Photograph: 23 Maravilla Gang Members who joined the Mexican Mafia

Thank you for joining us at Perplex News.  This episode is titled Maravilla Gangs and the Mexican Mafia.  Josh Buehler once again brings us a special guest who shares this unique account.

(NOTE:  For an AUDIO VERSION of this story, Click onto the following link ….

Maravilla gangs are located in East Los Angeles in a vast area patrolled by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. As is the case with most Chicano street gangs, each individual gang possesses unique geographical boundaries that physically separate one territory from another.  A breakdown of each Maravilla barrio reveals an indicator about its name origination.  The following Maravilla gangs are named after streets: Arizona, Fisher, Ford, Fraser, Gage, Kern, Marianna, and Pomeroy. Other Maravilla gangs include High Times, Juarez, Lomita, Lopez, Lote, Rock, Moriya, Maravilla Projects (MVP), Raskals, and Maravilla Rifa.

El Hoyo Maravilla, Spanish for “the marvelous hole,” utilizes the shortened version, Hoyo Mara or “HM,” and is the most notorious. Considered the original Maravilla gang, its physical location was referred to as “the hole” (El Hoyo) because of the lowered terrain in which it was situated.  “El Hoyo Mara” traces its roots to the Prohibition Era in the 1920’s and has the distinction of surrendering 17 of its top gang members to the Mexican Mafia’s rank and file.

The Maravilla gangs should be historically recognized for their contribution to the establishment of, and their resistance to, the Mexican Mafia.  For almost a half century, from 1957 until the 2000’s, there existed a dysfunctional love-hate relationship between Maravilla and the Mexican Mafia.  The “love” between Maravilla and La EME began in the early years following the Mexican Mafia’s formation in 1957. When Louis “Huero Buff” Flores embarked upon his mission to recruit the “cream of the crop,” the leaders of the predominately Southern California based street gangs, Maravilla gang members were among the first EME to come aboard.  Some of the original Mexican Mafia members from Maravilla included Gabriel “Little Sluggo” Castañeda, Richard “Riko” Diaz, Louis “Louie” Araujo, and Rafael “Chispas” Sandoval, each belonging to the Hoyo Maravilla gang.

The first documented Mexican Mafia prison murder occurred on December 12, 1961, at San Quentin.  It was committed by Alfredo “Cuate” Jimenez, also a member of El Hoyo Maravilla, who stabbed inmate Abel Nevarez to death in the prison’s vocational area.  Nevarez sustained 18 stab wounds to his arms and chest and was killed over a drug-related dispute.  To all those romanticists who enjoy the narrative of how the Mexican Mafia was once the defenders of La Raza and then turned against their own people, that is an inaccurate story.  Like the vast majority of ethnic criminal organizations, La EME has never been motivated by ethnic pride nor is it even mentioned in their Reglas (rules).  Of course we used that to our advantage, embracing the La Raza thing, but it was always about power, status, and our business.  Unfortunately, Nevarez was only one of many Hispanics who suffered the EME’s wrath.  That’s the difference between those caught up in social movements and those involved in organized crime.  It’s simply a case of apples and oranges.

Joe Morgan from Ford Maravilla, a much older gang member even in 1957, would join La EME later at Folsom Prison.  Anyone who is truly familiar with the chemistry and composition of Hispanic street gangs can tell you most gangs in the 50’s and 60’s had their token white boys, many referred to as “Huero” for light skinned.  These were non-Hispanic gang members who lived in a gang area, were embraced by their street peers, and probably had to work harder than most to prove their worthiness.  Many of them, like Joe Morgan, spoke fluent Spanish and their hearts were Chicano.  Huero Shy from Artesia, Huero Tadewosian from VNE, Little Huero from Florencia 13, are some examples that quickly come to mind.

In the early years, the largest numerical Mexican-American representation in California youth and adult incarcerations were from the various gangs from Maravilla.  As such, they were held in high esteem and they considered themselves self-appointed emissaries of the Chicano prison population.  When the Mexican Mafia was formed at DVI, Maravilla’s leadership role was supplanted virtually overnight as EME’s elite prison warriors became instant superstars among their criminal peers.  Because the EME did not discriminate in who they victimized, weaker Latino inmates suffered equally under their wrath.  The Mexican Mafia would come to be known as an “equal opportunity exploiter.”

