May 5

    Harris County DA will seek death penalty against MS-13 gang member

    Omar Torres is facing a capital murder charge.

    Omar Torres was already behind bars when he ordered the hit, police say.

    The suspected MS-13 gang member was arrested in June 2016 after the brutal slaying of Noe Mendez 4 months earlier. He could have been facing life in prison - but only if the teen slated to testify against him lived to tell the tale.

    He didn't.

    Now Torres is facing the possibility of even harsher punishment. Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg is seeking a death sentence in the case, believed to be the 1st initiated by her office since she took over in January 2017.

    (source: Houston Chronicle)

    MS-13 Arrests at Texas Border Up 212 Percent in FY2018

    5 Jan
    MCAllen, TX409

    The apprehension and arrests of MS-13 members in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) Sector of South Texas are up 212 percent during the first three months of Fiscal Year 2018 over the same period in 2017.

    “We are apprehending nearly one MS-13 gang member per day,” RGV Sector Chief Patrol Agent Manuel Padilla, Jr. told Breitbart Texas in an interview on Thursday. “So far this year, we have apprehended 53 MS-13 gang members.” This number represents an increase of 212 percent over the same period in FY2017.

    Padilla acknowledged the increase over the previous year and added the RGV Sector is leading the nation in these apprehensions. “Because of the large numbers of illegal crossings in this sector, we lead in a lot of categories,” the chief explained. Those categories include Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC), Family Unit Aliens (FMUA), stash houses, high-speed chases, and migrant deaths.

    The RGV Sector made 46 percent of all apprehensions along the southwest border with Mexico during FY 2017, Padilla said. There are eight other sectors along the southwest border. In the first two months of FY 2018, the RGV apprehended nearly 10,000 according to recent figures reported by Breitbart Texas.

    “The apprehension of these MS-13 gang members is a high priority for the RGV Sector and for this administration,” Padilla explained. He said this is because of the “gruesome activity” of these criminals in places like Houston, New York City, and Maryland. Breitbart Texas has reported extensively on the hyperviolent nature of the MS-13 gang–particularly in the communities mentioned by Chief Padilla.

    “While a lot of the crimes committed across the country by MS-13 gang members were carried out by people who entered the U.S. as alien minors, the arrests we have made this year are all adults,” the chief explained. “Another thing we have noticed is the lack of tattoos that are normally used to identify these gang members.” He said it appears the gang members are trying to lay low and not be as visible because of the law enforcement pressure across the U.S.

    In addition to the dangerous MS-13 gang, Padilla’s agents also apprehended 21 members of the 18th Street Gang–another El Salvador-based organization. He said this number is up from 10 the year before.

    Padilla said they often find the members mixed in with other migrants. He labeled them, “the threat in the mix.”

    “When we have a threat like this, it enables us an opportunity to work closely with other law enforcement agencies,” he expressed. “Those might be other agencies and departments in the U.S. interior. Or, it could be law enforcement partners in countries like El Salvador.”

    “We are building a network to defeat a network,” Padilla stated.

    The chief said there are consequences for the gang members when they are apprehended after illegally crossing the border.

    “If they have no prior U.S. criminal history, they are subject to a ‘controlled deportation’,” the chief explained. The gang members are not deported with others simply being returned in mass to their country of origin, he said. Instead, they are turned directly over to law enforcement officials in their home country.

    “They are not just released,” he stated.

    Those who have previous U.S. criminal histories or deportations face a different path. A gang member with prior removals but no other criminal history faces felony prosecution for illegal re-entry. “This is a violation of 8 U.S.C. 1326, which provides a penalty of two to five years in prison,” he said.

    For previously deported criminal gang members, the penalty is much more severe. “This is an aggravated felony where the penalty can range up to 20 years in prison,” the chief emphasized.

    Breitbart Texas previously reported on MS-13 gang members who are fugitives in their own country. In April 2017, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations officers deported Aristides Inoc Juarez-Villalobos, 21, an MS-13 gang member wanted in his home country for violent crimes, including murder.

    ICE officials report over 630 criminal aliens have been returned to El Salvador over the past four years as part of the SAFE Initiative (Security Alliance for Fugitive Enforcement). The program is designed to identify foreign fugitives wanted internationally. The 630 Salvadorans were all sought by the El Salvador National Police Force.

