 155-300 official members. 900 people are considered associates of the Mexican Mafia, meaning they assist the gang in carrying out its illegal activities from outside of the prison, usually with the hopes of one day becoming full-fledged Mexican Mafia members. There are 11 official rules for members (see number seven on this list). 36 counts of indictments were brought against the gang in 2006, and in 2012, 119 members were federally indicted. Of course, this was all after 22 members were indicted in 1998.
2. Drug Profits
One would think that being inside a prison, drugs and other contraband would be hard to come by. But actually, that is far from the reality. Since the late 1990’s, most of the Mexican Mafia’s profits have come from heroin that is also used by the members recreationally. The heroin and other drug trafficking within the Mexican Mafia makes up the biggest portion of their earnings, and is secured through relationships with the correctional officers and guards who are for some reason willing to become criminals, themselves. That reason is likely the fact that for helping the gang members, they are given a 40% cut of the profit, which has to be much more lucrative than their prison guard job. Since technically the guards are not official La Eme members, they can get out of the gang without being punished with death, but to do so, the only way is resignation from their prison job.
1. Contract Murders
“Bringing down the light” is another way of referring to the murder contract between Mexican Mafia members. These kinds of killings were once used only for the most serious of gang violations, but now are carried out almost nonchalantly, and over frivolous infractions. For example, a person could be killed over a petty $80 drug deal gone wrong. Murders between MM members must be approved in a three-member vote first, but murders of non-gang members do not require prior approval. A contract murder characteristic of the Mexican Mafia includes kidnapping, gagging, and binding the condemned man or woman with duct-tape, and then shooting them in the back of the head. The body is then wrapped in a blanket and tossed in the countryside.