Photograph: Florence District in South Los Angeles
Thank you for joining us at Perplex News where the following episode will touch on what many consider to be one of the toughest pound-for-pound street gangs in existence, Florencia 13.
NOTE: This Florencia 13 account is a preview from the soon-to-be-released book entitled:
THE UNHOLY ALLIANCE, MEXICAN MAFIA, CARTELS AND SURENOS.
It will be available at www.policeandfirepublishing.com
Hispanic gangs are nothing new in the Los Angeles area. When Americans think of Hispanic gangs they envision stereotypical Latinos from the densely populated areas of East Los Angeles, the San Fernando or San Gabriel Valleys, Boyle Heights, or Downtown Los Angeles barrios where cholos dressed in oversized khaki or county jail blue pants could be found everywhere. Many people may be surprised to know a good portion of Los Angeles Hispanic gang history also occurred in the Southern portion of Los Angeles known as “South Central.”
Since 1996, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has been the largest sheriff’s department in the world and was founded in 1850 as the first professional police force in L.A. The first sub-station, completed in 1924, became the Firestone Station in 1955. You can ask any Mexican-American or African-American gang member or resident from the Florence district about the Firestone Sheriff’s and there are enough stories – good and bad – to keep the grand kids entertained around the dinner table.
The infamous Zoot Suit Riots, where young Hispanic rebels battled sailors who were on leave, introduced a new group into the L.A. landscape. In the mid 1940’s in the Florence District of South Los Angeles, the local Pachucos, known to the American press and police as zoot suiters, decided to start their own gang. They named it Florence, Florencia in Spanish, after a major thoroughfare that extends east to west through the heart of South Central Los Angeles. Located in the Hyde Park area of South Central Los Angeles between Crenshaw and West Boulevards, south of Florence Avenue and bordered to the north by the 10 Freeway, it is made up of over 20 cliques, or subsets.
In 1957, a doo wop band called The Paragons perhaps best known for their single “Florence,” propelled them to gang stardom. Florencia 13 adopted Florence as their neighborhood song and would rev it up at parties and wherever they were present to announce and alert everyone that Florencia was “in the house.” According to retired Inglewood P.D. Detective Nelson Arriaga, Florencia 13 is divided into numerous cliques or subsets including the Jokers (JKS), Malditos (MDS), Locos (LCS), Midgets (MDS), Diablos (DBS), Termites (TMS), Animals and Assesinos. These particular cliques gained notoriety after Florencia 13 was featured in the TV Series Gangland, in 2012. Additional cliques are the Dream Boys (DBS), Malos (MLS), Midnite Street Boys (MNSB), Neighborhood Dukes (NHD), Bagos (BGS) and PeeWees (PWS). The list continues as younger member cells obtain permission from the OG’s, the gang veteranos (older veteran fellow gang members), to start up a freshly spawned clika (clique).
Florencia 13 has grown to be one of the largest Hispanic gangs in Los Angeles County with approximately three thousand members only second to 18th Street. Florencia 13 can be found in several states across the nation including Washington, Arkansas, Missouri, and New Mexico, Utah, and has a large presence in Mexico. By all accounts, Florencia 13 is a bonafide transnational gang with chapters in Guadalajara, Santa Cecilia, and Jalisco, Mexico, and spreading to Canada and Brazil. It isn’t just the number of gang members in their rank and file but the historical caliber of gang member Florencia 13 produces. Notorious for warring versus neighboring Hispanic and African-American gangs, today Florenica 13 is among the largest Sureño street gangs in L.A. alongside 18th Street, MS-13, and the eastside Maravilla gangs. Like 18th Street and MS-13, their presence has been reported throughout the United States, in Mexico and in other Latin American countries.
On May 22, 1971, a 21-year old Florencia 13 gang member by the name of Trinidad “Trini” Iglesias killed Firestone Deputy Gary D. Saunders. The incident occurred during a foot chase when the deputy was knocked to the ground by Trini and his weapon was taken. According to records, Trini stood over Deputy Saunders and shot him three times in the chest. What exacerbated what many viewed as a coldblooded execution-style murder is that Trinidad Iglesias was convicted of Voluntary Manslaughter! His attorney argued and convinced the jury that due to constant harassment received by Mexicans in the area, the defendant was in fear for his life. This despite the suspect demonstration in open court reenacting how he took Deputy Saunders’ weapon, stood over him and shot him three times. He served a total of six years in prison and paroled in 1977.
