Mexican Mafia (syndicates & prison gangs)

Mexican Mafia (red - known, pink - likely)

The Mexican Syndicates are either Mexican-American (Chicano) syndicates or Mexican syndicates in former Mexico (now Aztlan).

The Mexican "mafia" is an old one, which has been tied to the black markets north of Mexico (now Aztlan) since the Prohibition era in the 1920s, supplying it with various illegal goods. Some of the Mexican syndicates or crime families may be 150 years old, with a lineage that traces as far back as the Roaring Twenties.

Mexican Organized CrimeEdit

Fifth WorldEdit

Bandit ChieftainsEdit

The Mexican mafia were the heirs of a long tradition of smuggling and banditry in post-colonial Mexico. The first great bandit chief was a man by the name of "Gómez". He was a bandit chieftain who worked for both the royalists and the rebels during the War of Independence. A cruel man who mutilated his victims before killing them and later burying them alive. Who after Mexico gained independence, returned to banditry and with his band terrorized the road from Mexico City to Veracruz, known as the "bandit corridor" until he was caught and exiled to California where he was later reported to have raised a bandit army of Indians.

A decade later in the 1830s, a criminal organization consisting of 150 bandits was secretly controlled by Colonel Juan Yáñez, the aide to "president" (dictator) Santa Anna. His network robbed travelers on the roads and wealthy homes in the cities of the "bandit corridor", later inspiring a novel. Several including the colonel were arrested and then executed in 1837.[1] The famous bandit chieftain Heraclio Bernal from the mid 1870s to mid 1880s led up to 100 bandits who dominated parts of the states of Durango and Sinaloa, and raided silver mines, robbed stagecoaches, attacked armories, and stole from the rich.[2] One of his lieutenants, Ignacio Parra would form his own super group of bandits over a 100 strong which would terrorize Durango in the 1890s, one of whose members for a short time was Pancho Villa. The bandit chieftain turned revolutionary general Pancho Villa would after being decisively defeated by his rival (the general Alvaro Obregon) who shattered his powerful Division of the North, reverted back to banditry with a force of up to 500 men whom raided into the United States.[3][4]

Bootleg Liquor and OpiumEdit

Smuggling across the U.S.-Mexico border started with the laws prohibiting drugs (Harrison Act of 1914) and alcohol (Volstead Act of 1919). Mexico's first drug lord was Colonel Esteban Cantu, who controlled the drug trade in Baja California in the 1910s, smuggling Asian opium into the U.S. via Mexicali and Tijuana. Later in the 1920s-30s there were men like Aurturo Vaca a former anti-narcotics police chief who became a major exporter of drugs and Enrique Fernandez-Puerta who smuggled alcohol into the U.S. and whose operations in Ciudad Juarez were protected by authorities.[5][6] Further east in Matamoros, Juan Guerra smuggled alcohol into the U.S. and soon came to control all contraband smuggling in that region, establishing the forerunner of the Gulf Cartel.[7][8] During this period Mexico supplied the United States with 15% of its opium.

In 1942, Benjamin "Bugsy" Siegel was sent to Mexico by Charles "Lucky" Luciano and Meyer Lansky to establish opium and morphine connections as World War 2 had disrupted their traditional narcotic pipeline from Turkey and they needed a new one. They bought drugs from the Sinaloan traffickers led by Rodolfo Valdez (El Gitano - The Gypsy) a hitman who killed 50. [9] In the late 1940s, Pablo Macias-Valenzuela, the governor of Sinaloa was the leader of opium traffickers who turned Culiacan into Mexico's headquarters for opium smugglers.[10] After the death of Bugsy, his girlfriend Virginia Hill was sent to Mexico as the Mafia's liaison with the Mexican drug traffickers. She ended up being the lover and business partner of the Mexican Air force pilot Luis Amezcua, and together they ran an opium and morphine trafficking operation with Colonel Carlos I. Serrano of the Mexican Senate and U.S. businessman Alfred Cleveland Blumenthal from 1948 till 1952.[11]

By the 1960s, Pedro Avilés Pérez had established the forerunner of the Sinaloa Cartel, a syndicate that trafficked in marijuana and heroin.[12] During the 1970s, there were several major drug trafficking organizations in Mexico earning millions of dollars a year. Juan Garcia Abrego (the nephew of Juan Guerra) through his uncle's syndicate was exporting marijuana into Texas and Florida.[13][14] Jesus "Chuy" Araujo, headed a large, heroin and cocaine trafficking organization that was ruthless and well-organized. He trafficked drugs into the Southwest and had a partnership with the Chicano prison gang, the Mexican Mafia.[15] From Sinaloa the heroin trafficker Pedro Aviles dominated the territory from Sinaloa to Chihuahua. He was a pioneer who smuggled marijuana into the U.S. via aircraft in the 1960-70s.[16]

Next door in the state of Durango, was the heroin empire of the Herrera Family which was a farm to street operation, that grew the opium, processed and packaged the heroin, smuggled it into the United States, and sold it on the streets. Family members controlled the operation at every stage. The organization consisted of multiple families, all of them related to the Herrera family via blood or marriage. It was a clan that had been involved in the drug trade since the mid-1950s. They imported 746 lbs of heroin every year, had their American headquarters in Chicago where it supplied 90% of the heroin, and branches in Los Angeles, Denver, Pittsburgh, and Miami. Going from earnings of $60 million a year in 1968 to $200 million a year by the mid-1980s.[17][18][19][20] In the 1970s, Mexican drug trafficking organizations were already heavily armed. One ranch was discovered to have machine guns and mortars, defended by gunmen with bandoliers. At another location, along with a ton of marijuana were 179 sticks of dynamite.[21] By the early 1970s, Mexico became the leading supplier of marijuana and heroin to the United States.

The Drug CartelsEdit

In the 1980s, Mexico had it's own national syndicate, the Guadalajara Cartel. A nationwide drug trafficking cartel whose main product was marijuana and cocaine. They were smuggling 4 tons of cocaine a month into the United States and were earning $5 billion a year. It was established by a coalition of heroin and marijuana traffickers from the state of Sinaloa.[22] Leading the cartel were a trio of drug lords, the most important one being the sophisticated college educated Félix Gallardo (aka, The Godfather) an ex-federal police officer who was worth $1 billion.[23][24] They changed the dynamics of the Latin American drug trade and were responsible for turning Mexico into the main route for cocaine into the United States. Though they dominated the underworld in Mexico, there was two powerful independent drug cartels in the northeast.

The Gulf Cartel (state of Tamaulipas) was founded by Juan Guerra in the 1930s and was now led by his nephew, Juan Garcia Abrego who by then had expanded into cocaine trafficking. He established a relationship with the Cali Cartel and by 1989 they were moving 40 tons of cocaine a year into the United States.[25][26] The Juarez Cartel (state of Chihuahua) was founded by Pablo Acosta in the 1970s who controlled crime along a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border, 200 miles long. At the height of his power in the 1980s he was smuggling 60 tons of cocaine annually into the U.S. for the Colombians. He would end up joining the Guadalajara Cartel.[27][28]

Among the other drug lords who were part of the Guadalajara Cartel were the ex-federal police commander Esparragoza Moreno (aka, El Azul), [29] Fonseca Carillo the oldest among them,[30] and Caro Quintero the marijuana king. [31] Another ex-federal police commander was a drug lord and a co-founder of the Juarez Cartel, Aguilar Guajardo who was worth $100 million in 1987.[32] It's downfall came about due to the kidnapping of the DEA agent Kiki Camarena. Who was tortured for hours (bones crushed with tire iron, repeatedly electrocuted with a cattle prod, and had his head drilled) and then killed.[33] After the collapse of the Guadalajara Cartel in 1989, many of its former members would go on to establish their own drug syndicates and cartels, including the Sonora Cartel (state of Sonora), the Tijuana Cartel (state of Baja California), and the Sinaloa Cartel (state of Sinaloa) by .[34][35][36][37][38]

Soon after the end of the Guadalajara Cartel, Felix Gallardo formed a new nationwide syndicate , The Federation in which territories were divided up among the main syndicates (excluding Gulf) with him as the boss of bosses, though he was soon arrested afterwards. In the mid 1990s, the "Federation" was reestablished by the Tijuana, Sonora, Juarez, and Sinaloa Cartels (together with the newly established Colima Cartel) who divided up most of Mexico between them, excluding those controlled by the Gulf Cartel which remained apart. It was led by the most powerful faction, the Juarez Cartel led by Amado Carillo Fuentes who spent $500 million a year in bribes.[39] The Sonora Cartel led by Miguel Caro Quintero (Rafael's brother) focused its traffic on marijuana though they did smuggle cocaine. It was known for having a fleet of semi-trailers and smuggled most of its drugs through Arizona. The Colima Cartel based in Guadalajara was led by the Amezcua-Contreras brothers and they were the first Mexican drug cartel to get into the methamphetamine trade, soon coming to dominate the meth trade in the western United States. [40]

