He climbed his way up to the top floor of the Mexican Mafia: La Eme — a bloodthirsty California prison gang which originated in the mid-1950s. His body is covered in Mafia tattoos, including a life-size black hand with the letter “M” inside of it (the symbol of the Mexican Mafia, La Eme), over his heart. He commanded over tens of thousands of Latino soldiers from Southern California street gangs, also called Sureños, who were both on the streets, and in prison. He stole, robbed, trafficked drugs, ordered killings, and murdered people with his own hands, all in cold blood.
Then, in 2002, he turned on the gang he helped mastermind; he became a federal informant and began exposing the Mexican Mafia’s deepest secrets.
His name is Rene “Boxer” Enriquez, and this is his story….
Rene was born on July 7, 1962, and grew up in a middle-class home in Cerritos, California. He was a bright kid who showed promise, but he decided to drop out of school in the 9th grade. At age 12 or 13, he got jumped into Artesia 13, a local street gang that his older brother, Marc, who Rene idolized, was a member of. To gain membership, members of the gang took Rene behind a gas station and “jumped” him in — they beat him so he could prove he was fearless, an initiation process used by many street gangs. Marc gave Rene the nickname “Boxer,” and from there, he began investing his energies into the gang. His dad tried to keep him on track by making him work in the family business, but Boxer preferred to run the streets, steeling with his friend, Johnny Mancillas, and breaking into nearby homes. He eventually ended up in juvenile hall, after he and two others raped an intoxicated woman at a party.
Like most gang members, Boxer idolized those who’d been to prison. “And once we got into the gangs, we understood that the homeboys that got out of prison were well respected. You go there, and you learn prison,” Boxer would later say. “We wanted to get to prison somehow. And we were destined to get there.” It wouldn’t be long before Rene “Boxer” Enriquez got his wish of going to prison. Arrested for a string of robberies, he was sentenced to several years in prison, where at the age of 19, he was introduced to members of the Mexican Mafia. They took him under their wing and taught him the ways of La Eme. He learned how to make “shanks” — prison-made knives — and hide them in his rectum. He began carrying out “hits” — prison stabbings — for the Mafia, in San Quentin and Folsom prisons, working his way into their good graces. In 1985, he became a “made” man — an official member of the Mexican Mafia; a membership and commitment that is expected for life, as the only way out, is death.
In 1989, Boxer paroled from prison, where he immediately put his membership with the Mexican Mafia into action. He began extorting the local Latino street gangs — the Sureños — and others who made their money off of crime, like selling drugs. He made it clear to those within his territory that you will follow the laws set by the Mexican Mafia, or die. One suspected drug dealer, Cynthia Gavaldon, was thought to be withholding taxes she was ordered to pay, so Boxer ordered her assassination. His next act of terror was to murder fellow Eme member David Gallegos, who had lost favor with the gang after running from a gun fight. To kill Gallegos, Boxer gave him a fatal shot of heroin, then, to ensure he would die, shot him five times in the head. Boxer was eventually arrested and held for trial in Los Angeles County Jail.
Despite incarceration, his reign of terror didn’t stop. In 1991, while awaiting trial for the murders, Boxer and another man stabbed Mexican Mafia member Salvador “Mon” Buenrostro 26 times in a lawyer’s interview room. Luckily for Buenrostro, he survived. Boxer was ultimately sentenced to three life sentences — one for each murder, and one for the stabbing of Buenrostro.
Boxer returned to prison in 1993. Prison officials wasted no time in validating him as a member of the Mexican Mafia, giving him an indeterminate “SHU” (Security Housing Unit), and sending him up to Pelican Bay State Prison — the infamous SHU facility on California’s remote north coast. There, inmates spend 23 hours a day in a windowless cell, and are only allowed one hour a day in a small, concrete “yard,” where they can walk around for exercise. Boxer would later say of arriving at the infamous “prison of prisons”: “What impacts me immediately as I walk in, is the smell. I just stepped outside from the bus and you smell the pines, the redwoods, the forest… these earthy, loamy smells. But as soon as you step into the SHU, it hits you like a wave. It’s the smell of despair, depression, desperation. This is a place where people come to die.”
