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Richard Valdemar

Richard Valdemar

Sgt. Richard Valdemar retired from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after spending most of his 33 years on the job combating gangs.

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Gang Task Forces Take Down Mexican Mafia 'Carnals'

Gang task forces concentrate on the RICO-type conspiracies headed by the Mexican Mafia and enforced by the local street gangs.

March 14, 2013  |  by Richard Valdemar - Also by this author

Mexican Mafia members and brothers Rafael "Cisco" Munoz-Gonzalez (left) and Caesar "Blanco" Munoz-Gonzales received life sentences for drug and weapon charges. Photos courtesy of DEA.
Mexican Mafia members and brothers Rafael "Cisco" Munoz-Gonzalez (left) and Caesar "Blanco" Munoz-Gonzales received life sentences for drug and weapon charges. Photos courtesy of DEA.

Two recent investigations show us the value of gang task forces that combine resources from law enforcement, prosecutors, and corrections to take down Mexican Mafia "carnals" in Southern California.

This is the kind of police work and prosecution that really makes a difference in besieged communities. It dismantles the unholy trinity, before it becomes institutionalized. It targets the Mexican drug cartels, their drug-distributing allies, and the American street gangs. It prevents the criminal and financial nexus with international terrorists. This is where our resources should be concentrated.

On the California side of the U.S.-Mexico border, the FBI's Violent Crimes Task Force-Gang Group (VCTF-GG) has become an effective task force in the fight against criminal gangs and their drug trafficking Mexican cartel suppliers. They are headquartered in San Diego and cover the border area, which includes Chula Vista and National City.

This is the most important operational area in California's war on drug smuggling and related violence. The team is headed by the FBI and staffed by members of various agencies, including officers from the San Diego Police Department, San Diego County Sheriff's Department, Chula Vista Police Department, and the National City Police Department. They enjoy a good working relationship. Recently, they've made valuable inroads in obtaining assistance from the Mexican government.

On Feb. 15, a Mexican Mafia associate and shot caller for San Diego's Logan Heights gang was sentenced to 14 years in prison for violent crimes in aid of racketeering, U.S. Attorney Laura E. Duffy announced. Robert Mercado was one of 36 individuals arrested this year as part of Operation Carnalismo. "Carnal" is Spanish for brother but is also the term used distinguish made members of the Mexican Mafia as opposed to street gang members or sureños with an ambition to reach that rank. Carnalismo was only one of three similar investigations that targeted Mexican Mafia criminal activity that resulted in over 100 arrests of local sureño gang members and associates.

Mercado operated enforcer crews under the leadership of Mexican Mafia member Salvador "Sal" Colabella. The Mexican Mafia prison gang controls the code of conduct and criminal activity of all the sureño street gangs in Southern California (and many in Northern California). The local street gangs are required to pay a portion of their criminal income to the Mexican Mafia. The extortion payments are referred to as "taxes." To maintain control over these street gangs, the mafia and its associates enforce the sureño code of conduct through assaults, kidnapping, extortion, drug trafficking, and murder. Some of these murders are racially-motivated hate crimes.

In his guilty plea, Mercado admitted to drug trafficking, extortion, the brutal stabbing of a drug dealer—he twisted the knife to maximize damage—and for failing to pay his proper taxes. When the errant drug dealer survived the stabbing, Mercado sent another crew member to the hospital to prevent the injured man from talking to the cops. Mercado and his associate then extorted the drug dealer by taking his car as a tax payment.

Further north in the San Gabriel Valley suburb of Los Angeles, another gang task force disrupted another Mexican Mafia-run criminal organization. In March, bothers Rafael "Cisco" Munoz-Gonzales, 42, and Caesar "Blanco" Munoz-Gonzales, 38, were given life sentences in U.S. District Court for convictions under the RICO (Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organizations) Act, and for weapons possession and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.

Before becoming members of the Mexican Mafia, the brothers were members of the La Puente 13 street gang. Puente 13 is an old-school gang that originated in the San Gabriel Valley at least 60 years ago. "La Puente" is Spanish for "The Bridge" and the gang was known as the "Bridgetown Gentlemen" in those days. Today the Puente 13 gang has over a dozen cliques or subgroups, all of them loyal sureños.

During this investigation, Munoz-Gonzales ordered his sureño minions to attack a witness who had been convinced by federal authorities to cooperate in the investigation. The attempted hit went down at the Metropolitan Federal Detention Center in Los Angeles where the victim was stabbed 22 times and beaten severely. The cooperating witness survived despite a punctured lung and skull fracture.

The task force prevented further gang violence by arresting members of the Munoz-Gonzales organization before a rival Mexican Mafia faction headed by Jacques "Jocko" Padilla could launch his vendetta against the brothers for muscling into an area claimed by Jocko's crew.

These gang task forces should keep the U.S. Attorney's Office busy for a long time. They could develop scores of similar cases just by concentrating on the RICO-type conspiracies headed by the Mexican Mafia and enforced by the local street gangs. They have a successful formula. If you add to this formula the prosecution of hate crimes and human trafficking, you would have a WMD to use against these organizations. 

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