In the 1990s, two of Mexico's drug lords were billionaires. Juan Garcia Abrego of the Gulf Cartel was estimated to be worth $15 billion. He was known for having a thing for American beauty queens and had sex with quite a number of them. Garcia Abrego was the one who changed the relationship with the Colombians by demanding half the payment in drugs, turning the Mexicans from cocaine smugglers to suppliers of cocaine.[41][42] His rival, Amado Carrillo Fuentes of the Juarez Cartel came to be known as “El Señor de los Cielos" (Lord of the Skies) due to his owning a fleet of 30 Boeing 727 jets. He used aircraft to bring in cocaine, up to 20 tons per flight. Carrillo Fuentes was thought to be worth $25 billion.[43][44]

Another drug lord,Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán (nephew of Pedro Avilés Pérez), a bitter rival of the Arellano-Felix brothers of the Tijuana Cartel, became infamous for building huge sophisticated tunnels in the 1990s under the U.S.-Mexico border to smuggle cocaine into the United States. Tunnels that were 100s of feet long with rail systems, lighting, ventilation, and reinforced ceilings.[45][46][[47]] In the first decade of the 21st century, the "The Federation" was reestablished under the leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel of Joaquin Guzman though it would fragment in 2008.[48] Where before it was the Gulf Cartel which was usually outside the nationwide syndicate, this time it was "Los Zetas" which were on the outs threatening the Federation.

These cartels were for criminal organizations pretty innovative, as well as savagely brutal. The Tijuana Cartel (aka, the Arellano-Felix Organization or AFO) was one such syndicate in the 1990s. The multi-billion dollar cartel was led by a group of brothers who got their start running an operation that smuggled into the United States contraband (electronics, cigarettes, and marijuana). The family included Javier the youngest who became it's leader. He went to business school but was summoned back. Like Michael Corleone he had a talent for calculated violence and the business of organized crime, directing hundreds of murders and kidnappings. Another brother, Eduardo, used to be an actual doctor and another one Ramon for a period was Mexico's most ruthless killer. The organization used encrypted communications and added layers to insulate the leadership including requiring any request for permission to murder someone to come via a dispatcher and the reply would be in code. One brother drove around in an SUV that was wired to electrically shock anyone that touched it and was rigged to eject an oil spill if pursued, James Bond style.

The Tijuana Cartel were the first Mexican cartel to recruit American street gangs (Calle Treinta (30th Street gang) from Logan Heights in San Diego) to work as their enforcers and hitmen. It was the first drug cartel to establish a partnership with an American prison gang (the Mexican Mafia). They also recruited wealthy young men from Tijuana's universities, who joined the cartel out of boredom and/or their attraction to its fame. Known as the Narco Juniors these rich and spoiled educated gangsters were as brutal as any other narcos but had a more entrepreneurial vision, moved with more discretion, had lighter human and material structures, and disguised their merchandise, though they were just as brutal as other narcos.[49]

It employed "Baseballistas" who hanged victims from rafters and used them like piñatas, in which they were beaten to death with bats. They did "carne asada" (grilled beef) in which bodies were tossed on bonfires that were made of car tires and then barbecued dinner on the flames. Bodies of high-profile victims were shoved headfirst into barrels of acid or hot lye for 24 hours until only the teeth remained and afterwards poured the sludge down the drain. They had a hit squad of 30 assassins who were trained by Mexican police officers and a Middle Eastern terrorist. Assassins who dressed in polo-shirts and Dockers, sported neatly trimmed mustaches, and traveled in SUVs. Men who were outfitted with AK-47s, hand grenades, bulletproof vests, and night-vision goggles.[50]

The death squad was led by a Chicano who was a member of the Mexican Mafia, David "Popeye" Barron who began working for the Tijuana Cartel in 1989 and led the hit squad from 1993 till his death in 1997. He was the first Chicano to reach a high-ranking position in a Mexican drug cartel. After his death he was replaced by another Chicano and member of the Mexican Mafia, Jose "Bat" Marquez who had joined David Barron in 1997 and led the hit squad for the Tijuana Cartel from 1997 till his arrest in 2003. The members of this hit squad were forbidden from using drugs and if caught were sent to specially built detox cells where they were stashed for a month. Second offense meant 60 days and a third was death. Over a two year period the cartel performed 1,500 murders and kidnappings. On top of paying $1 million every week in bribes to law enforcementt and government officials.[51][52][53][54][55][56][

In the decade before the Awakening, an ultra violent paramilitary cartel known as Los Zetas emerged. Which was originally the paramilitary enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel. It was made up of elite soldiers from Mexico's special forces who defected to the cartel. It was established in 1999 and years later would turn on the Gulf Cartel and become its own cartel.[57][58] Los Zetas built their own radio network which was used as a communication network to keep the day to day operations running smoothly and to provide its network of halcones (lookouts) who monitor the police with a fast method of communicating. Engineered by three dozen kidnapped radio technicians and engineers who were forced to build the largest and most advanced radio network possessed by any of the cartels. Which consisted of networks at the local, state, and national levels. Which extensively uses remote transmitters and repeaters (antennae and signal boosters) established on high terrain.[59]

Los Zetas also operated paramilitary training camps in which new recruits were shown how to kill. The recruits were taught military tactics and forced to prove they had what it took by killing bound men with a machete or sledgehammer. Do it and you became a Zeta sicario (hit man), fail and you were made into a "halcone" (hawk) who worked as cartel lookouts.[60] Los Zetas were founded and led by Arturo Guzmán Decena (Z-1) an ex-commando of the Mexican Army's GAFE (Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales - Special-Forces Airmobile Group) until his death in 2002. Afterwards, Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano (El Lazca or Z-23), another ex-commando of GAFE, one of 30 from the group who defected to the Gulf Cartel in 1998 took over. He had been trained by the US Army and Israeli Self Deense Forces, and had served for 8 years. Z-23 broke away from the Gulf Cartel and turned Los Zetas into a cartel. His torture techniques earned him the nickname of "El Verdugo" (The Executioner), and he was known for using the tigers and lions on his ranch to kill his victims. He tortured and killed 100s of people, decapitating them (pioneering the technique in Los Zetas), placing them in acid baths, dumping them in barrels of boiling oil, or starving them do death. Coming from a military background he imposed a military culture in Los Zetas cartel with titles such as commander and lieutenant. [61]

To help fight Los Zetas, the Juarez Cartel in that same decade established La Linea an armed wing formed and led by active and former policemen that was heavily armed and trained its recruits in urban warfare. The Juarez Cartel later recruited one of the Chicano prison gangs of Texas, Barrio Azteca who received weapons and training from the cartel.[62][63] The Sinaloa Cartel would establish its own paramilitary unit to help it fight Los Zetas, called Los Negros which was led by a Chicano, Edgar Valdez Villarreal who was called "La Barbie" due to his model-like looks. It used both the Central American super gang Mara Salvatrucha (aka, MS-13) and the Chicano prison gang of California, the Mexican Mafia (La Eme) to do contract hits. Edgar Valdez Villarreal reached heights of power, wealth, and fame in the criminal underworld that no other Chicano had before him, becoming a drug lord and lieutenant within the Sinaloa Cartel.[64][65]

By the turn of the century, the legendary Herrera Family was still in business. They were still trafficking in heroin and cocaine and to a lesser degree meth and marijuana, operating heroin labs in their home state of Durango. The Juarez Cartel had 3,300 operatives in 400 cells across 17 Mexican states, a core leadership of 6 and a money laundering network of 26 regional managers in Mexico. The Tijuana cartel had been weakened with the arrest of 2,000 operative in a 18-month period in both the United States and Mexico. Not all of the drug syndicates within Mexico were involved in the trafficking of drugs into the United States, within Mexico itself there was a drug market though nowhere near as large or lucrative as the one in the United States and there were criminal organizations focused on supplying the domestic market. The Neza Cartel was the most powerful such syndicate which was based in Ciudad Nezahualcóyotle, a suburb of Mexico city and dominated the sprawl's drug trade in the 1990s to early 2000s. It trafficked mostly in cocaine for the domestic market. They had a relationship with three major drug cartels and they disposed of their "surplus" product by selling it on the streets of Meixco City. It was led by a woman, Delia Patricia Buendía (aka, Ma Baker) who was assisted by her sons-of-laws. It penetrated the police force and assassinated several police officers including a federal police commander. She was arrested in 2002 along with the other leaders of the cartel.[66][67]

Non-Drug RacketsEdit

Prior to Aztechnology's takeover of Mexico, organized crime in the land formerly known as Mexico consisted of various types of organizations. Some were involved in only one kind of criminal enterprise (drug trafficking, people smuggling, contraband cigarettes, illegal timber, counterfeit goods, petroleum theft, cargo theft, prostitution, stolen autos, or contraband electronics). Other syndicates were involved in more than one type of criminal enterprise.