Pelican Bay was designed to isolate and break the members of California’s most powerful and violent prison gangs, like the Mexican Mafia, but instead, the gangs turned it into “headquarters.” They worked around the isolation by passing gang messages via kites (small prison notes), visitors, and legal mail — mail that guards aren’t allowed to read. They used the time to scheme and organize. They taught themselves how to communicate using sign language, so they could do so at a distance when the opportunity presented itself, without the guards hearing, and they learned languages like Nahuatl, an ancient Aztec dialect, so guards couldn’t understand them. They created their own codes and messaging systems through which they could pass information, like gang hits, without outsiders understanding their meaning. Boxer Enriquez became one of the criminal masterminds of the Mafia, and there wasn’t much of anything anyone could do to stop it. “[Enriquez] had a level of sophistication in conducting his business that it was almost impossible to pinpoint and nail down exactly, everything that he was doing,” says Robert Marquez, a special agent with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Chris Blatchford, a Los Angeles journalist who often reports on gangs agrees that Boxer was more sophisticated and ruthless than other gangsters. “He was greedier than they were and he was smarter than they were and he really lived off the booty he took from other crooks,” Blatchford says.
Enriquez certainly thinks of himself as smart. “I believe I’m a cut above the rest,” he would later say with the typical arrogance of a Mexican Mafia member. He describes participating in something called “The Thousand Concepts.” “We’d spin off a thousand ideas. And if only one of them was profitable, we were succeeding. So, we’d do this every day up in Pelican Bay, a thousand miles from our base of power, spinning off ideas that paid money.”
It’s said that one of Enriquez’s greatest ideas and Mafia contributions was when, in the mid-90s, he convinced the Mafia to back his idea to order a stop on drive-by shootings on the streets of Southern California. This wasn’t done for peace, however; it was done for business. “Our true motivation for stopping the drive-by was to infiltrate the street gangs and place representatives in each gang, representatives which then, in turn, tax illicit activities in the areas,” he says. “And we already had it planned out that California would be carved up… into slices, with each member receiving an organizational turf.”
Not so fast, says others. “Boxer wasn’t the mastermind behind stopping the drive-bys. Joe Morgan was,” says Armando “Chunky” Ibarra, who I co-wrote Loyalty & Betrayal: My War with the Mexican Mafia (Special Deluxe Edition) with. Chunky was once an associate of and hitman for the Mexican Mafia, who now has him on their hit list. “Boxer did capitalize on it, though, and I don’t say this to undermine the power he did have with La Eme,” he adds.
Regardless of who the original creator of the idea was, the plan worked. “Tens of thousands of gang members adhered to what we said. Us. High school drop outs,” Enriquez says. “But we had so much authority behind who we were, they listened.”
The Mafia had so much power and influence, they were able to make the Sureños fear disobeying their orders. Gang members who commit crimes know they’ll eventually end up in prison, where the Mob rules, and any disobedience would make you a target for murder.
The Mexican Mafia’s decision to put a stop to drive-bys came with an added benefit, however: it was good PR. “They [La Eme] saw that as a way to being more respectable, in the eyes of sympathetic do-gooders, city leaders, church leaders,” says journalist Chris Blatchford.
The success of all this only confirmed to the Mobsters just how much power and influence they had, and how much money could be made without ever touching a drug or pulling a trigger, all from their prison cells, thousands of miles away in Pelican Bay, by outsourcing the work to their Southern soldiers. “We could do all this; we could become a true powerhouse, because of the finances generated by taxation: taxation, extortion, protection,” Enriquez said.