This was the caliber of individual the Mexican Mafia was constantly seeking out for recruitment into their deadly prison fraternity. Because of Florencia 13’s street reputation, the EME quickly set its eyes on this willing-to-kill and money-making machine known as F-13. Florencia gang bangers, like all Sureños in L.A., desired to be like their EME heroes. The men they would ultimately serve required the most intense supervision possible, men who had murdered in prison, career criminals who were schooled in how to exploit the legal system and use liberal politicians to enact laws favorable to their agenda. Since the Mexican Mafia’s formation in 1957, several Florencia 13 gang members ascended the food chain in would become “made.” Two of them were founding members.
Florencia 13’s historical claim to street fame is highlighted by their connection to La EME. Marcello “Gabby” Baeza and Ruben “Snuffy” Sanchez were original members of the 1957 group that came into existence at the DVI youth facility in Tracy, California. They were later joined by Gilbert “Mongol” Silva, Victor Meza, David “Puppet” Paez and Jack “Eddie Boy” Marquez, some of the early Florenica 13 representatives in La EME. Like many L.A. street gangs, Florencia 13 has an extended history of being involved in drug trafficking. According to retired Los Angeles Sheriff’s Sergeant Richard Valdemar, considered one of the foremost street and prison gang experts, Florencia 13 has traditionally been connected to African-American drug distributors and Colombian and Mexican drug cartels. Sgt. Valdemar tells us when the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s Operation Safe Streets – OSS – Gang Task Force started targeting the Florencia 13 gang they received information the gang was enforcing Mexican Mafia orders to tax all drug dealers and Sureño gangs, to kill rival black gang members and run them out of the city, and to tax “Mica Mills” (counterfeit document mills) that produced phony resident alien cards known as “green cards” identification and immigration documents. These false documents were produced in the City of Huntington Park and in MacArthur Park in L.A.
In 2004, Florencia 13 and The East Coast Crips were involved in a heated gang war that was labeled by some as a “race war” because innocent victims were caught in the crossfire. The cause of the gang war was said to have been ignited when ECC ripped off members of Florencia 13 for drugs. According to a Fox 11 News report by Chris Blatchford, L.A. Sheriff’s detectives believe three dozen murders and over 100 shootings were committed in one year in a three square-mile area of South Central directly attributed to the Florencia 13 versus East Coast Crips war. The described area ranged from Slauson Avenue on the North, 92nd Street on the South, Central Avenue on the West, and Santa Fe Avenue on the East.
Florencia 13’s spiritual leaders during that period of time were a trio of Mexican Mafia members known as Los Tres Reyes – The Three Kings. These prominent EME members included home grown Florenica 13 veterans Juan “Topo” Garcia, Braulio “Babo” Castellanos, and his brother Arturo “Tablas” Castellanos who was involved in hunger strikes at Pelican Bay State Prison. Tablas’ actions eventually led to changing the law with regard to Security Housing Units, also known as the SHU, and the inhumane manner in which California houses inmates. At this writing, the neighborhood gospel according to the Florencia 13 shot callers emanates from Pelican Bay State Prison, where Tablas is housed for life, and the ADX federal prison in Florence where “Topo” Garcia is imprisoned. According to grand jury federal indictments, they identify “Tablas” Castellanos as one of the four main leaders of the prison protest and as the top Mexican Mafia commander of the Florencia 13 street gang issuing orders and collecting a share of money made through drug sales and extortion.
On October 16, 2007, a federal racketeering indictment was unsealed in Los Angeles against more than 102 defendants connected to Florencia 13 and the Mexican Mafia. Operation Joker’s Wild, named after the Jokers (JKS) clique, was the largest gang raid in U.S. history at the time with charges ranging from extortion to murder. In addition to charges of drug trafficking, attempted murder, murder, fraud, firearms trafficking and extortion, they were accused of targeting African-American gang rivals and other blacks in a campaign of neighborhood “cleansing” which resulted in 20 killings in the past three years. The federal indictment describes Florencia 13 as one of the largest, most powerful and oldest gangs in Southern California with several members of the gang having risen through its ranks to become leaders of the Mexican Mafia. Following the subsequent conviction and imprisonment of many of Florencia 13’s influential members, a leadership vacuum was created and in 2009, two men, Jesus Cervantes and Marcos Lopez, emerged as the gang’s primary shot callers after being named by EME’s “Tablas” Castellanos.