People SmugglingEdit

In Mexico by the start of the 21st century, smuggling illegal aliens into the United States was $300 million a year business. Which involved 100-300 smuggling rings who were all part of one or more of the half-dozen human smuggling networks in Mexico. These core networks had operatives in Central America and in some parts of South America, partnerships with East Asian alien smuggling groups and it was suspected Russian and/or Ukrainian organized crime groups. Operations that operated houses and ranches in Mexico, in some hundreds of immigrants were housed at a time. They operated drop houses in the US where they kept the immigrants until they got to their destinations and/or relatives paid off the remaining balance.

One of the most important people smuggling organizations during the 1980s-90s were the Peralta-Rodriquez Family, who had been smuggling aliens since the early 1980s. By the late 1990s they were smuggling up to 1,000 illegals into the US per week. They employed recruiters, drivers, and escorts as well as lodging and transportation providers and document forgery specialists. It had a fleet of cars and vans, and there employees were equipped with high-quality cellphones. Another major alien smuggling outfit was the Martínez Terán Organization which was the largest alien smuggling organization in Mexico at the turn of the century. Who operated throughout the Western Hemisphere and had collaborative relationships with Asian human smuggling rings.[68]

Auto TheftEdit

Mexican auto theft rings were responsible for most of the organized car theft in southern California, Texas, and Arizona. Smuggling tens of thousands of stolen automobiles every year into Mexico, a trade worth a few billions annually.[69] Mexican federal police were notorious for driving stolen American vehicles as late as into the 1990s and even controlled at least one auto theft ring worth millions in the early 1980s.[70][71] In the state of Arizona, thousands of stolen cars ended up in Mexico every year. Where about 60% of them ended up being used in drug running and smuggling illegal aliens, the remainder ending up in chop shops or in fraud schemes.[72] Within Mexico itself, auto theft grew during the 2000s due to the drug cartels forcing smaller criminal groups out of the drug business who then turned to other illicit activities to earn money such as auto theft. Mexico City had the largest number of autos reported stolen.[73]

By the late 2000s vehicles were being stolen to order for the cartels. In one million dollar operation in Brownsville, Texas kids were being recruited in Matamoros and Brownsville to steal vehicles. Which were being dropped off, then picked up and exchanged among multiple individuals, and finally handed over to the cartel. The one who broke into the vehicle and started the engine was paid $1,000 and the one who took the vehicle to Mexico received $100. It was an operation which consisted of "cells".[74] Pickup trucks and SUVs were favored for smuggling off road. Afterwards the vehicles were stripped and then used for parts or sold to unsuspecting buyers within Mexico and the United States.[75][76]


Prostitution was a lucrative business in Mexico, a multi-billion dollar business.[77] One dominated by "clans" based in the state of Tlaxcala in central Mexico. Villages in Tlaxcala were responsible for up to 80% of Mexico's sex traffickers. Which could be traced to the 1960s in the village of Tenancingo. By the early 2000s it had become the sex trafficking capital of the world. Based in the village were multi-generational clans of pimps (informal organizations which were led by families). They had a nationwide prostitution network, recruiting and kidnapping girls and women throughout Mexico (rural and/or poor) and putting them to work in the red light districts (Zona Rosa) of Mexico's cities. In addition they trafficked in girls and women from Central America. Some of them were sent to the United States and put to work in rural brothels or trailers, servicing workers in the migrant camps of California, Arizona, Texas, and the East Coast from Vermont in the northeast to Florida in the southeast. They often used Queens in New York City as their American base due to all the migrant camps on the east coast.[78][79][80]

One such "clan" was the Carreto Family based in Tenancingo. They controlled a prostitution network which reached NY City and operated in the city from 1991 to 2004, keeping prostitutes in single apartments.[81] Another such "clan" though this one was based in Veracuz was the Cadena Family who were active in the 1990s. Which smuggled the sex slaves into Texas where they were put into safe houses. Then they were taken to migrant camps in South Carolina and Florida to work in rural brothels or trailers.[82] In the first decade of the 21st century, every month a 100 children and teenagers fell under the control of organized crime groups, put to work in prostitution and pornography. Syndicates employing 5,000 minors in prostitution, sex tourism, and pornography.[83]

Contraband GoodsEdit

In Mexico, earnings from counterfeit and smuggled goods were $6-10 billion a year by 2005. Within Mexico these goods were often sold openly. Bootleg CDs were worth $400 million a year. In many industries, contraband accounted for over half of all sales. [84] The largest markets for stolen goods and counterfeit merchandise in Latin America was in Tepito located in Mexico City, which was dominated by local criminal outfits. In Tepito everything from drugs to high-powered weapons were found for sale, in a huge street market that was open 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.[85][86][87] Tepito was populated by the lower and alienated classes within Mexico. A street market which stretched for miles and occupied 25 streets, in which 12,000 vendors did business.[88] It was a market that had existed since the time of the Aztecs, originally a market for the outcasts and thieves. By the start of the 21st century, it's vendors were making or buying counterfeit goods, the latter supplied by supplied by the mafias that controlled networks of counterfeit contraband (perfumes, CDs, firearms, and electronic equipment). There were entire blocks that specialized in certain goods (e.g. stolen car parts).[89]


By 2002, illegal gambling was a growing business in Mexico. There were an estimated 1,500 underground gambling operations. Where people bet on various activities including cards, roulette wheels, and cockfights. In Mexico certain types of gambling were legal (sports betting, dice, electronic bingo, and dominos), while other types were illegal (poker, blackjack, roulette wheels, slot machines, etc). The underground gambling business was earning $500 million a year by the mid 2000s. In some cases, the illegal casino operates side by side with the legal gambling venue, operating in the back. Cockfighting in Mexico was illegal in Mexico City and in most states (only five states permitted cockfighting), and therefore in most states cockfighting was part of the underground gambling world. [90][91][92][93]

Cargo TheftEdit

Cargo theft within Mexico consisted of well-organized and armed gangs of thieves who hijacked trucks and even assaulted trains.[94] Well-organized criminal gangs and drug cartels were well-equipped with heavy machinery to unload bulk agricultural goods (e.g. coffee) and industrial materials (e.g. steel). Which permitted them to unload normally prohibitively heavy cargo such as 30-tonne rolls of steel. Cargo theft was growing in the 2000s do to the drug war among the cartels which had resulted in smaller groups splintering off and diversifying. Stolen food products would appear in them same markets they were stolen from, at lower prices.[95]

Organizational StructureEdit


In the Mexican underworld there was generally speaking two types of crime syndicates. One was based on blood, as in a family (brothers and sisters) or a clan (an extended family that includes cousins that were twice or thrice removed), which were true crime families unlike the Italian crime families which were not founded and run on blood and marriage. The family or clan had others that were not of blood in the organization, but it was those related by blood and marriage who formed the core of the family syndicate and controlled said organization.

An example of a criminal clan was the Herrera family of the state of Durango, a multi-generational drug syndicate that was in the drug trade since 1957. At it's height they controlled the state of Durango, trafficked in heroin and cocaine, and had a over a 1000 members in the United States. Mexico's oldest crime family was the Guerra family based in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas which got its start smuggling bootleg alcohol into the United States in the 1930s at the latest. Most of the major crime families came from the opium-growing state of Sinaloa. Others came from the opium-growing states of Oaxaca, Michoacan, and Guerrero, and some were from the border states. Those from border states got their start in the business of smuggling contraband into the United States, unlike those from the opium states.


The second type of syndicate was a criminal enterprise which was established for the specific purpose of running a racket or controlling a territory. It could be established and controlled by a local kingpin, a criminal family, or as a partnership between crimelords and/or families. The first true cartel in Mexico, the nationwide Guadalajara Cartel was such an alliance of drug lords. Various families had their own cartels in the 1990s including the Guerra family (Gulf Cartel), the Arellano-Felix family (Tijuana Cartel), the Quintero family (Sonora Cartel), the Carrillo brothers (Juarez Cartel), the Amezcua Contreras brothers (Colima Cartel), and the Valencia family (Michoacan Cartel).

The World of the Mexican CartelsEdit

How It FunctionedEdit

The "Plaza" was an important concept in the Mexican underworld. The plaza was a geographical area which could be influenced by a syndicate. It could be a drug corridor on the U.S.-Mexico border. The plaza could be deep in the interior of Mexico. It could be a barrio, a city, a county, a state, or a cluster of states. For the syndicate it was the turf from which it generated revenue and no other syndicate or gang was supposed to be operating in your territory without paying "derecho de piso" which was seen as a turf tax or user's fee. Whoever controlled the plaza was responsible for making sure the police was bribed and the politicians got their cut (especially those in the state capital and the federales).