    One of Chief Padilla’s top issues he faces is reducing the number of migrant deaths–a statistic he does not want to lead the nation in.

    During one week alone in December, a patch of unusually cold weather led to the deaths of 10–eight alone in Brooks County, Breitbart Texas reported.

    Fortunately, the numbers in FY 2017 were down roughly 20 percent from the previous year. In the RGV sector, agents recovered the bodies or remains of 104 illegal aliens. In FY 2016, 132 bodies were recovered, the chief reported.

    “We are combating this, primarily in Brooks County, by targeting the areas were the human smugglers drop off the migrants to march around the checkpoint,” he explained. Their goal, he said, is to save lives by apprehending them before they get into dangerous situations that frequently lead to serious injury, illness, or death.

    This year, his sector rolled out the “Missing Migrant Program” with a focus on saving lives. When that fails, the program’s objective is to reunite the family with the deceased migrant’s body or remains.

    Human smuggling in big rigs is another area of concern.

    “We are trying to raise community awareness of this very dangerous practice where human smugglers pack these migrants into the back of 18-wheelers,” he said. “We want people who see people being loaded into trailers and trucks to call in and report the activity. This action will save lives,” he expressed.

    Finally, Chief Padilla said his sector is also seeing a massive increase in the seizure of hard drugs.

    “We have seen a 172 percent increase in the amount of cocaine seized this year,” he reported. “In the past three months, our agents seized 463 pounds of cocaine.” He estimated the value of these drugs at nearly $15 million.

    He said that during this same period that the seizure of marijuana is down. “The smugglers are turning more to hard drugs,” Padilla said.

    The RGV sector is now the focal point for border security enforcement.

    Because of the increases in border crossing and drug smuggling activities of the Mexican cartels, the RGV sector will be the highest priority for additional manpower, new technology, and additional walls and fences.

    MS-13 Arrests at Texas Border Up 212 Percent in FY2018


      SEPTEMBER 28

      Texas Prison Gangs (still) responsible for much Juarez violence

      Grits hasn't had the bandwidth to focus on border security topics for quite a few years, but I noticed a story from the El Paso Times which reminded me of themes this blog harped on back when it paid more attention to those subjects. A hit man from a Texas prison gang, Barrio Azteca, has been accused of at least 30 murders committed in Juarez, El Paso's sister city across the Rio Grande, which has witnessed more than 500 homicides this year, including the deaths of two police officers.

      This brings up an issue related to the US-Mexico border which is almost never discussed, and which, in this era of fact-free partisan sniping over immigration, reflects a reality that the American political dialogue seemingly cannot wrap its head around: The real "spillover violence" along the border results not from Mexican violence seeping northward, but from American criminals heading south to commit a large proportion of the murders we hear about on the other side of the river. And it's been that way for years.

      Barrio Azteca has long hired out its services as contract killers in Juarez, sending gang members south to kill rivals then retreating back across the Rio Grande to safety. At one point, Mexican authorities estimated the Texas-based gang accounted for half of all homicides in Juarez. They have also for years operated massive trafficking operations on the US side.

      I'm well past believing chauvinist American law enforcement cares about stopping this. As long as the violence stays on the other side of the border, they seem happy. It's one of the reasons Grits has always had trouble taking the most strident Drug Warrior rhetoric seriously. If you closely study cartel trafficking patterns and their seats of power (Texas law enforcement believes most cartels' "command and control" operations are on the US-side, primarily around Houston), and if you really wanted to disrupt the criminal gangs funneling drugs into the United States, the focus would be on these sorts of US-side activities, not "securing the border" with walls or other faddish solutions which seem to ignore the actual problems.


      Prison gang symbol linked to Spurs logo are affecting fan tattoo choices, according to local artists

      By Kelsey Bradshaw,
      mySA.com / San Antonio Express-News
      April 21, 2017

      San Antonio Spurs fans looking to show their team pride with a tattoo are changing their ink plans because of the logo's association with a local gang, local artists say.

      Laura Rosario, manager at Ring of Fire downtown, said when customers ask for a Spurs-related tattoo, artists give them a heads up.

      Usually, she told mySA.com, locals are already aware of the connection and will ask for a Spurs tattoo in a less visible place.

