Exploiting the Mexican Mafia's Weaknesses

The Mexican Mafia is composed of cell-like cliques united in a coalition under the umbrella name. These cliques or sub-groups are led by informal charismatic leaders who function under the overall gang structure. Sometimes the nature of this beast aids law enforcement gang fighters in delivering the critical blow.

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Peter 'Sana' Ojeda (second from l.) is seen in federal prison with his Mexican Mafia 'carnals' (brothers). Photo: Richard Valdemar.Peter "Sana" Ojeda (second from l.) is seen in federal prison with his Mexican Mafia "carnals" (brothers). Photo: Richard Valdemar.Understanding the nature and history of a gang is critical to strategically interdicting its criminal activities and dismantling the organization. Southern California gangs don't have formal hierarchies or structures like Chicago- or New York-based gangs.

The Mexican Mafia is composed of cell-like cliques united in a coalition under the umbrella name. These cliques or sub-groups are led by informal charismatic leaders who function under the overall gang structure. Sometimes the nature of this beast aids law enforcement gang fighters in delivering the critical blow.

Southern California's Orange County has the reputation as a conservative, largely affluent, cluster of bedroom communities populated mostly by Caucasian families. However, minority enclaves and street gangs have dotted the Orange County area from the beginning, especially around Santa Ana. There was money to be made trafficking in narcotics in these minority enclaves and especially the affluent communities with expendable incomes. Criminal gangs established themselves early on. Many of these street gangs had ties to Mexican sources for narcotics in nearby San Diego and across the border.

Peter "Sana" Ojeda was an "old school" veteran of the traditional Latino street gang called F-Troop, and his moniker "Sana" was short for Santa Ana. This gang could trace its beginnings to the Pachuco gangs of 1940s and '50s. Sana was also an early member of the Mexican Mafia prison gang.

I've had several opportunities to arrest Sana Ojeda over the years as a member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Prison Gang Unit assisting the California Department of Correction (CDC) in raids targeting Ojeda and his gang. Each time we arrested Sana Ojeda I wondered how this burned-out old hype (heroin addict) could be such a powerful gang leader in Orange County and within the Mexican Mafia. The Mexican Mafia had regulations about this kind of addiction and abuse of "chiva" (heroin). But it was this same enslaving black-tar heroin that secured Sana's power. He was a source and conduit for this money making product. This poison bought him power and influence.

Sana surrounded himself with gang members who were loyal to the Mexican Mafia, but especially loyal to Peter "Sana" Ojeda. He made sure that anyone from Orange County who might be considered for membership in the EME was someone in Sana's debt and beholden to his wishes.

In 1992, Sana Ojeda had organized the first meetings of the representatives of the numerous warring Latino Orange County gangs in El Salvador Park. He and his Mexican Mafia supporters ordered the gang taxation, race wars and "no drive-by" policies that were later replicated in San Diego, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Kern counties.     

From 1993 to 1999, I was part of a federal task force that covertly monitored gang meetings of the Mexican Mafia and wiretap recordings of Mexican Mafia members' telephone calls in which the Eme's criminal business was discussed. During these monitored conversations several EME members complained about Sana Ojeda and the Orange County "car" (power faction). They complained that Sana carefully controlled who entered the Mexican Mafia from his area.

His Orange County Mexican Mafia car utilized their privilege as "carnales" (brothers, or made members) to veto membership of anyone not to their liking. This same criticism was also leveled against Tupie Hernandez of the Ontario "Black Angels" and his Inland Empire car.

Sana escaped the 1995 Los Angeles Mexican Mafia RICO conviction because he happened to be in custody on gun charges, but by 2005 he too was convicted on racketeering charges and sent to federal prison. It was during his time in prison that a young Armando "Mando" Moreno from the Forming Kaos (FK) gang entered the Mexican Mafia. Moreno was a moneymaker for the Eme with ties to drug suppliers, identity theft rings and Armenian organized crime figures.

Armando Moreno and his Forming Kaos gang evolved from the non-traditional gang background of taggers and dance crews. In this tagger/dance crew world the crew members were sometimes racially mixed. This would later become an issue for "Mando" Morales who would be expected to vigorously prosecute the Eme's war against Blacks.

In 2009, while serving time in a state prison in Chino, Mando Morales became a "shot caller" for the Eme and organized the Sureño gang members in prison. On the day of his release (Aug. 8, 2009), a major prison riot kicked off in the Mariposa dormitory and rapidly spread into racial rioting that lasted two days and caused injuries to 200 inmates. The rioting caused over $5.2 million in damages.

Mariposa is Spanish for butterfly and has been historically used as a coded name and symbol for the Mexican Mafia gang. Of the 55 inmates who were hospitalized for serious injuries, including stab wounds and head injuries, 50 were African-American inmates. Prison gang investigators believe the riot was organized and sanctioned by Moreno.

According to unsealed indictments released by the U.S. Attorney during Operation Black Flag in July, Mando Moreno began targeting Sana Ojeda's supporters for murder after his release from Chino. According to Mexican Mafia rules, no Eme member can raise his hand against another without the Mexican Mafia's approval. This means that Mexican Mafia members who were not part of the Ojeda Orange County car had supported Moreno and sanctioned his "green lights" against Ojeda's crew.

By October of 2009, authorities had intercepted correspondence from Sana Ojeda to his associates saying that Moreno was not authorized to conduct business on Ojeda's behalf and that Moreno was not to be trusted. Orange County Latino street gangs and the Mexican Mafia began to form two powerful opposing coalitions — supporters of Sana Ojeda and supporters of Mando Moreno. This murderous factional infighting was most recognizable in the Orange County jail system.

In January of 2010, Mexican Mafia members from Orange County met with members from Los Angeles County to try to end the war between Ojeda and Moreno, according to the federal indictment. Orange County was conceded as Ojeda's territory. The most important information used against Moreno was that he was once a member of a predominantly black gang that had a history of killing Latino gang members. The Black Flag indictment further noted that in April Peter Sana Ojeda told one of his Mexican Mafia carnals to put out the word that Armando Mando Moreno was to be killed.

Hopefully, gang investigators and prosecutors from Orange County have recognized this as an exploitable weakness and fatal flaw in the Mexican Mafia organization and its surrogate Sureño army.

Here are a few items to consider:

  1. Since there are no real leaders in the Eme, its members must somehow meet and form a majority consensus whenever a problem develops.
  2. Rival power factions have formed within the Eme and the factions are jealous or suspicious of each other.
  3. When they do meet, moneymaking ability often trumps gang loyalty and Eme rules.
  4. Many of the Eme's de facto leadership are addicted to heroin.
  5. There is a rift between the "old school" Mafia members and the Pepsi Generation.
  6. Traditional Latino street gang members don't understand or respect non-traditional gangs such as taggers or dance crews.
  7. When internal war is being waged, criminal activity and gang communications are less covert.
  8. The gang is not focused on law enforcement.   
  9. Confused and disillusioned gang members can become informants.  
  10. Divide and conquer.


Taking Down Mexican Mafia Cliques In the O.C.

When the Mexican Mafia Takes Out a Pawn

Understanding Inmate Codes of Conduct

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