Convicted gang members from Maravilla resented their subservient status on the prison yards.  In 1963, Tony Chacon from Lopez Maravilla was stabbed to death on the San Quentin exercise yard by EME enforcers Eddie “Pelon” Moreno from Norwalk and Richard “Richie” Ruiz from Bakersfield.  This hit punctuated the Mexican Mafia’s lack of tolerance for any resistance from the Chicano inmate population, including Maravilla, and the “hate” originated during this period.

As the EME navigated through the prison system with reckless abandon and complete disdain for anyone who did not agree with them, EME members generated a deep albeit quiet resistance to their oppressive tactics.  The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back occurred at San Quentin in 1968 following two related incidents.

On February 4, 1968, Robert “Robot” Salas, a Mexican Mafia member from the Big Hazard gang was responsible for the stabbing death of James “Sonny” Peña, from El Hoyo Maravilla over a drug issue.

On September 14, 1968, Manuel “Menito” Romero from El Hoyo Mara and his cell partner were stabbed by Robot in their South Block cells in a dispute over a pair of shoes stolen from Menito’s cell partner.   Both stabbing victims survived.  Shortly after this incident, Menito would join the Nuestra Famila prison gang.  These stabbings led to a series of incidents described as the “Shoe War” of 1968.  In this event, Hispanic inmates from Southern and Northern California, Texas, Maravilla and members of the newly formed Nuestra Familia prison gang attacked the three remaining EME members – Ponchi Amado, Frog Valdez, and Tati Torrez, and their associates on the general prison population.  Non-fatal injuries occurred on both sides.

One EME associate, Archie “Cricket” Gallego, from the Diamond gang in West L.A., was stabbed to death in this incident.  This temporarily ended the EME’s reign of terror on the San Quentin yard for over two years.  In a concerted effort to keep Mexican Mafia members from being released to the general population, approximately half of the Maravilla convicts became allies with the Nuestra Familia, half remained neutral.

EME-NF hostilities rekindled in 1972 and Maravilla inmates became divided in their allegiances as two camps emerged.  Because the overwhelming majority of Nuestra Familia members were from Northern California, most Maravilla gang members could not identify with the NF whereas many others who had experienced the EME’s wrath sought the protection of banding with the NF and other oppressed Chicanos versus the EME.

Maravilla would also incur the wrath of the Nuestra Familia on October 17, 1972 at San Quentin’s North Block.  NF member Robert “Daira” Medina from San Fernando, who was released from the Adjustment Center to the general population, understood if he appeared on the prison yard, his life expectancy would be reduced to minutes because Mexican Mafia members now controlled that prison.  Medina requested assistance from inmate Frank “Quemado” Venegas, a member of the Hoyo Maravilla gang and a previous NF ally.  Venegas declined, choosing to become a neutral observer rather than incur the EME’s wrath.  Medina then succeeded in securing a prison-made “shank” from a BGF member and proceeded to stab Venegas to death in his cell.  Following this incident, most of the Maravilla inmates disassociated themselves altogether from the Nuestra Familia and remained neutral in the conflict.  An increasing segment of Maravilla members aligned with the Mexican Mafia.

On May 26, 1976, Mexican Mafia members Robert “Robot” Salas and Daniel “Spider” Arriaga shot Manuel “Menito” Romero (Hoyo Maravilla), one of Robot’s victims in the events that led to the 1968 Shoe War at San Quentin, to death in his Maravilla residence.  It is noteworthy to mention that Spider, like Menito, was from El Hoyo Mara.

On October 25, 1976, Henry “Tuffy” Torres, a longtime member of El Hoyo Mara, was stabbed to death at the Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail on orders from the Mexican Mafia.  Tuffy was suspected of participating in the street gang murder of the brother of EME member Adolph “Champ” Reynoso.  There were always multitudes of street gang members waiting in line to “make their bones” and curry favor with the EME. As a service to Reynoso, Sureño gang member Richard “Chio” Escobedo picked up the murder contract.  Tuffy’s execution, which took place in a holding cell that housed inmates going to and returning from court, became the first recorded homicide committed at that facility.