      "We won't put it on someone's neck or face or further down their arm where someone could see it and assume they're associated with that gang," she said. "We try to make sure that they know."

      Prison gang symbol linked to Spurs logo


      These are Texas' biggest gang threats

      By John Boyd,
      Chron.com / Houston Chronicle
      April 18, 2014

      Tango Blast and Tango Cliques
      Tier 1 Threat
      DPS: Tango Blast and Tango cliques are located in many major cities across Texas.

      Texas Syndicate
      Tier 1 Threat
      DPS: Texas Syndicate (TS) is a violent prison gang that originated in the California penal system over 40 years ago.

      Texas Mexican Mafia
      Tier 1 Threat
      DPS: Despite having its threat level downgraded in 2012 because of significant law enforcement targeting, Texas Mexican Mafia (TMM) has upheld its membership size, commitment.

      Barrio Azteca
      Threat Tier 1
      DPS: Barrio Azteca (BA) has lost much of its support in the last year due to the deteriorating influence of the Juarez Cartel.

      Latin Kings
      Tier Threat 2
      DPS: The Latin Kings is a violent street gang that originated in Chicago, Illinois in the early 1960s.

      Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13)
      Tier 1 Threat
      DPS: Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) is the best known transnational street gang in the world, with ongoing command, control and coordination between gang leaders and cliques.

      Tier 2 Threat
      DPS: The Sureños originated as a gang confederation closely aligned under the umbrella of the California Mexican Mafia.

      Tier 2 Threat
      DPS: The Bloods are a violent street gang that originated in Los Angeles.

      Aryan Brotherhood of Texas
      Tier 2 Threat
      DPS: The Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) was formed as a white supremacist prison gang, but places its racist ideology secondary to its everyday criminal activities.

      Tier 2 Threat
      DPS: The Crips is a criminal street gang founded in Los Angeles, California in the late 1960s with ties to Folk-Nation-affiliated gangs.

      Bandidos Outlaw Motorcycle Gang
      Tier 2 Threat
      DPS: Formed in the 1960s, the Bandidos Outlaw Motorcycle Gang (Bandidos OMG) conducts its illegal activities as covertly as possible and avoids high-profile.

      Partido Revolucionario Mexicano
      Tier 2 Threat
      DPS: Partido Revolucionario Mexicano (PRM) is an organized and secretive prison gang that operates in Mexico and Texas.

      Texas Chicano Brotherhood
      Tier 2 Threat
      DPS: The Texas Chicano Brotherhood (TxCB) emerged in Hidalgo, Texas after its two founding members defected from the Tri-City Bombers.

      These are Texas' biggest gang threats


      Prison Gang Used Broken Sunglasses, Cash To Reel In Texas Guard

      May 31, 2013

      The McConnell Unit, near Beeville, is the Texas Department of Criminal Justice facility where several guards worked, and are now being prosecuted for taking bribes to smuggle contraband to inmates.

      The odds are that Texas prison guard James Standlea did something that led inmates to believe he could be reeled in, that he could be corrupted.

      And they’were right, according to court papers recently made public.

      A Raza Unida prison gang member broke Standlea’s sunglasses while he was on duty at the McConnell Unit, near Beeville, and quickly apologized and paid him $100 to cover the damage.

      That might sound like integrity in the outside world, but in prison, it is an old-school bait and switch. Guards are taught from the start to know better.

      By taking the money from inmate Preston Mascorro, even if the glasses were worth $100, Standlea was compromised on may fronts.

      But the high-stakes game was just getting underway for Standlea, who’d been on the job about two years, and Mascorro, who was serving two 30-year sentences for murder and other crimes.

      Inmates aren’t allowed to have cash. By taking the money, he’s being made well aware that one had cash- and didn’t report it.

      Guards certainly aren’t allowed to accept money from inmates. By doing so, he just broke a second rule.

      It goes on and on.

      “It has all the earmarks of a con setting up a guard to be corrupted,” said Larry Karson, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the University of Houston-Downtown.

      “It is very possible the glasses were intentionally broken so the con can get a hook into the guard,” continued Karson, who is a retired Custom Service agent. “It kind of like fishing for the guard who is intentionally corrupt: you don’t necessarily need the biggest one, you just want one of the line.”

