La Eme is one of the big four California prison gangs. They originated in the California prison system in the 1960s and have grown since then to rule a vast empire of criminal activities, stretching from Southern California to Arizona to Colorado. Virtually all the southwestern gangs of Mexican heritage (Surenos) are under their control. In prison and on the streets they are one of the most feared gangs in America. Recently there have been a bunch of books published about their activities- Tony Rapheal’s The Mexican Mafia, Boxer Enriquez’s The Black Hand, Mundo Mendoza’s From Hitman to Alter Boy and Robert Morrill The Mexican Mafia/The Story. To get you the 411 on this treacherous group we reached out to author Robert Morrill. Here is the Gorilla Convict interview.
GC: Describe the Eme’s growth since you first started investigating them?
RM: La eMe was a well established prison gang by 1970 and by 1971 they hit the streets to take over many criminal operations which is when the Gang Task Force (established in April, 1972) first started. They soon spread to other states via the BOP system or by some eMe (Carnales) or Associates (Camaradas) who moved back to their home states upon release from California prisons. Often these gangs took on their own homegrown flavor, but also remained in communications with CA eMe. They are now considered Organized Crime and often eMe members have ties to the Mexican Drug Cartels.
GC: What is the state of the Mexican Mafia today?
RM: The Mexican Mafia today has been targeted by numerous RICO cases, however as with other prison gangs, this often spread them out as more and more eMe members were moved to Federal BOP Prisons all across the United States. They have been impacted by Law Enforcement and Corrections suppression efforts and lockdowns, but prison gangs are very good at adapting to these efforts and circumventing us through abusing the system, by using dirty lawyers, and having other people such as Camaradas, wives, and girlfriends handle their business on outside of prison or out on General Population Prison Yards.
GC: Have all the federal indictments put a dent in their empire? Explain why or why not.
RM: All of the federal indictments have put a dent in personal eMe empires, such as when their personal bank accounts and assets are frozen, but they often adapt as explained above.
RM: No disrespect, but Tony Rapheal’s The Mexican Mafia is a good recent case study of the Avenues street gang based on court transcripts, but does not paint a complete picture of La eMe and their ties to hundreds of other street gangs over the years. It also misses, in my opinion, many of the very early crime elements and important eMe figures that were investigated by the Gang Task Force. Boxer Enriquez’s book, The Black Hand, written with renowned television investigative reporter Chris Blatchford does a better job of showing the various ties between La eMe, street gangs, and how they operate on a daily basis inside and outside of the system, but Boxer was not around when many of the early eMe members were investigated. He does cover “Topo” Peters fairly well who was a mentor to Boxer but later despised by him as he learned of all the treachery done by fellow eMe.
GC: Have you ever read Tony Raphael’s blog In the Hat? What do you think the Eme think of him reporting on him and his book?
RM: Tony Raphael’s blog In the Hat, started off as a pretty good discussion board, but appears to have stopped posting. I do not believe the eMe were very concerned because most of the correct info posted on his blog and in his book are already pubic info and court record.
GC: Do you see more American me type stuff happening in this day and age with the Internet and all the info on the Eme available?
RM: American Me, which several eMe and Gang Task Force members were advisors to, was a good thing and a bad thing. It was more accurate than say Blood In, Blood Out, but also has some discrepancies such as when they show La eMe killing the real Santana, “Chy” Cadena on the tier at Chino’s Palm Hall. That did not happen! He was killed by Nuestra Familia. Gang Task Force members advised against the Film’s Producer and Actor Edward James Olmos putting that in as well as the sodomy scenes, but it appears he thought it would have more Hollywood box office appeal and left it in. As a result some eMe and a former Associate were killed. Olmos also had threats on his life, so future Directors may not want to touch the subject, or at least not use real gang names for fear of retaliation.
There is a lot of info on the eMe available, but a lot of is flat out wrong, people mix apples and oranges, California eMe with Texas EME, etc. Good websites with good info are available, such as Gabe Morales’ site Gang Prevention Services or articles written in Police Magazine by eMe expert Richard Valdemar, or DOJ Official Press Releases.
Some of the info out there is really bad, people should check the background of authors. Most of these people never met or personally dealt with eMe, they just heard about them.
GC: Has your life ever been threatened because of your book? Explain.
RM: If an author or gang investigator sticks to the truth and only puts out info that can be proven in court, has actual pictures, and relies on good informants and validated criminal justice info then they should not be worried about being threatened. eMe know the real facts!
GC: Who are the most powerful Eme members today and where are they located?
RM: Many of the Original eMe members are dead, there are a few early members still around like “Champ” Reynoso, “Rube” Soto, “Blackie” Segura, etc. There are also newer ones like Francisco “Puppet” Martinez from 18th Street and La eMe, “Huero Sherm” Leon and “Bat” Marquez from San Diego. Many are locked down in the BOP-ADX or at Pelican Bay.
GC: What was Joe Morgan like?
RM: Joe Morgan (deceased) was one of a kind. He was named the “Honorary Godfather” by Chy Cadena. Morgan’s time in California Prison predated La eMe, he had ties to the Aryan Brotherhood and Italian Mafia. He was always respectful to staff who actually dealt with him. He did not like the name “Pegleg”, very few said that to his face, and lived. He was pretty close to the character shown as “J.D.” in the movie American Me. Even though he was white he grew up in Maravilla and knew the culture. He was deadly, but already made his bones early in life, other people would kill for him or even take the rap for him. No other Mexican Mafia member has ever had the power that Papa Joe did. While the Mexican Mafia is supposed to have no overall leader, and in theory every Carnales’ vote is supposed to be the same, some like Joe had “la palabra pesada”, their word and opinions carry more weight, people who disagree often end up being on bad terms with La eMe or end up dead.
GC: What were the original Eme like compared to the Eme today?
RM: The original eMe like Chy Cadena and “Huero Buff” Flores or relatively early eMe like Joe Morgan were a different breed, it has been said they were like the “Coke Generation”. Later members who joined like “Boxer” Enriquez have been called the “Pepsi Generation”. Many of the ones around today are more like the “Sprite Generation” but there are still some Old School left in La eMe. There are still some killers, but as they have grown, many of the old rules about honor and respect have gone away. Many former eMe stated that is why they left after feeling disillusioned. Of course, many also left eMe for their own selfish reasons.