Drug and other illicit profits flowed from the streets to prison, to the accounts of the Mexican Mafia members, by the tens of thousands, right under the nose of authorities. The Mobsters treated the street criminals like owners of a fast-food franchise, using the brand of the Mexican Mafia, and their protection, in return for a portion of the profits. The Mafiosos were pulling in thousands and investing the money into things like bank CDs and government bonds. But, with more money comes more problems, and power struggles began to arise between Mob members. They began fighting over turf and profits, and plotting to murder one another. And when a Mafioso can’t get to you, they’ll murder those closest to you: a family member. The success fueled greed and paranoia, and the treachery was a turn-off for Enriquez. “This arbitrary targeting of families — because I am your adversary — takes it to a whole different realm of violence. This was not part of the bargain. This is not the Mexican Mafia that I joined,” he says. He got disillusioned, and tired. “Mob fatigue,” he calls it. In addition, he had reached the top floor of the Mafia, accomplishing all that one could; yet, when he looked around, even with all the money and power he’d gained, he was still locked in a California prison cell, where he was to remain until he died.
So, in 2002, after close to 10 years in isolation, he decided to switch sides.
Enriquez contacted the IGI (Institutional Gang Investigators) and let them know he was “done” — he wanted out of the Mafia. They quickly moved him to a different section of the prison, called Protective Custody, because as soon as word got out he’d defected, the Mafia would put a hit out on him — they’d want him dead, ASAP.
In California, when a validated member of a prison gang, such as the Mexican Mafia, Nuestra Familia, Aryan Brotherhood, or Black Guerrilla Family, drops out, they must go through a debriefing process. This is where the prisoner must tell IGI their entire gang history, every crime they’ve committed, and everything they know about the gang they are dropping out from. In other words, they must snitch. The debriefing process is one way investigators determine how serious the prisoner is, or isn’t, in their decision to be done with the gang. After all, once you snitch, there is no going back.
Because of Enriquez’s status and amount of participation in La Eme, when he made contact with IGI notifying them he was ready to switch sides, they could hardly contain their excitement. “For the first time, we had a Mexican Mafia member defect that was really able to lay out for us how the organization works, the organizational structure,” said Marquez. Some say Enriquez is the highest-level member of the Mexican Mafia to ever work with law enforcement. Within a year, the same cops who Enriquez hated, had become his protectors, even “his friends.”
Enriquez put the same dedication into his new partnership with law enforcement that he had with the Mafia. After he finished debriefing, he spent most of his time in undisclosed jail locations, where his FBI handler, assigned to facilitate his informant work, oversaw fairly permissive communications with family, reporters, and the public. Enriquez had access to a computer and could make phone calls. He assisted the FBI by listening in on wiretaps and decoding Mafia messages. He led conferences and training sessions for law enforcement all over the U.S. He worked merely full-time as an FBI informant and testified in more than a dozen trials as an expert witness. He appeared in public in a suit and tie. He even got married to his longtime sweetheart and was allowed contact visits.
Enriquez delivered a devastating blow to the Mafia he helped organize and build. For his troubles, the FBI and ATF paid him $200 a week.
Then, in September of 2014, after 10 good years of high-level snitch work, the true test of all Enriquez’s hard work and cooperation with law enforcement came about: a parole hearing — his first chance to be released from his 3 life sentences. Officials with at least 11 federal and state law enforcement agencies wrote letters to the Parole Board in support of Enriquez. Several even attended the parole hearing and listened to the Board ask the toughest of questions.
The Board: “Why did you repeatedly participate in criminal activity?”
Enriquez: “[I] lacked… the qualifications to diagnose myself… I could sit here and… guess as to what I was looking for… I don’t know what it was.”
The Board: “Why did you commit a forceable rape in 1985?”
Enriquez [crying]: “[I] had an understanding that what I was doing was wrong at the time… I wasn’t the man I am today and I lacked that social awareness at that time.”
The Board: “Why did you join a street gang?”
Enriquez: “[I was] forced.”
In the end, the Board granted parole. Now it was up to then-Governor Brown to decide whether or not to uphold the Board’s decision, as he had the final say.
Although Enriquez had become somewhat of a public figure by this time, for some reason the Board’s decision to parole him was not reported anywhere. From when the Board grants parole, they have up to 120 days to set a prisoner’s release date. For Enriquez, this happened in January of 2015 sometime. This, too, received no news coverage. With no denial yet from the Governor, Enriquez began making his plan to parole, where, upon his release, he would enter the FBI’s Witness Protection Program.