At Pelican Bay State Prison Leonel “Wizard” Laredo was Tablas’ cell mate, became the second-in-command and was named as the operational leader of the Florence 13 gang. A 2013 federal indictment revealed the Mexican Mafia exerted control over the Florencia 13 criminal street gang in south Los Angeles County. The indictment charged 31 defendants with violations of the federal racketeering RICO statute as well as a host of narcotics, firearms, and fraud offenses.
A well-known Florencia 13 rapper known as Mr. Yosie Locote (stage name) was partly responsible for promoting Florencia 13 in California, Mexico, and around the world. In his music he rapped about the gang life and his affiliation with Florencia 13. Born in Bakersfield, California and based in Guadalajara, Mexico, he posted numerous videos on YouTube which depicted heavily tattooed gang members, dressed in gang attire, flashing gang signs and pointing firearms in a threatening manner. Mr. Yosie Locote was killed in 2018 allegedly by one of the cartels in the region. His death made news in social media outlets among gang members, rappers and the gangsta rap music industry. Mr. Yosie’s body was found in a vacant lot with a poster attached to his chest with a screwdriver. The note read something to the effect, “This is what will happen to all that support a cholo” plus there were other derogatory comments in Spanish.
As of March 2018, Sureño gang members comprised approximately ten percent of the inmate population inside the four Baja California prisons and under Mexican Mafia control. The EME members exerting the influence over the Sureños were Leonel “Wizard” Laredo from Florencia 13 (currently in federal prison), Martin “Evil” Madrigal-Cazares, Ronald “Ronnie” Ayala, and Dennis “Woody” Ortiz, identified as the bosses. “Evil,” “Wizard,” and “Woody” oversee half the Mexican prisons while the other half are under EME member Ronald “Ronnie” Ayala. Many prisons in the interior of Mexico not under EME control have seen a number of riots, while prisons in Mexico controlled by the EME have remained calm. The EME’s structure and hierarchy through Sureños bring stability to the prisons and offer security to the MTCO members housed at the prisons. As of November 2017, open source reporting estimated close to 12,000 inmates in the state penitentiaries in Baja California.
The ongoing investigations into Florencia 13 and their criminal activities continued through 2019. In February of this year, 11 members and associates of the Florencia 13 gang were arrested during “Operation Friday the 13th.” They face federal racketeering, narcotics and firearms charges. One of the indictments charges the gang with attempting to smuggle narcotics into the California state prison and Los Angeles County jail systems, including trying to mail two shipments of heroin to a Mexican Mafia member.
Leonel “Wizard” Laredo is listed as the primary defendant in one of the federal indictments. He is charged with directing Florencia 13’s dealings in the unincorporated Florence-Firestone neighborhood of South Los Angeles, as well as parts of Lynwood, Maywood and Bell. Laredo is one of four members of the Mexican Mafia who officials believe had leadership roles in Florencia 13 and extorted “taxes” from drug dealers and businesses in the gang’s territory. The indictment also alleges that Florencia 13 members attempted to kill a rival gang member in South L.A. in Dec. 2016. In an April 2017 incident, one of the defendants, Samuel Flores Mejia, aka, “Menace” is charged with shooting and injuring a fellow Florencia 13 member to discipline him at one of the gang’s illegal gambling houses, known as “casitas.” Casitas are underground businesses that operate primarily after hours (2 a.m. to 6 a.m.) when licensed bars close for the night. Casitas are not only used for illegal gambling but also drugs and firearms sales, and prostitution. Florencia 13 is not the only criminal street gang that utilizes Casitas for their illegal enterprise. Mara Salvatrucha 13 and the 18th Street gangs are also known to use Casitas if not more than any other gang including Florencia 13.
The indictments also detail instances of drug and firearms trafficking. During a press conference FBI Assistant Director in Charge Paul Delacourt explained that Florencia13 includes members of the Mexican Mafia and the gang has grown in influence by adopting smaller, less powerful gangs. Known members and associates of the gang are estimated to be in the thousands and the organization reaches from street dealers to shot callers operating from prison. Delacourt further said they have influence in Huntington Park, Vernon, Bell and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. Florencia 13 continues to follow the Mexican Mafia’s direction, “taxing” drug dealers, running document mills, fighting other gang members, and often targeting their African-American rivals. They have been bitter enemies with “38th Street” and the Los Angeles “East Coast Crips.”