      And the bottom line: inmates in a prison gang owned the guard. They could turn him in for taking a bribe anytime anytime he stopped playing nice, or if they need a bargaining card, he’s ready to be served up.

      Somebody tipped off the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Office of Inspector General in early 2009 that guards were smuggling contraband into the unit.

      Thirteen guards, Standlea among them, were charged last February a corruption scheme that involved 32 people, including the guard, some civilians and some inmates.

      The information is part of Standlea’s plea agreement in federal court. He’s just one of several people who have pleaded guilty in the case or are in the process of doing so.

      But his appears to be the only plea so far in which the “agreed statement of facts” document has been made public. (It is posted below.)

      Perhaps for Standlea, his downfall started with being a bit too friendly with inmates or maybe one of them overheard him complaining to another guard about how tough it is paying the bills at home. He needed some money.

      Of course, given how low Texas Department of Criminal Justice corrections officers are paid, it wouldn’t take much to realize they are barely scraping by at home.

      But don’t feel too bad for Standlea.

      He was soon sneaking alcohol into the prison for the gang as well as cellular telephones – way past breaking TDCJ rules, and on to breaking federal laws.

      Standlea ended up meeting up in Beeville with the girlfriend of inmate Aaron Trevino, another gang member who was doing his time under the toughest of conditions, administrative segregation, where he was locked in one-man cell 23 hours a day.

      She gave Standlea a package with a cellular phone and a charger duct taped together- and paid him $500.

      Standlea sneaked the package into the prison by holding it under his vest. He then dropped the package into a trash can, and it was fished out by an inmate working as a janitor and delivered further inside the prison to Trevino.

      The Texas prison came just months before a seemingly far more sensational case in Baltimore in which, among other things, a prison gang leader got four guards pregnant.

      Statement of Facts

      Prison Gang Used Broken Sunglasses, Cash To Reel In Texas Guard


      Nov. 11

      Dozens of White Supremacist Gang Members Charged

      4 top leaders of the white supremacist Aryan Brotherhood of Texas are among nearly 3 dozen alleged gang members charged in a sweeping indictment unsealed Friday that accuses them of crimes ranging from capital murder to drug trafficking.

      Few details were released about the alleged crimes, but 10 defendants are facing charges that carry a death penalty. As examples of the gang's brutality, the indictment says one leader ordered a subordinate to kill a gang prospect and return his severed finger, and another was told to burn a tattoo from a member's arm for not following an order.

      "Brutal beatings, fire bombings, drug trafficking and murder are all part of ABT's alleged standard operating procedure," Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breurer said in a statement. "As charged, ABT uses violence and threats of violence to maintain internal discipline and to retaliate against those believed to be cooperating with law enforcement."

      Only 3 people named in the indictment haven't been arrested. 16 people were arrested Friday across Texas, while 15 others were already in custody, prosecutors said, adding that the arrests capped years of investigation.

      All are charged with racketeering conspiracy. Some were charged with involvement in at least 3 murders, multiple attempted murders, kidnappings, assaults and conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and cocaine.

      A message left for the U.S. Attorney's Office seeking more details about the alleged crimes and those arrested wasn't immediately returned Friday.

      The military-style gang was founded in Texas prisons in the 1980s to offer protection to white inmates if they joined. Modeled after a similar gang that surfaces in California prisons in the 1960s, members often use hand signs symbolizing their participation and have Nazi-themed tattoos.

      Investigators say the gang works as 5 regions, and that 4 of those charged were "generals" who controlled activities in a region while supervising the gang's overall activities, including issuing orders to kill in a steering committee known as the "Wheel."

      The leaders were identified as Terry Ross Blake, 55; Charles Lee Roberts, 68; Larry Max Bryan, 51; and William David Maynard, 42. Blake and Roberts were arrested Friday, while Bryan and Maynard were already in prison. Home phone numbers weren't listed for Blake or Roberts, and court documents didn't yet show any of the men had retained attorneys.

      According to the indictment, Bryan is facing charges in the fatal shooting of an ABT prospect member who allegedly stole drugs he was ordered to deliver to a customer on behalf of the ABT in Pleasanton, south of San Antonio. Bryan could face the death penalty in the case.