In the Mexican Mafia’s 62-year history, 22 members have originated from Maravilla street gangs.  Seventeen of these members were from Hoyo Maravilla.  During the 1980’s and into the 1990’s, many of the Maravilla gang members continued to be alienated from the general inmate prison population and were looked upon with disfavor by the Mexican Mafia.  As Maravilla convicts would win their release on state parole their older members began to spread the anti-EME sentiment inside the Maravilla neighborhoods, warning them that they too were in danger of incurring the EME’s street wrath.

One of the most vocal Maravilla malcontents was Robert “Wito” Marquez, a heroin addict from El Hoyo Mara who had dropped out of the EME in the late 1970’s.  Because Maravilla street gangs were known for being close knit and proud of their Maravilla roots, they believed the report that the Mexican Mafia had declared war on all Maravilla gangs and attempted a movement to oppose EME authority.  The known instigators were then targeted by the EME.  Because a very large number of Mexican Mafia members were themselves from Maravilla, the EME agreed to refrain from placing a blanket “green light” on all Maravilla gangs at that time.

Beginning in the early 1990’s, Maravilla gangs openly declared their opposition to EME’s authority and refused to pay taxes.  These Maravilla tax resistors called themselves “Los Maravillosos” (the marvelous ones). The EME response was swift and merciless. Maravilla gang members were targeted in county jails and prisons throughout California.   Brutal attacks occurred and all Sureño gangs turned against them.  The EME “green light” on Maravilla necessitated a response from the law enforcement community to protect these inmates upon entry into their jail facilities.  Los Angeles Men’s Central Jail initiated a mandate in which every incoming member of a Maravilla gang would be housed in a protective custody module.

The “green light” remained in effect until 1992 when the EME began its push to halt drive-bys in L.A. The Maravillas were again offered a position within the Sureño subculture, but they refused to attend any of the park meetings that were organized by the Mexican Mafia.

At the behest of EME’s Ernest “Chuco” Castro, Anthony “Tonito” Payne, a member of the Marianna Maravilla gang, was asked to attend a meeting at the home of Mary “Nena” Ruiz, mother of EME member Gilbert “Little Moe” Ruiz, who was also Payne’s first cousin.  Tonito, who was considered a Sureño while in prison, agreed to join the meet in order to discuss the unification of gangs for the purpose of halting the drive-bys.  During the course of the conference it was discovered that Payne had come armed with a pistol, which was considered an act of aggression towards the EME.  He was disarmed and assaulted by Castro and the other EME participants.  The Maravillas would remain on the “green light” list.

Following the failed negotiations, Maravilla gang members began to tag “tax free” into their gang graffiti to advertise unequivocally their continued independence of Mexican Mafia authority and freedom from EME taxation.

 After nearly four decades of being on “leper status” and being ostracized by the EME and the Sureño underworld, Maravilla gang members were brought into the Mexican Mafia’s criminal umbrella.

On October 6, 2000, Alfred “Chato” Sandoval, the highest-ranking Mexican Mafia member on California’s Death Row, had his death sentence overturned by the Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Convicted of four brutal homicides in Los Angeles, Sandoval returned to the L.A. County Jail for an appeal of his death sentence.  Representing the Arizona Maravilla street gang and utilizing his credibility as a proven and respected Mexican Mafia member, Sandoval became instrumental in removing Maravilla gangs from the EME’s “kill on sight” list.  Except for a small pocket of token resistance, Maravilla gang members are now considered Sureños.  The scattered few Maravilla gangs who oppose EME’s rule remain on the “green light” list.

 By co-opting the Maravillas into his crew and into the Sureño fold Sandoval’s shrewd business acumen resulted in the creation of a criminal empire within the Maravillas.  From the confines of his prison cell Sandoval is compensated for his coup by becoming the sole Maravilla Mexican Mafia member to control all of those territories.

From the early 1990’s to the present, virtually no significant street gang between San Diego and Bakersfield has failed to fall into compliance with the criminal demands of the Mexican Mafia’s version of “Manifest Destiny.”  The EME’s endeavor to control the criminal activities of every gang they have coveted has generated huge amounts of revenue and left in its wake an unspeakable body count in the pursuit of its illegitimate American Dream.  One gang investigator expressed it simply, “Whatever the Mexican Mafia wants, they get.”

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