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(AP) – The Los Angeles County jails are run by the sheriff, but the Mexican Mafia wielded the power in the underworld behind bars.
The organization made up of leaders from various Latino gangs operated like an illegal government, collecting “taxes” on smuggled drugs, ordering hits on people who didn’t follow their rules and even calling the shots on street crimes, federal prosecutors said Wednesday.
Their clout was diminished as 83 members and associates were charged in a pair of sweeping federal racketeering conspiracies that alleged drug dealing, extortion, violent assaults and even murders.
“We just delivered a blow to a cold-blooded prison gang and their associates,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna said during a news conference.
The so-called “gang of gangs” — an organization of imprisoned Latino street gang leaders who control operations inside and outside California prisons and jails — started in the 1950s at a juvenile jail and grew to an international criminal organization that has controlled smuggling, drug sales and extortion inside the nation’s largest jail system.
“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,” an indictment said.
The gang was also able to control street crime by using wives, girlfriends and lawyers to help relay orders to be carried out by members who were not incarcerated, an indictment said.
In some instances, gang members would deliberately get arrested on low-level charges so they could smuggle drugs into the jail and be released days later.
Because the Mexican Mafia controlled drug trafficking in the jails, they got the first shot to sell their supply of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin or marijuana, prosecutors said. Other groups had to wait and give a third of their contraband to the Mexican Mafia leadership.