Tattoos such as these signify gang membership.

Tattoos such as these signify gang membership.

The rise and fall of the Gonzales mafia empire

By OPEC Staff

On any given day in a northeast Los Angeles area neighborhood, the sight of tattoos like those above can send a chill up the spine of any mom or dad who is trying to raise their family away from drugs, illegal guns and the devastation they cause.

The tattoos signal membership in any of three of the most notorious and deadly local gangs:  Frogtown, Toonerville and Rascals. Before, the local parents’ fear was that stray bullets from the rival gangs’ drive-by shootings could hurt one of their kids. But the former enemies have united, and lately, the overwhelming worry here is the newly unified gangs and the Mexican Mafia drug cartel, aka La Eme, which controls the gangs now, may lure their children into a life of crime leading either to prison or to the mortuary.

Tunes blare mockingly from over-amped car speakers or the blasters in front of an urban music store.  If you listen closely, behind the see-sawing melody and danceable tempo of the narco-corridos, a Spanish version of Gangsta rap, the translated lyrics propagandize the terror of the dreaded Eme.

“With an AK-47 and a bazooka on my shoulder,
Cutting off the heads wherever we go,
We’re bloodthirsty, crazy and we like to kill.”
− Movimiento Alterado, “Los Sanguinarios del M1”

The lyrics in those corridos are a very real way of life. Just ask any of the inmates housed at Pelican Bay State Prison. The Crescent City maximum-security institution is known to gang elements as the “White House” of the Mexican Mafia shot callers.  It is here, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR)  Special Service Unit agents say the truce − the “new world order’ − for the northeast Los Angeles gangs was secretly decided about five years ago by “Arnie” Gonzales, a known La Eme operative.  He’d been waiting for his chance to control the area for the Mexican Mafia. On a June day in 2010, opportunity was about to knock.

The clock was running out on the 12-year sentence of a Pelican Bay associate of Gonzales. Investigators believe Jorge Grey, who had spent a couple of years in and out of Pelican Bay’s Security Housing Units, was being groomed to do the La Eme’s bidding once outside.

For a time in northeast Los Angeles, long-time gang shot callers, known as “the Avenues,” had controlled the region’s drug trade. But that all changed while Grey was out on parole. A major law enforcement operation took down “the Avenues.” So when Grey’s parole was revoked and he temporarily landed back at Pelican Bay, investigators say he brought the news Gonzales had been waiting to hear − the area was without a kingpin. Gonzales reportedly seized the opportunity.  He anointed Grey as his “mouth-piece” and ordered him to unify the three rival northeast gangs into a lucrative and deadly new racketeering operation.

This time, when Grey left the Security Housing Unit, he allegedly set out to build a dark new enterprise. With Gonzales’ backing, he reportedly ordered the rival gangs to stop shooting at each other and instead set their cross hairs on anyone who dared defy the Gonzales Organization. Grey and his associates set up an elaborate and lucrative web of protection for their friends, and retribution for anyone who dared step in their way.

According to a grand jury indictment, the “peace treaty” imposed by Arnold Gonzales brought together the former rivals to work “in concert to control the narcotics trafficking and other illicit activities committed in their territories,” which run along the Los Angeles River from Elysian Park nearly to Burbank.  The result of Gonzales’ “peace treaty” was that drug deals, extortion, violence, black market gun sales and murder became even more commonplace.  The new wing of the Eme set up an elaborate taxing system to ensure the Gonzales organization got their cut.

But what Grey didn’t know was that, just as with “the Avenues,” the downfall of his new Eme organization had been planned from the outset. Grey and Gonzales had no idea a sharp agent from CDCR’s Special Services Unit, whose identity will remain anonymous for security reasons, was watching Grey on a hunch and stayed on him until all the players were identified and charged.

Neither Grey nor Gonzales are likely to learn the confidential new techniques used by the special agent to unravel the layers of lies, coded messages, betrayal and deceit that led to the 88-page indictment from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. It alleges conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO.)  The indictment also accuses a total of 22 defendants of being “members and associates of a criminal organization engaged in conspiracy, narcotics trafficking, extortion, and crimes of violence, including conspiracy to commit murder, murder, attempted murder, and robbery.”

On June 18, a united law enforcement task force launched “Operation Gig ‘Em” to arrest the suspects.  Twenty were arrested that day.

Bill Kunz, Special Agent in Charge of CDCR’s Office of Correctional Safety, said he’s pleased “the cooperative efforts between various agencies are having an important impact.”

He and the anonymous special agent say law enforcement officials are connected like never before − digitally and tactically. They are both grateful for an excellent job done by their partners at every level: the OCS administration; the entire Special Services Unit; the CDCR Central Intelligence & Analysis Unit; the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms; the United States Attorney’s Office; and the Glendale and Los Angeles Police and Sheriff’s Departments.

The special agent said SSU is building on the accomplishments and techniques of the past generation of legendary CDCR investigators.  He said he’s “proud this generation of CDCR special agents are continuing to build on that tradition of excellence.”