Photograph: Original Mexican Mafia Members from the Inland Empire
This episode will cover some of the early Inland Empire street gangs and their historical connection and evolvement with the Mexican Mafia. San Bernardino and Riverside counties are also referred to as the Inland Empire and covers more than 27,000 square miles with over 4 million residents located just east of Los Angeles and they make up an extensive area dotted with Mexican-American street gangs.
In the first 17 years of the Mexican Mafia’s existence, 15 Inland Empire gang members were recruited into their ranks. The first two members were Joe “Colorado” Ariaz from Colton and Arthur “Mangas” Aguirre from Corona who were recruited in the mid 1960’s. The most prominent EME members originating from the Inland Empire were representatives from Colton. Colorado, “Nego” Cabral, “Pretty Bobby” Bustillos and William “Willie Boy” Bermudez were recruited in that order, the latter three joining in the 1970’s.
Tommy and “Pee Wee” Chagolla were brothers who were recruited in San Quentin in the 1970’s. Both perished in a hail of gunfire in their Riverside home town following a neighborhood gun battle with a rival gang. Other Mexican Mafia members from the Inland Empire who passed away in the 1970’s were Mangas Aguirre from Corona and Chato Lujan from Verdugo, both dying from heroin overdoses; Roberto Ortiz from Verdugo and Tamayo from Corona fall off the radar never to be seen or heard from again. This usually means one of two things – either you’re taken out for some internal violation or you hang up your gloves and voluntarily disappear from “the life,” never again to re-offend and return to prison.
On February 1, 1977, Gilbert Roybal from Chino was executed in his Fresno home by his fellow EME Carnales for not taking care of business.
In the 1980’s and 1990’s, imprisoned gang members from the Inland Empire began to prominently claim Sureño and would tag “13” in Roman numerals or regular numbers to show their allegiance to the Mexican Mafia. This was a period when northern and southern Hispanic inmates – Norteños and Sureños – solidified their ranks inside the California prison system as the polarization of these two groups was encouraged by the EME and their rival prison gang, the Nuestra Familia. Unlike the old days, when Hispanic prisoners could mix with each other without geographical limitations to hinder their interaction with each other, the prison gangs were increasingly expecting and demanding the allegiance of their regional counterparts inside the prison system and out on the streets.
In the early 1990’s, Orange, Los Angeles, and San Diego counties began to fall under the Mexican Mafia’s street gang Tax Program; the conclusion of the 20th Century would give birth to further expansion into the next millennium. Some of the elder EME members teamed up with the “Pepsi generation” of Carnales and the next major conquest was the Inland Empire. Jimmy “Rube” Soto from Venice, a longtime member from the early 1960’s, surrounded himself with Sal “Toro” Hernandez, “Dashing D” Castrejon, “Tudy” Estrada and other members who installed EME law in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. These “Big Homies,” an affectionate code term for Mexican Mafia “bosses,” had entrenched themselves in this region and collectively had the “pink slip” for these gang territories. The EME Program had arrived to the Inland Empire and the association was welcomed by the gang members who now had “made” EME members representing them and giving them the same status and recognition as their L.A. counterparts. Each member on this chart except Rube Soto originally began his criminal career from a street gang inside the Inland Empire. The Mexican Mafia’s version of Manifest Destiny would continue. Like the Colton representation of the early EME years, the Ontario Black Angels would become the foremost Inland Empire gang in the 21st Century.
Gang members exercise a degree of loyalty and commitment for their fellow home boys that is unwavering and often fanatical. In Los Angeles, the Mexican Mafia began to demand absolute allegiance to their Program and pitted gangs against nonconforming gangs and even homeboys against their fellow gang members. But the most sobering example of the Mexican Mafia’s forced loyalty occurred in the Inland Empire on the West Side of San Bernardino. It has been labeled the The Dead President’s Case and is fatalistically referred to in the gang world as the “9-11” of San Bernardino. On July 9, 2000, six men were gunned down gangland-style in San Bernardino on behalf of the Mexican Mafia, four fatally. Two of the murder victims were brothers who belonged to two West Side Verdugo street gang cliques. Johnny Agudo was the president of the 7th Street Locos; Gilbert was head of the Little Counts. Their half-brothers, Marselino and Anthony Luna were also shot dead in the same incident.
Luis “Maldito” Mendoza, a boyhood friend of the Agudos was a fellow 7th Street home boy who organized the killings. Also charged, and members of Mendoza’s crew, were Lorenzo Arias, John Ramirez and Froylan Chiprez, who was Mendoza’s cousin. According to gang intelligence and informant sources, the hits originated with Mexican Mafia member Salvador “Toro” Hernandez. Originally an Inland Empire street gang member from “Cuca” (Cucamonga) Hernandez was considered the Inland Empire’s EME boss. Mendoza and Arias were sentenced to death, Mendoza’s cousin Froylan Chiprez received four life sentences without parole eligibility, and John Ramirez, part of Mendoza’s crew, pleaded guilty, testified against Mendoza and Arias and served twelve years for his cooperation.
Mexican Mafia activities in Southern California neighborhoods, including the Inland Empire, are now the unquestionable law. With the EME Program part of everyday life in every street gang territory, the Mexican Mafia is the first criminal organization in California to thoroughly control and infuse itself into such a vast area of domination for the furtherance of illegal enterprise.
Modern technology and 21st Century policing guarantees the overwhelming majority of made EME members and their hardcore associates will inevitably experience the unforgiving wrath of the Federal Government’s RICO racketeering laws.