      The charges against Maynard include the murder of a fellow gang member. He also could face the death penalty.

      Bryan, sentenced in 1991 in Bexar County to 30 years for heroin delivery, is eligible for parole next year. Maynard arrived in 2003, with a 75-year term for murder conspiracy from Travis County. It was his 4th conviction.

      4 women were among those arrested Friday, including one in North Carolina. U.S. Attorney's spokeswoman Angela Dodge said she didn't have details about the North Carolina arrest. Prosecutors said that while women are not allowed in the gang, they aid members by using phone calls, the Internet and the postal system to pass along communications that include orders to kill or assault.

      (Source: Associated press)

      Better Hepatitis Treatment Costly for Prisons

      By Brandi Grissom
      September 21, 2012

      Tattooing is ubiquitous behind bars, despite — or perhaps because of — the fact that it is banned.

      “It’s just unbelievable how creative they can be,” said Michele Deitch, a prisons expert at the University of Texas at Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs. “They can jerry-rig pens to become needles. They use the dyes in paper products.”

      But the practice carries with it more than the risk of punishment — it can also spread hepatitis C.

      The prison population is particularly prone to this viral disease, which is transmitted largely through infected blood and can lead to liver cirrhosis and cancer.

      Not only do inmates have a penchant for illicit tattoos, but they are also likelier than the general population to have engaged in high-risk behavior like intravenous drug use outside of prison.

      Prison health officials estimate that as many as 50,000 of the state’s more than 150,000 inmates could be infected with hepatitis C. The cost to treat Texas inmates with hepatitis C is expected to soar by as much as 380 percent next year, a result of the growing prevalence of the disease among inmates and a more effective, but more expensive, treatment protocol. Legislators, already facing a strained budget, will have to find millions more dollars to pay for this care.

      Not all inmates are tested for hepatitis C when they enter the prison system. They are tested if they have other clinical indicators, like HIV or a history of intravenous drug use. In a 2007 report, health providers for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice said they had identified and were managing care for about 20,000 inmates with hepatitis C.

      Dr. Stephanie Zepeda, the director of pharmacy services for University of Texas Medical Branch Correctional Managed Care, which oversees treatment of inmates, said she provided medication therapy for about 400 hepatitis C patients per month, at a cost to the state of about $2.8 million per year. Not all patients with the disease receive the medication, and the therapy can last from three months to a year.

      The current protocol is composed of two drugs, and its cure rate is about 40 percent, Zepeda said. But new medical guidelines call for the use of a third medication, which can be one of two different drugs. One of them would increase the cost of hepatitis C treatment in prisons to more than $8 million a year, the other to more than $13 million, Zepeda said.

      Zepeda said that adding a third drug raised the cure rate to 70 percent. But the drugs are not only expensive, they are also complicated to administer.

      “It’s great from a humanistic standpoint,” Zepeda said. “But it’s, practically, a challenge for the correctional system.”

      The new drugs must be administered precisely every eight hours. They must be taken with food, and patients risk developing a resistance to the therapy if they miss doses. In prison, where even small diversions from the regimented schedule require additional work for guards, and where inmates frequently move between units, ensuring that the expensive medications are given correctly could be problematic, Zepeda said.

      “It just takes a tremendous amount of coordination to do it right and to do it well,” she said.

      Another complicating factor, Zepeda said, is that new, potentially more effective drugs with simpler procedures are expected to be available as early as 2014.

      In addition to these changes, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a new recommendation in August calling for all people born between 1945 and 1965 to be tested for hepatitis C. The CDC estimates that this age group accounts for nearly three-quarters of all hepatitis C cases nationally.

      More than a quarter of Texas prison inmates were born during that period, according to The Texas Tribune’s prisoner database. More testing, Zepeda said, is likely to result in diagnoses of more cases and an increased need for treatment.

      For Texas lawmakers, this means high costs now and potentially exorbitant ones in the future as inmates age and the disease progresses, causing liver disease and failure. Additionally, failing to control the disease in prisoners presents serious health risks to the general population. Inmates who are not cured of hepatitis C and are released could spread the disease, which the CDC reports is now the leading reason for liver transplants nationally.

      “It is going to be a struggle as the disease continues to wreak havoc in the offender population,” said Dr. Owen Murray, the vice president of UTMB’s Correctional Managed Care program.

