The powerful Mexican Mafia prison gang ordered the murder of several people inside Los Angeles jails, law enforcement officials said Friday.
The announcement came as officials announced the arrest of 14 people in connection with a series of assaults and planned assaults inside the sprawling jail system, which houses more than 15,000 people on any given day.
“In one case, prosecutors allege an individual the Mexican Mafia believed to be cooperating with law enforcement was stabbed several times in the head and the upper torso,” said Nicole Nishida, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. The agency operates the jails.
The Mexican Mafia ordered the man killed, but he survived, Nishida said. The decades-old gang wields influence over dozens of street gangs in Southern California, offering protection when members go to prison – but only if they follow the mafia's rules. The prison gang in turn is able to direct much of the drug trafficking, extortion and other crimes on the streets.
A jail inmate who owed money to the Mexican Mafia allegedly was another target. In two cases, an FBI-led task force was able to monitor phone calls detailing planned assaults, prompting the sheriff’s department to move the inmates into protective custody, according to a statement from law enforcement.
The FBI referred calls to the sheriff's department. A spokesperson for the L.A. County District Attorney said the prosecutor handling the case was out of the office and unavailable for comment.
As part of California’s effort to reduce its prison population, some criminals now do their time in county jails instead.
The arrests raise the specter that the state’s most violent prison gang has become a bigger presence in local jails – even though the policy was designed to shift less serious offenders.
“There is this shift in the population,” Nishida said. “There are more violent and serious offenders in the LA County jail system.”
If the Mexican Mafia is more active inside the largest jail system in the country, sheriff’s officials could face inmate violence state prison officials were never able to fully stop.
All but two of the 14 people arrested already were in custody on other charges. Police arrested Jose De Jesus Rivera, 33, of Compton and Daniel Bustamante, 29, of Long Beach at their homes Thursday.
The FBI’s San Gabriel Valley Safe Streets Task Force began investigating the assaults in July 2016. The multi-agency task force is based out of the Pomona Police Department.
The assaults were allegedly being directed by facilitators of the Mexican Mafia prison gang from outside of jail wall, according to the statement. These facilitators were also allegedly engaging in criminal activity including the possession and sale of stolen vehicles on behalf of the Mexican Mafia.
According to investigators and state prosecutors who filed the case, Mexican Mafia facilitators relayed orders to Mexican Mafia associates, known as “Sureños” or “soldiers,” in L.A. County jails to assault or murder other inmates that were perceived to have violated Mexican Mafia rules.