California law enforcement are attempting to break up and crack down on the hold that the Mexican mafia has on the California prison and jail system. On Wednesday, 83 members of the mafia were charged with various crimes including drug dealing, extortion, assaults, and murders. This included the arrest of a lawyer who is accused of helping the gang facilitate their crimes. The operation included 500 law enforcement officers who arrested 32 people. Thirty-five people were already behind bars, and 16 people are on the run still, warned to be “armed and dangerous,” detailed Fox News.
Officials describe the group as a “gang of gangs” with an organized hierarchy and their own set of laws. One of the prominent crimes that the mafia was involved in was drug dealing inside jails and prisons, according to Yahoo News.
The gang is believed to have started in the 1950s by minors incarcerated at a juvenile detention center. The gang eventually grew in power and in number, until it became an international gang. The operations were so efficient, that the indictment described them as their own government.
“These Mexican Mafia members and associates, working together to control criminal activity within (LA County jails), have become their own entity or enterprise and effectively function as an illegal government.”
One of the hallmarks of the gangs was the drug smuggling. If anyone other than the gang smuggled drugs inside, people were forced to pay a “thirds” tax, meaning they had to give up a third of the loot to the gang. Additionally, the gang collected money from other people’s commissary. The gang enforced their own laws by threatening others with violence.
For those that didn’t follow the mafia’s demands, the consequences could be brutal. From assaults, kidnappings to even murders, the gang would order hits on people both inside and outside the prison system.
Notably, a lawyer named Gabriel Zendejas-Chavez is accused of enabling communication between incarcerated gang members. Zendejas-Chavez would use attorney-client privilege to his advantage to hold private conversations. Not only that, Zendejas-Chavez is believed to have helped the gang extort $100,000 from a Mongols motorcycle gang.
Officials don’t expect that the 83 being indicted would stop the gang activity. Sheriff Jim McDonnell admitted that “There will be new leaders, that’s kinda how the whole system works. It’s hierarchical.” However, authorities hope that the move is a step in the right direction, rather than letting the gangs continue to run rampant without any consequences.