      Murray said policy makers should consider ways to control other costs in the prison health care system in order to mitigate the expense of treating hepatitis C. Perhaps, he said, offenders with expensive health needs whose crimes are less severe could be paroled earlier, or state agencies could work with pharmaceutical companies to secure lower rates for drugs. It would be ideal, he said, if the state teamed up with a nursing home to provide care to the growing population of elderly inmates.

      Until then, Murray said, prison health officials will have to consider which patients immediately need hepatitis C treatment, and which ones can wait.

      “Ultimately, it’s going to be much like HIV,” Murray said. “You’re just going to have to acknowledge you have this disease in prison and that it costs a lot to treat.”

      Deitch, the prisons expert, said preventing the use of dirty, homemade needles in prison by providing sterile ones for tattooing could be an inexpensive way to limit the spread of hepatitis C.

      “Would you rather make those tools available or deal with the long-term cost consequences of the spread of the disease?” she asked.

      Jason Clark, a spokesman for the criminal justice department, said the agency was not considering that, largely because of safety concerns. He said the agency already had rules in place to prevent the spread of diseases, including banning tattoos and sexual contact among inmates, along with the sharing of items like toothbrushes and razors.

      In 1998, Clark said, the department began an education program focused on disease prevention.

      In the program, which is available in 99 of the state’s 111 prison facilities, 1,300 inmates teach other inmates about risk factors for infection and how to avoid them.

      “They’re more likely to have firsthand knowledge about the risk factors among offenders, which gives them credibility,” Clark said.

      State Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee, dismissed the notion of allowing sterile needles in prisons. But he said lawmakers should consider solutions beyond financing medication for inmates.

      “This is not just about inmates and their cellmates,” Whitmire said. “It’s about our communities where these inmates are being released.”

      Better Hepatitis Treatment Costly for Prisons

      Aug. 28

      Death sentence upheld for TCB member in bar maid slayings

      A South Texas street gang member sent to death row for the fatal shooting of 4 women 10 years ago has lost a federal court appeal.

      The ruling Monday from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals moves 30-year-old Robert Garza a step closer to execution.

      Evidence showed he fired at least 50 bullets into a car, killing the women who were illegal immigrants from Mexico working at a bar in Donna, a border town southeast of Edinburg.

      Garza was identified as belonging to the Tri-City Bombers and was carrying out a gang-ordered hit on women who had testified against a gang member.

      Evidence also showed the hit was botched and the victims weren't involved in the other case.

      (source: Associated Press)

      Aug 10, 2012

      TDCJ Inmate Dies Following Walker County Riot

      Reporter: Sylvia Villarreal

      A Texas Department of Criminal Justice official says an inmate who suffered a serious head injury at the Estelle Unit, during a fight has died from his injuries.

      42-year-old, Billy Delosantos was allegedly involved in a riot at the Walker County medium security unit between Hispanic and African American inmates. A preliminary investigation has indicated 73 prisoners took part in the July 31st incident.

      TDCJ officials say to regain control of the unit, chemicals were used by prison guards and the the fight was quickly broken up, but afterwards, Delosantos who was found critically injured was airlifted to Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston. Delosantos died Tuesday afternoon.

      The Office of Inspector General is investigating the incident and so far, the reason for the disturbance has not been released.

      Delosantos was serving a 5 year prison sentence for the aggravated robbery of an elderly person from Harris County.

      TDCJ Inmate Dies Following Walker County Riot

      July 24

      Appeal of Gangbanger on Death Row Is Shot Down

      A member of the Mexican Mafia who faces the death penalty for killing a drug dealer over money cannot appeal his conviction and sentence, a federal judge ruled.

      In 1998, Manuel "Meme" Vasquez strangled San Antonio drug dealer Juanita Ybarra with a cord for allegedly brushing off "the dime" - a 10 % tax on narcotic sales collected by the Mexican Mafia.

      Moses Bazan was with Ybarra in a motel room when Vasquez forced himself in along with Johnny Joe Cruz and Oligario "Bebe" Lujan to carry out the kill order.

      A jury in Bexar County, Texas, convicted Vasquez of capital murder in November 1999 and sentenced him to death.