On January 28, a week or so after receiving his release date, the Los Angeles Police Department hosted a private dinner party for local police chiefs and business executives, where Enriquez, though still incarcerated, would appear as the keynote speaker. They touted him a “criminal corporate executive” who would give first-hand insight to the group about the inner-workings of the criminal enterprise, where he would detail “gang franchising, marketing, sales, merchandising and branding” to the little over 100 attendants. To put on the rather extravagant event required hundreds of hours of law enforcement’s time and effort, to plan and get Enriquez there safely. The fancy gathering was reported on by news outlets like the Los Angeles Times, NBC, and others, all who expressed surprise that so much time, energy, and presumably money had been put into a public event featuring an admitted Mafia murderer — a “convicted hit man,” were the words. Nobody knew that Enriquez had actually been granted parole by the Parole Board, and the “convicted hit man” was expecting to be released in just a matter of weeks, something which seems like may have been kept under wraps intentionally.
Something didn’t smell right to reporters, so a couple of them decided to dig a little deeper into the situation, and on January 31, the Los Angeles Times ran an article about what they’d discovered: Enriquez had been granted parole, and was only awaiting a final decision by Governor Brown. Other local newspapers began following the case more closely, even tracking down the children of one of Enriquez’s victims, who expressed outrage over Enriquez’s possible release. They also published just how much the January 28 event had cost taxpayers — $22,000. This press was not good for Enriquez.
Then, on February 20, the last day in which he could weigh in, Governor Brown released his review of the Parole Board’s decision, where he stated in part: “Mr. Enriquez presents a shallow understanding of how he came to perpetuate so many violent crimes.” Brown noted how Enriquez claimed to have found meaning from his “career” in law enforcement, but had admitted to lapsing back into drug use when “not being used by law enforcement.” Brown wrote, “Because he is a high-profile dropout targeted by the Mexican Mafia, Mr. Enriquez’s parole poses a serious security risk to him, his family, his parole agents, and his community in which he is placed.”
Brown’s decision to the Parole Board’s recommendation: Reversed.
Ironically, part of what Governor Brown used against Enriquez was that he’s on the Mexican Mafia’s hit list — a result of him dropping out of the gang and cooperating with authorities, something prison officials encourage, even demand, as a part of one’s rehabilitation. What law enforcement’s reason for supporting Enriquez in being granted parole was at least one of the reasons Brown, who had the final say, used for denying it. One can’t help but wonder if the Mafia “mastermind” was, in the end, used, played — checkmated.
Whether or not Enriquez will ever be paroled has yet to be seen. In 2017, the Parole Board granted Enriquez parole again, and on November 2, 2017, Governor Brown denied it again. In early 2019 the Board granted Enriquez parole once more, but in 2019, now-Governor Gavin Newsom denied the decision, saying in part: “I encourage him to continue down his path of self-development and insight. However, given his current risk to public safety, I am not prepared to approve his release.” This makes one wonder who is making a mistake, the Parole Board or the Governor, as only one of them can be right, and the other must be wrong — but that’s a whole other can of worms.
As of now, Enriquez remains in prison, though on a Sensitive Needs Yard (SNY), where other dropouts and prisoners wishing to avoid California gang politics are housed. Here Enriquez has many more privileges than he did when in the SHU. It is unknown if he is still working with the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.
As for what will happen next? Well, in a story with so many twists and turns, I guess we will just have to wait and see….
About the Author: Mike Enemigo is America’s #1 incarcerated author, with over 25 books published and many more on the way. He specializes in writing books about prison and street crime, as well as how-to books for prisoners. His book Surviving Prison: The Secrets to Surviving the Most Treacherous & Notorious Prisons in America will give you an authentic depiction of what prison-life is like, and will break down in detail some of the things in Boxer’s story, like weapon-making, smuggling drugs into prison, and writing in codes. His book with Armando “Chunky” Ibarra, titled Loyalty & Betrayal: My War with the Mexican Mafia (Special Deluxe Edition), will tell you all about Chunky’s experience with the Mexican Mafia, including working for them, and now being on their hit list. To learn more about Mike Enemigo and his books, visit thecellblock.net, where you can also follow his blog.