When a syndicate lost it's "plaza" to a rival syndicate, they would sometimes try to ruin their enemy's victory in what was known as "calentando la plaza" (heating up the turf). In which they would commit activities that brought down the heat from the police thereby disrupting their rivals' operations. As in acts of violence that appeared random or pointless, which resulted in the crack down. Even going so far as committing an atrocity (e.g. a massacre), to shock the public and force a government response.

In Mexico's underworld, there was a certain class of criminal that played an important function. They were the "madrinas", who were men who carried government IDs and had uniforms but were not on the government payroll nor were they officially recognized by the state. The madrinas were paid via "mordidas" (bribes) and funneled some of the money upwards to the authorities who sponsored them. Madrinas functioned as the intermediaries between the drug cartels and the officials within the one-party dictatorship of the PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional - the Institutional Revolutionary Party) which ruled Mexico from 1929-2000 in a "managed" democracy. They also functioned as a sort of shadowy secret police, eliminating dissidents for example by disappearing them.

Supervising the underworld, making sure that none of the syndicates became too powerful and all obeyed the rules was the Dirección Federal de Seguridad (DFS - Federal Security Directorate). It was created in 1947 with the assistance of the US intelligence community (mainly the CIA). They kept the far left elements in Mexico suppressed and spied on Eastern Bloc elements in Mexico for the CIA. From 1968 till the late 1970s they waged a "dirty war" against the left in Mexico in which they were responsible for assassinations, forced disappearances, illegal detentions, and torture.

The DFS played a role in the Tlatelolco Massacre, in which thousands (mainly students) who were peacefully protesting against the great sums spent on the Mexico City Olympics were violently crushed, resulting in 300-400 murders and 1,345 arrests.[96] During the 1980s, they helped train the Nicaraguan Contra insurgents in narcotrafficker-owned ranches. The DFS "taxed" the major criminal groups in Mexico and some of its members formed their own criminal enterprises. It was under their protection that Mexico's first drug cartel, the Guadalajara Cartel was established and expanded. When the cartel fell due to the death of the DEA agent Kiki Camarena, the incident brought the DFS down too.[97]


As for the culture of the Mexican underworld it varied depending on who founded the syndicate. Those that were based in the opium-producing states had a rural culture which emphasized their extended families and clans. One based on an exaggerated form of machismo, rugged individualism, defiance against authorities, conservative values, and a traditional form of Catholicism (with Native American influences). Most of the drug syndicates were founded by rural drug traffickers and therefore were influenced by that culture. It was one that was often flashy with ostentatious mansions, gold jewelry, big customized pickup trucks, big boots and belts, owning horses and big predator cats, and so on. Whom were known for throwing big parties, paying for festivals, and spreading their wealth around in the town they came from.

The drug trafficking families which relocated to the major cities, and established the Gulf Cartel (Matamoros), the Tijuana Cartel, and the Juarez Cartel adopted to the more sophisticated and modern environment. The Arellano-Felix brothers (Tijuana), Juan Garcia Abrego (Gulf), and Amado Carillo Fuentes (Juarez) were sophisticated criminals who were "civilized" enough that they were accepted by high society and the political class in their cities, though their wealth didn't hurt either. Those cartels and the earlier Guadalajara Cartel were low profile in the cities compared to the heroin traffickers who remained in the rural cities, and gradually became part of those cities' society and power structure. The members like immigrants around the world, developed a sub-culture that mixed elements of their rural background and the big city.

Those that were founded in the major cities (mostly in Mexico City) had a "urban" culture in which their leaders and members often looked down on their rural countrymen, saw those drug lords as unsophisticated savage cowboys, were more low profile, and had a more symbiotic relationship with law enforcement and the politicians. In turn the crime outfits that were founded in the cities and towns on the U.S.-Mexico border had a "norteno" culture which was influenced by cowboys (rancheros) and had similarities to the culture of Texas. It too was one of machismo but it was far more cosmopolitan than the ones of the Sinaloan drug traffickers. Unlike the Vory, Triads, or Yakuza, Mexican organized crime in the late 20th century did not have a tradition of using tattoos, in that manner they were like the Mafia.


While Roman Catholicism was the faith of most of those in the Mexican underworld, there were two "cults" which took hold among a segment of the criminal elements which was that of the "Narco Saints". Most of those who venerated the narco-saints also practiced Catholicism, though a minority of them only worshiped the narco saints. The least controversial narco-saint was "Jesús Malverde", whose origins was in the historically isolated mountainous coastal state of Sinaloa. Where most lived in poverty, ignored by Mexico City, and oppressed by feudal like politicians, mining barons, etc. Legend said that he was a Robin Hood-type bandit, who robbed from the corrupt rich and the oppressive powerful, and gave to the poor. It was never verified as to whether he actually existed, but he became a saint. An "angel to the poor" and a "narco-saint" who was popular with the drug traffickers of Sinaloa. The Catholic Church did not recognize him as a saint and discouraged the practice.[98][99][100][101]

The reaction of the Catholic Church to another narco-saint was vastly stronger and visceral. It was a cult that could be traced to the beginning of Spanish rule over Mexico, which may have carried over from Pre-Columbian Mexico. Which was the cult of Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte or simply known as Santa Muerte. It was a Mexican folk saint who was the personification of death. She was associated with protection, healing, and safe delivery to the afterlife. Worship of Santa Muerte was clandestine until the 20th century. Once it came out in the open, it spread and it's popularity grew. She usually appeared as a feminine skeletal figure wearing a long robe and carrying at least one object in her hands, most often a globe and/or scythe. Worship of Santa Muerte was condemned by the Catholic Church who treated the cult as a heresy and considered Santa Muerte to be tied to the devil. Though never proven there were persistent rumors that at least some of its followers practiced human sacrifice. [102][103] [104][105]

Chicano Organized CrimeEdit

North of the U.S.-Mexico border, organized crime in the Chicano underworld took a different form. While a few crime families, existed they were small and usually operated in a single barrio or a section of the city (sometimes being the family that controlled a multi-generational street gang, providing it with its shotcaller and core leadership). Mexican-American organized crime emerged from the prison gangs that formed in the prisons of California, Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona with the increase of racial strife, growth in street gangs, and explosion in the drug trade. These groups all started out as self-defense groups, formed to protect their members from the predatory white and black gangs that originally dominated the prisons and later from other Latino prison gangs. The first Chicano prison gang was the Mexican Mafia (La Eme) which was established in 1957 and others followed in the 1960s-80s. In addition to the prison gangs which dominated the Chicano underworld, there were independent Chicano criminal syndicates and most of those were involved in the drug trade. Some of the independent Chicano syndicates were international in scope.

Prison GangsEdit


The first and oldest Chicano prison gang came to existence in 1957, the Mexican Mafia (La Eme). Which was founded in the Deuel Vocational Institution, a gladiator school within the California Department of Corrections. It was established by Mexican-American who were members of various Latino street gangs in Los Angeles. Who established the gang for self-protection against the white and black gangs who preyed on the Latino inmates. Soon they earned a reputation for being the toughest and most lethal gang within that prison, and came to dominate the Deuel Vocational Institution. The CDC in an attempt to break up the gang sent its members to other prisons within the system, which backfired spectacularly as it spread the Mexican Mafia throughout the CDC. During the 1960s, they battled other prison gangs for dominance within the CDC. Gradually four prison gangs would come to dominate the CDC, with the Mexican Mafia being the strongest of them all within the prisons of California. In 1967, the Mexican Mafia established the Sureños, to serve as their foot soldiers in prison though they weren't called Sureños until 1970. They consisted of incarcerated members of Latino street gangs from southern California.[106]

Meanwhile on the streets, by the 1960s members of the Mexican Mafia were committing crimes, sometimes working with the Aryan Brotherhood with whom they executed bank robberies including one in Fresno in which the take was $111,500.[107] In 1968, a rival Latino prison gang emerged, La Nuestra Familia which was established in Soledad. While the Mexican Mafia recruited from the Chicano inmates who came from the street gangs of southern California, the Nuestra Familia recruited those who came from the street gangs of northern California.[108][109] They also established the Norteños which consisted of the incarcerated members of street gangs of northern California to serve as its foot soldiers.[110] By 1969, the Mexican Mafia had established their first international drug smuggling pipeline (heroin) from Ciudad Juarez in Mexico.[111]

By 1972, the Mexican Mafia spread its operations to outside the prison walls and established an alliance with the Aryan Brotherhood, a white supremacist prison gang.[112][113] In 1975 the Nuestra Familia began to operate on the outside by establishing a street regiment in Fresno. The rival prison gangs were involved in drug trafficking, robberies, prostitution, extortion, burglaries, and murder-for-hire. In that year, the Mexican Mafia infiltrated a number of federally funded community organizations.[114][115][116] The Nuestra Familia and its ally the Black Guerrilla Family warred with the Mexican Mafia and the Aryan Brotherhood for control of the rackets within the California Department of Corrections. It was a time where the racial strife of the 1970s exacerbated the conflict.

