Saturday, January 16, 2016

Adios To An Underworld Legend - I Think

This week saw the conviction of a Southern California underworld pioneer.

Mexican Mafia prison-gang member Peter "Sana" Ojeda was found guilty by a jury of a slew of racketeering charges in a federal court in Orange County.

Peter Ojeda
His importance to the region's underworld dates to 1992, when Ojeda held meetings at Salvador Park in Santa Ana, bringing together warring Latino gangs from across Orange County.

It was a stunning moment that showed the power of the Mexican Mafia in the barrios, as sworn mortal enemies stood docilely together while Ojeda, from atop baseball bleachers in  a black and white checkered long-sleeve shirt, told them to stop the feuding and the drive-by shootings.

The so-called Peace Treaty spread from there to Latino gangs across Southern California, during which Mexican Mafia (Eme) members banned drive-by shootings.

In the end, though, the peace treaty proved a Trojan Horse. Eme members used the newly discovered obedience of Latino street gangs to set up a vast business model of using thousands of gang members to tax drug dealers in barrios across the Southland, then funnel the proceeds to Eme members and their relatives in prison and on the streets.

The system, which remains in place today, transformed the region's Latino street gangs from neighborhood entities into money-making enterprises. Neighborhood gang loyalty disintegrated, as feuding over money, taxation, the favor of Eme members, turned gang members against each other. It also led to mass defections of gang members from the Mafia structure inside California prisons.

Spotty and haphazard though it often is, the Eme's drug-taxation system amounts to the only region-wide organized crime syndicate Southern California has ever known.

Ojeda started all that. He was convicted this week of running the Orange County operation - ordering murders, extortion and more - from his federal jail cell, where he'd been since his arrest and conviction on a prior racketeering charges in 2005. He was helped by his girlfriend, Suzie Rodriguez, who was also convicted. Both will be sentenced in May.

Still, it's hard to imagine this will be the real end of Sana Ojeda. Mafia members, most of whom are doing life in maximum security prisons, routinely run these operations with the help of go-betweens on the street. 

Read more of journalist and author Sam Quinones' blog, True Tales: A Reporter's Blog, at 

No comments: