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Mafia Handed 22 Indictments in LA

By Robert J. Lopez
Los Angeles Times

Federal authorities on Monday indicted 22 members and associates of the Mexican Mafia prison gang, which for the past two years allegedly has relied on murder and intimidation in a bold attempt to organize drug trafficking among hundreds of Latino street gangs in Southern California.

The 22 individuals - ranging from the organization's reputed Godfather to street-level enforcers - were charged under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act with crimes including murder, extortion and kidnapping. One of those arrested was accused of helping plot the death of a longtime anti-gang activist who had worked as a consultant on Edward James Olmos' Mexican Mafia film, "American Me."

The indictment paints a chilling picture of the Los Angeles underworld, signaling an unprecedented degree of organization and ruthlessness in the long and bloody history of Latino street gangs. The indictment culminated an investigation of more than two years by a task force of local, state and federal officials that specifically targeted the Mexican Mafia.

Joining Manella at a news conference at the federal courthouse were Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block, Los Angeles Police Chief Willie L. Williams and Charlie Parsons, head of the FBI's Los Angeles office.

They declined to discuss the roles of the alleged Mexican Mafia members named in the 26-count indictment. But law enforcement sources involved with the investigation say those named in the action include the prison gang's alleged Godfather, Benjamin "Topo" Peters, 54, and the man who is engaged in a generational power struggle with him for control of the organization: Ruben "Tupi" Hernandez, 35.

Founded in the late 1950s when inmates from several Eastside barrios joined behind bars to form a "gang of gangs," the Mexican Mafia has an estimated 400 to 600 members in the penal system and perhaps twice as many affiliates or sympathizers on the outside. For years, the gang has controlled narcotics distribution, gambling and prostitution at many state prisons. Realizing the money-making potential, the Mexican Mafia has spread its corrupting influence on the streets.