The Texas Syndicate a prison gang of Tejanos in California was established in Folsom in 1975.[117][118] Meanwhile, the Mexican Mafia and Nuestra Familia fought each other for control of the heroin trade in the streets of California. [119][120] During that decade, the Mexican Mafia began to work with major Mexican traffickers.[121] By the latter part of the 1970s, the heroin trade in California was dominated by the Chicano prison gangs (and independent operations).[122] The Mexican Mafia was bringing in 10-12 lbs of heroin a week, earning $10 million a year from the heroin trade.[[123]] In 1977, the Mexican Mafia became one of two prison gangs in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, along with the Aryan Brotherhood.[124]

Over in Arizona, in 1978 the New Mexican Mafia was established in Florence.[125] Next door in New Mexico, in 1979 the New Mexico Syndicate was founded in Albuquerque.[126] By the mid 1980s, the Mexican Mafia had 600 members while the Nuestra Familia had 750-800 members and the Texas Syndicate which was now in Texas had 296 members.[127][128] On the outside, the Mexican Mafia worked with the Aryan Brotherhood when it came to robberies and drug trafficking.[129] In 1984, a rival to the Texas Syndicate was born in Texas, the Mexikanemi (aka, Texas Mexican Mafia) which soon had 350 members.[130] Other Chicano prison gangs were established in Texas at that time, including the Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos (1985), Barrio Azteca (1986), and La Raza Unida (1988).[131][132][133][134]

A transformation occurred in the Chicano underworld in the 1990s, one which changed everything. Two things happened which were to have major ramifications in the underworld of California and across the Southwest. One, the Mexican Mafia decided to organize the Latino gangs of Southern California. Enforcing a truce among the gangs, they held a series of meetings in Southern California during the early 1990s which were held in city parks, hotels, etc. In which representatives of the Mexican Mafia laid down the law for the gangs which had sent their own representatives to these gatherings. The Mexican Mafia told all the gangs that drive-by shootings were now outlawed, all of them were to expel black members and they were now under the Sureño banner, which no longer existed only in the prisons but now also on the streets.

They were to pay a "street tax" to the Mexican Mafia (which was 33% of their illicit profits), where to buy drugs from the Mexican Mafia, if they had their own drug or gun connections they were to sell to the Mexican Mafia at a discount, and had to "tax" independent drug dealers and other criminal entrepreneurs in their territory. Any gang member or street gang violated these regulations or refused to go along, would be green lighted. In which the Mexican Mafia authorized all Sureños to attack the target until they were dead or the green light was lifted. In the process they turned 100s of street gangs across Southern California into a defacto army of the Mexican Mafia who distributed their drugs, collected debts, and enforced their will on the streets of the counties of Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside, Orange, San Bernardino, Ventura, and Imperial.[135][136][137]

Second, the Mexican Mafia established a "relationship" with the Tijuana Cartel. A member of the Mexican Mafia ended up working for the Arellano-Felix brothers of Tijuana Cartel in 1989 as a bodyguard and soon got the opportunity to showcase his "qualities" by saving their lives in an attempted hit during which 8 Tijuana soldiers were killed, in which he not only killed some of the Sinaloan hitters but did so fearlessly. He became the head of a 30-man hit squad recruited from the gangs of San Diego and brought to the Tijuana Cartel other members and associates of the Mexican Mafia, forming the foundation of a long lasting alliance.[138][139][140] It was the first time a major drug cartel had formed a partnership with a prison gang or street gang based in the United States, and it would not be the last one. It was also the first time that an American prison gang or street gang became involved in power struggles among the drug cartels of Mexico, and likewise they would not be the first.

By this time, the home base of the Nuestra Familia on the outside was no longer Fresno but San Jose. It continued as the 2nd most powerful prison gang in California after the Mexican Mafia.[141] In Texas, the major Chicano prison gangs had greatly expanded in size, due to their recruitment during the gang wars among them in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Mexikanemi had 1,800 members and the Texas Syndicate had 900 members. Austin was the base of the Texas Syndicate and the Mexikanemi had its base in San Antonio, both dominating the heroin trade in their strongholds where they also collected a 10% street tax on independent drug dealers. The Mexikanemi was also strong in Houston, El Paso, and Corpus Christi. At this time, the most feared prison gang in Texas was the Texas Syndicate whose influence reached all the way to Dallas.[142][143][144][145] The New Mexican Mafia was taxing drug dealers and gangs in Arizona, and had various street gangs working for them or allied with the New Eme.[146]

By the 2000s in the decade before the Awakening, the Chicano prison gangs dominated organized crime in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.

At the top of the pyramid in the Chicano underworld was the Mexican Mafia of California:

  • Mexican Mafia (La Eme) dominated Southern California. The prison gang at that time had 350-400 members, of which most were Chicanos. It was active throughout the Southwest and Pacific regions, trafficking in all types of drugs but focusing mostly on cocaine, methamphetamine, and heroin. They had direct links to Mexican cartels (especially the Tijuana Cartel and Sinaloa Cartel) and facilitated the smuggling of wholesale quantities of heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine into the United States (e.g. 200 kilos of cocaine per week), and distributed their drugs across the country. It controlled an army of street gangs with 40,000 to 100,000 members (Sureños), which included the 3 largest and most powerful gangs in Los Angeles (18th Street with 20,000, Mara Salvatrucha with 8,000, and Florencia 13 with 3,000). An army that consisted of mostly Chicanos and Mexican immigrants, with a significant number of Central Americans. Using these vassal gangs its reach extended across nearly every state in the continental United States. In southern California, the Mexican Mafia and the Mexican cartels nearly controlled all of the heroin, cocaine, and marijuana distribution. A pyramidal organization governed by the Mexican Mafia "taxed" the Latino street gangs (usually 33% rate), mediated territorial disputes, and punished those who broke the rules or defied La Eme. It supplied the black gangs who were at the bottom of the region's drug underworld with the drugs they deal on the streets. They were also directly or indirectly (via their vassal gangs) involved in smuggling illegal aliens into the United States, the smuggling of weapons and stolen automobiles into Mexico, street-level gambling and prostitution, street-level sales of counterfeit goods and fake documents, protection rackets, and fencing stolen goods. It was earning conservatively $10s of millions a year and likely over $100 million a year. By the first decade of the 21st century the Mexican Mafia was not only the richest and most powerful prison gang in the United States but it was one of the most powerful criminal organizations in the nation.[147][148][149][150][151][152][153][154][155][156][157][158][159][160][161]

In the next tier were it's historical rival the Nuestra Familia, Barrio Azteca, Texas Syndicate, and Mexikanemi.

  • Barrio Azteca of Texas was the most violent criminal organization in the United States. It had an estimated membership of 2,000, most of them Chicanos or Mexicans who were mostly from west Texas or northern Mexico. The gang had its base in El Paso, Texas where it dealt drugs and stole cars (for smuggling into Mexico), and imposed a 10% tax on the drug operations of street gangs and independent drug dealers. It had operations in the cities of Midland and Odessa in west Texas, Las Cruces in New Mexico, and Ciudad Juarez in the state of Chihuahua in Mexico (with small cells across the northern part of the state). They worked for the Juarez Cartel, fighting on their side in the drug war in Mexico. Which had caused it to evolve into a paramilitary machine of killers, which conducted 1000s of assassinations, perhaps up to 1,300 in 2009 alone.[162][163][164][165][166][167][168] It became skilled at locating targets, stalking them, and then striking them in bold ambushes. Involving masked men with body armor who used coded radio communications, disciplined firepower, coordinated blocking maneuvers, and multiple chase cars. Then they would vanish in the barrios of Juarez or across the bridge to the United States. Within Juarez they had a network of armories, safe houses, and garages with stolen cars for their use.[169]
  • Nuestra Familia (La NF) of California had 250 members and controlled an army of street gangs of 1000s to 10s of thousands in central and northern California (the Norteños), which consisted mostly of Chicanos. Like it's southern rival, it controlled the majority of the retail distribution of drugs in northern California and imposed a tax rate on the drug operations of its street gangs. It's street regiments paid a tribute of 25% of their illicit profits to the Nuestra Familia. Through its vassal gangs, the power of the Nuestra Familia reached to communities in Nevada, the Pacific Northwest, the Rocky Mountains, and the Great Plains. Due to it being the only major Chicano prison gang whose territory was not next to the Mexican border it lacked the extensive deep ties to the Mexican cartels that its counterparts had. They became one of the primary supplier of drugs to the militant black prison gang, the Black Guerrilla Family. It was forced to deal with a steadily growing invasion of Northern California by the Sureño gangs and therefore the Mexican Mafia encroaching into their territory. Working with the Nuestra Familia and its Norteño gangs in the drug trade was the unaffiliated Latino super gang of the central valley, the Fresno Bulldogs.[170][171][172][173][174][175][176][177]
  • Mexikanemi (La Emi) of Texas was estimated to have 2,000 members, most of whom were Chicanos or Mexican immigrants who lived in Texas at the time they were incarcerated. It was a major drug trafficking organization in the southwest, especially Texas. It's base of operations was in San Antonio where they imposed a 10% tax on the drug operations of street gangs and independent drug dealers. They also had operations at the Rio Bravo Valley, Laredo, Austin, Houston, and Corpus Christi. They trafficked in multi-kilo quantities of heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine; multi-ton quantities of marijuana; and 1000-tablet quantities of MDMA. They got their drugs from Gulf Cartel, the Juarez Cartel, and the Sinaloa Cartel. It was also involved in the smuggling of stolen automobiles and weapons into Mexico, and illegal aliens into the United States.[178][179][180][181][182][183]
  • Texas Syndicate (TS, El Sindacto Tejano) had an estimated 1,300 members, consisting mostly of Chicanos. It was a major drug trafficking organization in the southwest, especially Texas. It's base of operations was in Austin where they imposed a 10% tax on independent drug dealers and the drug operations of street gangs. They smuggled multi-kilo quantities of methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine, and multi-ton quantities of marijuana. It had a direct working relationship with the Gulf Cartel and maintained a relationship with Los Zetas. Their operations extended as north to Dallas, east to Houston, and south to San Antonio. It was also involved in prostitution, the smuggling of illegal aliens into the United States, and of weapons and stolen automobiles into Mexico. They also carried out hits for Los Zetas.[184][185][186][187][188][189][190]

