Photograph: Mariano “Chuy” Rivera from VNE (Varrion Nuevo Estrada)
In this episode we will focus on Mariano “Chuy” Martinez, a long time East Los Angeles gangster from the Varrio Nuevo Estrada gang who in the 1990’s became one of the highest ranking Mexican Mafia members. Chuy was feared but also loved by gang members and many of the law abiding citizens of East L.A. He possessed highly developed business intelligence, owned a video store and was part owner of a popular nightclub in Montebello.
During the Mexican Mafia’s imposition of the street gang tax Program in the 1990’s, Chuy was one of the movers and shakers in the peace treaty program amongst Southern California gang members. On Saturday’s he would routinely conduct gang meetings with influential gang members from throughout the State for the purpose of extorting revenue and “green lighting” those individuals or gangs who did not comply. On Monday’s he would lead a program to pass out toys to low income kids in the neighborhoods where he rubbed shoulders with community leaders working with him to promote peace amongst the local gangs.
Chuy had a natural magnetic charisma and possessed the classic Old School Gangster look that instilled fear and respect in the hearts of hard core street gangsters who were leaders in their gangs. Chuy was responsible for ordering and carrying out hundreds of gang hits on behalf of his Mexican Mob cohorts. Chuy ascended to power in 1996 soon after the Government indicted 23 Mexican Mafia members and Sureno affiliates in 1995 for violating federal RICO statutes. As a direct result of these successful sweeps, a vacuum on the streets was temporarily created and Chuy inherited the pickings.
In some respects, the federal indictments of his predecessors became an EME blessing in disguise. Although the pioneers of the EME Street Gang Program were initiated by “Sana” Ojeda, “Pee Wee” Aguirre, “Night Owl” Castro, and others, establishing the foundation with the utilization of fear and intimidation, Chuy played a major role in raising the bar by bringing his brand of business savvy and in effect modified and perfected the Organization’s template. As is the case with any crime organizations, treachery and greed would infect the Mexican Mafia where only the strongest and cruelest would ultimately survive. Chuy would become a target in the world of internal EME politics which began inside the prison system.
Feeling left out of the fruits of Chuy’s revenue stream, fellow EME Carnales launched a political campaign against Chuy and the new street Bosses. EME member Alfred “Tigre” Salinas, who was aligned with Daniel “Cuate” Grajeda, was due to be paroled in 1998 and began conspiring with others at Pelican Bay State Prison. This sub-group referred to themselves as Los Verdaderos and plotted to encroach on Chuy’s territory and take out anyone affiliated with Chuy, who was aligned with old time EME member Benjamin “Topo” Peters. Tigre further aligned himself with EME member John “Stranger” Turscak, freshly released from prison and Stranger was given the responsibility of carrying out a hit on Chuy. Unbeknownst to Tigre or Chuy, or anyone else in the gang underworld, Turscak was already a federal informant and was the Mexican Mafia Task Force’s primary street weapon in the law enforcement’s endeavor to bring a new set of indictments against La EME.
With large amounts of money and drugs flying around, Turscak would succumb to the greed that infected everyone else. Not known to his Task Force handlers, Turscak became a participant in the creation of an EME war and instead of reporting to the special agents, he began to double dip on Mexican Mafia proceeds.
In 1997, Chuy had established a very profitable racket and shared a generous portion of his wealth with fellow EME Carnales, including Turscak. But it wasn’t enough for his enemies and Turscak also desired more. By the turbulent summer of 1998, an all-out war erupted between the warring EME factions. Chuy and Turscak were at each other’s throats and both members narrowly escaped becoming victims of vicious murder attempts. On November 19th, 1998, Chuy and his enforcers executed three individuals connected with Turscak’s Crew in a Montebello auto body shop.
Sureños in the L.A. County Jail system were forced to pick sides and the end resulted in over 50 Sureño casualties. This internal war, pitting Sureños against one another, seriously affected La EME’s drug profits inside the county jails. The Chuy/Stanger conflict marked the first full-fledged internal war amongst EME Carnales. When the dust settled, Chuy was indicted on February 2nd, 1999, along with 43 co-defendants. Although it was the 2nd time the Mexican Mafia had been indicted under RICO, this indictment was unique because it was the first time two separate indictments were handed down on the same criminal organization with each faction indicted by their allied group.
Since Congress reenacted the Death Penalty in 1996, it also marked the first time in over 50 years the Death Penalty was being sought by the U.S. Government. Mariano “Chuy” Martinez was ultimately convicted, he escaped the death penalty and received a 60-year sentence; Turscak was also convicted and received 30 years due to his work as a confidential informant and his testimony against his former confederates.
Probably the most troubling issue for Chuy, more than being exiled to a lifetime prison sentence, more than his fellow Mexican Mafia brothers politicking against him, was his young fellow Varrio Nuevo street gang homie Max “Mono” Torvisco, who he considered like a son and was being groomed to become his successor, turning against him providing the Government with the most damaging testimony.
Chuy would never see the outside and on June 14, 2014, he died of liver cancer in 2000 in a federal prison.