In the third tier were the Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos, the New Mexican Mafia, La Raza Unida, and the New Mexico Syndicate.

  • Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos (HPL, Brotherhood of Latin Gunmen) of Texas had an estimated 1,000 members, consisting of mostly Chicanos and Mexicans with a significant number of members from other Latino ethnic groups. Like several other major prison gangs it was a major drug trafficking organization in Texas, bringing in wholesale quantities of cocaine and marijuana. They operated mostly in the Rio Grande Valley, San Antonio, Dallas, and Houston. They were involved in the smuggling of weapons and stolen automobiles into Mexico, and illegal aliens into the United States.[191][192][193][194][195]
  • La Raza Unida of Texas had 700 members, which consisted mostly of Chicanos. Their base of operations was in Corpus Christi in Texas, and had operations in San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, and Austin. Like the other major prison gangs of Texas they were a major drug trafficking organization. It was also involved in the smuggling of stolen automobiles and weapons into Mexico, and illegal aliens into the United States.[196][197][198][199]
  • New Mexico Syndicate which consisted mostly of Chicanos. They were the most powerful prison gang within the prisons of New Mexico. Following the example of the Mexican Mafia, it impose a 10% tax on the street gangs of Albuquerque. They distributed heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine and recruited street gangs to help in the distribution.[200][201]
  • New Mexican Mafia of Arizona which consisted mostly of Chicanos. It was active across the state of Arizona and were the most powerful prison gang in the Arizona Department of Corrections. They worked with the Sinaloa Cartel in trafficking heroin, methamphetamine, cocaine, and marijuana into the United States. Recruited street gangs to distribute those drugs across the state of Arizona. In the cities of Phoenix and Tucson, they followed the example of the Mexican Mafia of California and imposed a 10% tax on the street gangs.[202][203][204]


These prison gangs varied greatly in structure from the Mexican Mafia (La Eme) which had no official hierarchy and was a criminal brotherhood at one extreme to it's bitter rival the Nuestra Familia (La NF) at the other extreme which had a council (Mesa), generals, captains, lieutenants, and soldiers (along with a written constitution).[[205]] The other prison gangs were organized along paramilitary lines with a general and his captains, lieutenants, and soldiers. Recruitment likewise with some groups being more selective than others. The two main Chicano prison gangs in California (Mexican Mafia and Nuestra Familia) were selective in who they recruited and had a membership in the 100s. Some Chicano prison gangs went more toward quantity and by the 1990s and 2000s, the third and fourth most powerful Chicano prison gangs (the Mexikanemi (MM or La Emi) and the Texas Syndicate (TS), both from Texas), each had a membership in the 1000s.[206][207]

The Mexican Mafia of California started out having a paramilitary structure with generals, captains, lieutenants, and soldiers.[208] Due to being hit and nearly destroyed by RICO cases in the 1990s, La Eme was forced to change and it adopted a loosely structure with a centralized leadership, transforming into a criminal association or brotherhood. One in which as long as there was no conflict, each member of the Mexican Mafia was his own boss. Which made it far more difficult for law enforcement to extinguish the organization and may had contributed to the Mexican Mafia's expansion across the Chicano underworld.[209]

The Nuestra Familia in turn was the most highly structured prison gang in California and among the Chicano prison gangs. It was an organization with a supreme general, a ruling council (Mesa), and the captains each of whom led a "regiment". Under them were the lieutenants and soldiers. The captains and lieutenants had grade ratings. Members were known as "familianos" and were obligated to follow the "14 Bonds" which mandated obedience, secrecy, and respect within the organization. It had a long and detailed constitution. On the streets, they established "regiments", each which were led by a commander (the captain) and his second-in-command. Each regiment was divided into "squads" based on a classification system of members who were measured by their reliability. While there were no limit to the number of regiments, by regulation the limit was 10 captains. At the bottom of the organization were the soldiers.[210][211][212]


Prison and the streets was what shaped these groups. As they were founded by men who grew up in the barrios and whose formative years was in a street gang and most of their recruits came from such a background, they brought those values with them into the prison gangs. One of machismo, using violence, distrust of authority, protecting your community, relying on your family, and Chicano pride. Being groups which were founded in prison, they institutionalized its culture of sticking to one's group (race or ethnicity), defiance toward the authorities, racial distrust or hatred, everyday brutality, and using your time and mind to find ways around the rules. Not surprisingly use of tattoos were widespread among the members of Chicano prison gangs. These tattoos were sometimes specific to a gang, were specific to Latino gang culture, and tattoos used by the general population. Which were put on the torso (chest, abdomen, back, and shoulders) and/or the arms and hands. Sometimes a tattoo was put under the eye (teardrop).


Among the Chicano prison gangs, most started out accepting only Chicanos (Mexican-Americans) into their ranks. Eventually within several years or a decade, every single one began to recruit non-Chicanos. Soon all of them decided to accept into their ranks those who were born in Mexico (e.g. Barrio Azteca (BA) and Raza Unida (RU) from Texas, the New Mexican Mafia (MM) of Arizona, and the Sindicato Nuevo Mexico (SNM) of New Mexico).[213] Some of them (e.g. Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos (HPL) from Texas) accepted anyone who was Latino (e.g. Cuban, Salvadoran, Puerto Rican, etc).[214][215] The Nuestra Familia of California (La NF) accepted a number of Native Americans into the gang. In turn, the Texas Syndicate (TS) accepted a number of Caucasians but a decade later whey were expelled and the former TS white members formed the Texas Mafia which became allies of the TS. The Mexican Mafia (La Eme) accepted several Caucasians and Asians. None of them accepted women, homosexuals, or blacks into their ranks. All of them recruited women as auxiliaries who played an important role in their operations.

Inside PrisonEdit

Inside the prisons they waged war with each other and rival black and white prison gangs (e.g. Black Guerrilla Family, the Crips, or the Aryan Circle).[216][217] They also formed alliances with each other and usually white prison gangs (e.g. California's Aryan Brotherhood, the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, or the Texas Mafia - with the Nuestra Familia being the exception with its alliance with a black prison gang).[218][219] During the 1970s-80 the Chicano prison gangs beccame the most powerful within the penal systems of California and New Mexico, and in the 1980s-90s they became the most powerful within the penal systems of Texas and Arizona. Within the prison walls they controlled or dominated the rackets (drugs, contraband, gambling, and homosexual prostitution) and were involved in extortion and murder. They bribed or blackmailed prison guards and staff, and in many cases established illicit relations with female staff members.

On the StreetsEdit

Slowly but gradually their influence spread to the streets. At first in the 1960s they were robbing and taxing heroin dealers in the barrios. During the 1970s-80s they were involved in the heroin trade. In the state of California, the Mexican Mafia (La Eme) and Nuestra Familia (and various independents) displaced the Italian Mafia in the heroin trade in California during that period.[220] During the 1990s, these prison gangs expanded their operations on the streets to trafficking in cocaine and methamphetamine. They formed partnerships with the drug syndicates based in Mexico, of which the most important relationship was the one between the Mexican Mafia (La Eme) and the Tijuana Cartel of the Arellano-Felix brothers.[221]

The prison gangs likewise came to have power over the Latino street gangs of the barrios of California and the Southwest. At first it was an indirect influence due to their power over the inmates and therefore they were given respect on the streets and would sometimes do favors for groups like the Mexican Mafia (La Eme). By the 1970s-80s, there were gang members on the outside who would work for the prison gangs as hitters, tax collectors, or drug dealers. They worked as parts of crews or in a ring, but the street gang to which they belonged continued to operate as a separate unit. Which changed in the early 1990s, when the Mexican Mafia organized the Latino street gangs of southern California, turning them into its defacto army and drug distribution network on the streets.[222] Other Chicano prison gangs like Nuestra Familia, Barrio Azteca, Texas Syndicate, Mexikanemi, Sindicato Nuevo Mexico, and the New Mexican Mafia soon followed suit though none established a network as large as that of the Mexican Mafia (La Eme).[223] All of the aforementioned plus Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos and Raza Unida worked with the Mexican cartels to smuggle drugs into the United States and distribute said drugs to street gangs. Some of the prison gangs also were involved in smuggling illegal aliens into the United States and/or stolen automobiles into Mexico. Depending on the prison gang they might also be involved in street-level prostitution, gambling, counterfeit goods, or gunrunning.

Independent SyndicatesEdit

When it came to Mexican-American crime syndicates which were not part of a Chicano prison gang, they consisted of one of two kinds. One type was a syndicate or trafficking organization that was established by family members, such as brothers. Another type was one in which a single individual was the founder and/or the leader of the organization. None lasted two decades, their longevity being similar to that of the African-American crime syndicates (minus the black super gangs), though they were on average far less violent.

The DonsEdit

The first of the major international Mexican-American crime syndicates was that of The Dons of San Antonio, Texas. The "Dons" were a Mexican-American drug ring which in the late 1960s and early 1970s were the most powerful drug trafficking organization in south Texas. It was led by Federico Gómez Carrasco (El Señor) who controlled a heroin and cocaine empire that stretched from Chicago in the north to San Diego in the west to Guadalajara in the south in central Mexico. In 1972, a raid on the syndicate's operations in Guadalajara found 213 lbs of heroin (x2 the amount in the French Connection years earlier) worth $100 million.

The organization had working for them "shotguns" who were middle-tier operatives who were in charge of supervising transactions. In which they arranged sales, and from a distance watched the transactions. Below them were the "mules" who delivered the drugs and picked up the cash. Many of the mules were users themselves. Federico Gómez Carrasco was suspected of murdering 47 including a police officer. He escaped from one prison in a laundry truck, and was responsible for the longest siege in the history of American prisons.[224][225][226]

The Flores BrothersEdit

The greatest of the independent Mexican-American crime syndicates prior to the Awakening was that of the Flores Brothers. Who were twins, genteel drug traffickers who shunned violence, and were respectful, polite gentlemen. They married the gorgeous voluptuous Latina daughters of two honest police officers, who had no idea who their sons-in-laws truly where though the daughters were fully aware. The twins were brilliant businessmen who learned the business from their retired drug smuggler father. They started distributing cocaine at age 17 in 1998 and by 1999 were distribution wholesale quantities of cocaine. They soon became the largest drug dealers in Chicago and perhaps in the country with operations in several other major cities including Los Angeles and New York City. Sending back to the Sinaloa Cartel, $227 million a year.

They used dozens of stash houses, each with an attached garage so that employees using identical cars would be able to come and go. Among the regulations for employees and stash houses was one which stated that no more than $7 million could be secreted at any stash house at any time. They were smuggling and distributing cocaine from the Sinaloa Cartel and also heroin, up to 2 tons of cocaine a month. The brothers used up to 20 "burner" phones for communication which were regularly discarded and replaced, one phone for each customer. Assets included a submarine and a fleet of aircraft for smuggling, including 747s. Eventually due to the increasing violence in the war between the cartels they turned themselves in to US law enforcement in 2008 becoming informants.[227][228][229]

Misc Criminal OutfitsEdit

The Cisneros Brothers (two) were a significant syndicate in Arizona which ran an auto theft and drug trafficking ring in Mesa for most of the 1990s. It was affiliated with the New Mexican Mafia of Arizona, and its activities reached into New Mexico. The syndicate manufactured and distributed methamphetamine and trafficked in cocaine. It operated a major auto theft ring in which they switched the VINs and sold the stolen automobiles.[230][231][232]

Another major player was Juan Garza, a marijuana kingpin with operations in Texas, Michigan, and Louisiana in the late 1980s to early 1990s who trafficked tons of marijuana into the United States. He led a brutal organization of 50 people. Being a paranoid criminal every time something went wrong (e.g. drug load intercepted) he suspected treason and would murder someone.[233][234][235] In San Fernando Valley (Los Angeles) in the 1990s there was a multi-million drug ring led by Jose Jesus Gonzales. Which trafficked in methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine. It was capable of supplying customers with 40-100 lbs of meth, which they produced in San Fernando Valley.[236]

Crime FamiliesEdit

In the Chicano underworld, there were extended and/or multi-generational crime families which dominated a number of street gangs. They formed the core of the gang in their barrio, providing it with it's leadership and most hardcore members.

Grajeda FamilyEdit

One such crime family was the notorious Grajeda Family who controlled the La Rana (Frog) gang of Torrance in Los Angeles County. They later relocated to San Pedro and Wilmington near Long Beach. It had three family members (all brothers) in the Mexican Mafia and other family members (cousins, nephews, etc) who were members of La Rana. The three brothers controlled a powerful faction within the Mexican Mafia and had influence over street gangs in Pacoima and South Bay in the 1990s. Family members represented the Mexican Mafia at gang meetings in South Bay in the mid-1990s. They controlled a multi-state drug trafficking operation in the 2000s.[237][238]

Leon FamilyEdit

Another infamous crime family were the Leon Family who controlled the Drew Street clique of the Avenues gang in the Cypress Park neighborhood of northeast Los Angeles during the 1990s-2000s. A family which was controlled by Maria "Chata" Leon who gave birth to 13 children. The crime family which included cousins was controlled by her and 6 of her sons who became members of the Avenues gang, dominated the local drug trade making their territory one of LA's most notorious crack cocaine markets. They also ran an illegal alien smuggling enterprise. Backing their criminal activities were the Mexican Mafia.[239][240][241]

Mexican Syndicates of the Sixth WorldEdit

Before 2064Edit

The Mexican underworld syndicates (aka, the Mexican mafia) of what is now Aztlan were among the most brutal in the world.[1] In what used to be the United States, the Mafia absorbed most of the Mexican syndicates north of the border.[2] The Chavez Family was a part of the "Mexican mafia" but opposed the new government of Aztlan and fled to Texas where it soon joined the American Mafia.[3] One of the Mexican-American syndicates north of the border which did not join the Mafia, was the vicious prison gang called the Mexican Mafia.[4] It's not known as to whether it was invited and refused to join or if the Mafia never approached them.

Post 2064Edit

In 2064, Aztlan and the insurgents of Yucatan signed a peace treaty. Afterwards the Aztlaner government focused on getting rid of any "subversive" criminal syndicates within Aztlan's borders. It wasn't long before the David Cartel became the only criminal syndicate in Aztlan of any significance. They now have their fingers in every criminal racket within Aztlan. Which would mean that rebellious Mexican syndicates have been eliminated and those that remain are either now subservient to the David Cartel or so small as to be insignificant.[5] Not counting the Chavez Family of the Mafia, at least one other "Mexican" syndicate still exists north of Aztlan as of 2072 which is the prison gang known as the Mexican Mafia (aka, La Eme).

Mexican / Chicano Organized Crime in the Real 21st CenturyEdit

Dominance of America's UnderworldEdit

In the United States of the early 21st century, the Mexican / Chicano underworld has superseded the Italian-American underworld. The highest tier of organized crime in the United States is dominated by the Mexican Cartels, and that has been the case since the start of the 21st century. Since the 1990s they have controlled the drug trade in the western United States and gradually they took over the drug trade in the rest of the United States. As of 2012, the Mexican drug cartels (half dozen major ones and dozens of minor ones) have been earning $64 billion a year in the drug trade.[242]

The "Sinaloa Cartel" is reported to control up to 60% of that share or up to $38 billion a year.[243] It's recent leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman was claimed to be worth $14 billion.[244] His successor Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada is reported to be worth at least $3 billion.[245] The Mexican drug cartels had over 100,000 gunmen fighting in the drug war by 2009.[246] At its peak in 2012, Los Zetas had 10,000 gunmen spread across its criminal empire in Mexico and Central America, and had taken over chunks of the petroleum theft and counterfeit goods market in Mexico.[247] Mexican cartels have been muscling into rackets in Mexico that the drug traffickers previously left to other criminal outfits such as counterfeit goods, protection rackets, illegal timber, prostitution, illegal mining, cargo theft, and petroleum theft, earning billions more.[248][249][250][251][252][253][254][255][256][257][258][259]

The smuggling and distribution of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine in the United States is mostly controlled by them (with Colombians, Dominicans, Chinese, & Nigerians smuggling the rest), and previously it was the same with marijuana though the decriminalization and growing quasi-legal industry in many states has changed all of that. When it comes to the mid-level drug trafficking that is mostly in the hands of 2nd tier Mexican drug trafficking organizations and Chicano prison gangs (with the White Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, Asian drug rings, Black drug gangs and independent white drug rings moving the rest). The street-level distribution is mostly in the hands of the Latino and Black street gangs (with the Asian and White street gangs dealing the rest). In the states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Texas it is the Chicano / Latino prison gangs which dominate the prison systems. The prison systems of Illinois and New York are dominated by black and Latino super gangs based in Chicago and New York City. The Federal Bureau of Prisons is dominated by Chicano / Latino and white prison gangs (the latter are all white supremacist), and Latino and black super gangs.

Military Recruits in the CartelsEdit

Ever since the Gulf Cartel established "Los Zetas", the other Mexican cartels have been recruiting ex-soldiers, with a focus on recruiting those who have served in the elite military units (e.g. Marines, paratroopers, special forces, etc).[260][261][262][263] Between 1994-2015, over 1,383 elite soldiers deserted from the Mexican armed forces and most of them defected to the drug cartels.[264][265] These ex-commandos, paras, and Marines have been working at cartel training camps where they train it's recruits, as hitmen for the cartels, as members of cartel paramilitary units consisting of ex-military personnel, and as bodyguards to the cartel bosses. Some of these ex-soldiers have climbed the ranks of the cartels and reached the upper tier, even becoming syndicate bosses.

The cartels have also been recruiting from Guatemala's special forces (the Kaibiles) since the mid 1990s, which are infamous for committing the worst atrocities of the Guatemalan Civil War during the 1980s. By the mid-2000s it was estimated that up to 100 Kaibiles had been recruited.[266] From Colombia, the Mexican cartels have recruited ex-special forces personnel for its training camps.[267] In the United States, they have been hiring American soldiers (both active duty personnel and those who have left service) as hitmen. They've paid these American soldiers thousands of dollars and/or with drugs to kill organized crime rivals and federal informants.[268][269]

Women in the CartelsEdit

In the Mexican underworld there are women present at all levels, though the great majority of those in the Mexican underworld are still men. Most of the women that work for the cartels, do so at the lowest levels, working as street-level dealers or as mules transporting small amounts of drugs.[270] Some women have become middle-level drug smugglers and a few have even become high-level smugglers working the U.S.-Mexico border.[271]

"Las Flakas" (Skinny Girls), are young women who kill for the cartels who have become a phenomenon in the Mexican cartels in the 21st century. Agents whom are extremely effective. Killers who are young, reckless, and beautiful. Who avoid suspicion by keeping a low profile. All of the drug cartels have their own "Flaka" death squads. Their background vary from those who started out as low-level lookouts and those who were born into cartel families, from those recruited in prison and those who were former prostitutes. "Las Flakas" normally operate in squads of 3-4, and often target women who belong to rival cartels. They disguise themselves as normal Mexican girls, enhancing their features via cosmetic surgery, and using their charm to gain the trust of their marks.[272][273][274]

A few women have become well known in the Mexican underworld. The most famous of them is "Sandra Ávila Beltrán", who was given the title of "La Reina del Pacífico" (Queen of the Pacific) by the Mexican media. She comes from a multi-generational drug trafficking family of Sinaloa, the Beltráns. Niece of the legendary Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo (El Padrino) and related to Rafael Caro Quintero (co-founders of the Guadalajara Cartel) and cousin of the Arellano Felix brothers (founders of the Tijuana Cartel). She is basically narco royalty, a driven and ruthless drug lord, voluptuous and gorgeous. Who had a career in the upper levels of the Mexican drug underworld from the 1970s-2000s, a drug lord who became a member of the Sinaloa Cartel. She started out as a drug trafficker in her early 20s in the 1970s and within 10 years had become the "Queen of the Pacific". Who traveled with suitcases full of $100 bills, millions of dollars. Never used drugs, married twice (each time to ex-federal police commanders), and was known for shipping 10 ton loads of cocaine in tuna fishing vessels.[275][276][277]

As noted earlier there was Delia Patricia Buendía (aka, Ma Baker) who controlled the Neza Cartel in Mexico City in the 1990s, dominating the local drug trade within the city till her arrest in 2002.[278] Currently leading the Tijuana Cartel, after her brothers were killed or incarcerated is Enedina Arellano Felix (La Madrina - Godmother) who has been the boss since 2011. She has a university education and is an accountant. A woman that is as ruthless as her brothers. Enedina was involved in cartel business at least as far back as the 1990s and schooled her brothers on the business side. After the Tijuana Cartel suffered a series of damaging raids by the American and Mexican governments it was on the verge of going bankrupt in 2000, and Enedina saved the cartel. She has been described as being a stern, discrete, and firm leader.[279][280][281] In Los Zetas, a woman rose to the upper tier of that ultra-violent cartel, and in the late 2000s she controlled operations in the city of Monterrey. She was Verónica Mireya Moreno Carreón (La Vero), a brutal yet gorgeous killer who who was both an ex-police officer and a former model.[282]

Recently Guadalupe Fernandez Valencia of the Sinaloa Cartel was arrested and extradited to the United States. A woman in her late 50s, she was a high ranking operative in the organization. Who directed the distribution of 1000s of pounds of drugs across the United States.[283] Another female drug trafficker who became famous was Ana Marie Hernandez (La Muñeca - doll), known for her Barbie-like looks. She and her husband controlled a drug trafficking operation that smuggled drugs into the United States and distributed them up to Chicago. La Muñeca was in charge of arranging the drug shipments.[284][285] Another gorgeous and voluptuous drug trafficker, also in the Sinaloa Cartel is Claudia Ochoa Félix who is a member of Los Antrax (The Anthrax) the enforcer wing of the cartel who has risen to the upper tier of the cartel and now leads Los Antrax. She has a following on social media and some claim she looks like Kim Kardashian.[286][287]

Recruitment of Children by the CartelsEdit

The drug cartels have recruited up to 30,000 minors, some as young as 11 years of age. They have been put to work in a wide variety of roles, such as "halcones" (lookouts), couriers, street-level drug dealers, and so on. Teenagers as young as 16 are trained to become assassins. Child soldiers are used as cannon fodder, thrown at security forces in suicidal attacks (usually as a diversion to keep the police or military occupied while the cartel does something else somewhere else). They manipulate or entice them into joining the cartel, sending them to training camps where they are given basic weapons instruction. After which they are placed in cells which are led by cartel soldiers with more experience who have received some training from policemen or soldiers.[288][289][290][291][292]

Cause of the Ultra-ViolenceEdit

The reasons that Mexico's drug underworld has become so violent are many, all of which have combined to create the present environment. Previously there was a hierarchy in Mexico's underworld which included the governing authorities. At the top was the PRI party which had ruled Mexico for 70+ years. They controlled all levers of power, and everyone including the mob bosses answered to Mexico City. If they became too powerful they were a threat and were crushed. If they were too violent they were crushed. Their tool was the DFS (the secret police) and when necessary the army. Their fall from power has left a vacuum.

Mexico's underworld used to be more or less organized. First with the "plazas" which were regulated by the DFS. Later when the drug lords united under the Guadalajara Cartel and its successor the Federation, they divided up territories and businesses. Disputes were mainly via negotiation and though not all the cartels were part of the national syndicate it kept things from getting out of control. The collapse of the national syndicate has meant that all disputes quickly escalate into all out war. The fall of the PRI led to a weak government, that was not able to enforce peace among the cartels nor keep the violence under control. American pressure on the new government resulted in the deployment of the army versus the cartels forcing them into an arms race and a cycle of escalating violence.

The old leadership have been killed off or they've been incarcerated. The old drug trafficking families have been disrupted or broken into various factions. Resulting that the "old men" who were raised in the business, knew each other and the politicians, followed the rules, and preferred to negotiate than go to war no longer call the shots. Now leading many of the factions within the increasingly fragmented underworld are young, inexperienced bosses and the kidnappers, extortionists, hitmen, and enforcers who know only how to use violence. The recruitment of former soldiers made things worse as they did not grow up in the business, they did not learn business at college, and so on. What they know is war and the soldiers who have gained power are resolving territorial disputes the way they know how which is by waging war and it's how they expand, waging war not by providing better product or a superior business strategy.


  1. o05084094Underworld Sourcebook p.73
  2. o05084094Underworld Sourcebook p.28
  3. o05084094Underworld Sourcebook p.36
  4. o33031982Vice p.31
  5. o61900501Ghost Cartels p.130


Mexican / Chicano Syndicates (Research)Edit

Mexican / Chicano Syndicates in the MediaEdit

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