      After failing to find relief in state court, Vasquez petitioned for federal habeas relief.

      U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez rejected that petition Thursday and denied him a certificate of appealability.

      Vasquez had claimed that Latinos were underrepresented in his jury, but Rodriguez disputed the attempt to identify juror ethnicity based on their last names.

      Rodriguez also disagreed that defense counsel improperly failed to seek a limiting jury instruction concerning Vasquez's gang affiliation.

      "With or without a limiting jury instruction, petitioner's jury was going to learn of petitioner's Mexican Mafia membership and hear Cruz's testimony regarding the reasons why petitioner and Lujan (both Mexican Mafia members) broke into Ybarra's and Bazan's motel room, fatally strangled Ybarra, very nearly killed Bazan, ransacked the room, stole valuables, and then retreated to the home of another individual with ties to the Mexican Mafia," Rodriguez wrote (parentheses in original).

      Vasquez waited to challenge the wording of the jury charge for the punishment phase until he applied for state habeas corpus relief, the decision states. "Petitioner argues, without any citation to authority, that because his trial counsel did not make a contemporaneous objection to the alleged defects contained in his punishment phase jury charge included in petitioner's final 2 claims herein, those complaints were not properly preserved for state appellate review and, therefore, petitioner's procedural default in failing to present those claims as part of his direct appeal should be forgiven," Rodriguez wrote.

      "There is, however, no legal support for petitioner's proposed 'new rule' suggesting that 2 state procedural defaults cancel each other out. That petitioner procedurally defaulted at trial by not timely objecting to alleged defects in his punishment phase jury charge and thereafter procedurally defaulted again by failing to present his complaints about his punishment phase jury charge on direct appeal does not transform petitioner's twice procedurally defaulted claims into claims properly subject to federal habeas review. To hold otherwise would stand the principle of procedural default on its head."

      (source: Courthouse News)

      Family members of Jovita’s owners sold heroin at restaurant, police say

      By Claudia Grisales, Patrick George and Steven Kreytak
      June 21, 2012

      Update: At a news conference this afternoon, authorities described the arrests as putting a major dent into heroin distribution in the Austin area.

      Police and federal officials said that Amado “Mayo” Pardo, long involved with running the Jovitas restaurant, has been a Texas Syndicate member for more than 30 years and was previously convicted of murder in 1972 and 1985. Also arrested are Pardo’s brother, 68-year-old Jose Alvarado Pardo and 66-year-old Michael Martinez, whom police officials said are also Texas Syndicate members.

      “We believe Texas Syndicate… is one of the most violent gangs in the state,” said Gary Albus, a commander with the Texas Department of Public Safety. “They mainly operate on drug trafficking, so this is a great disruption.”

      Police Cmdr. Donald Baker, who oversees the department’s organized crime efforts, said the raids seized more than 330 grams of heroin, close to $40,000 in cash, plus vehicles, real estate and weapons.

      Baker said investigators believe Pardo has been selling heroin out of Jovita’s for years.

      “Jovitas has been around for quite a while. Now, (Pardo) has been in the heroin business for quite a while,” Baker said. “I’d imagine money is being laundered through the business. It’s a very visible point for people to come in and out of that wouldn’t draw attraction to residents.”

      In state corporation filings, Jovita Patino was listed as the owner and president of the restaurant. Her brother Amado Pardo would be general manager, while his wife Amanda would be manager for the restaurant. The business operates under the corporate name “Mayo Jovita’s Inc.,” filings show.

      Jovita Patino was not among those arrested.

      Baker described Pardo’s operation as being heroin wholesalers to other dealers in the city. He said joint efforts targeting major drug operations are becoming increasingly necessary.

      “We know that Austin is becoming more of a hub for the narcotics coming across the border,” Baker said.

      Earlier: Federal officials are seeking to seize the longtime South Austin restaurant and music venue Jovita’s under an indictment unsealed today in Austin’s federal court that charges 15 people with conspiracy to distribute heroin.

      A press release by U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman’s office said that the “ringleader” of the distribution enterprise was Amado Pardo, 64, whose wife Amanda, according to county appraisal roles, owns the property at 1619 S. First St., where Jovita’s is located.

      Amanda Pardo, 45, is also named as a defendant in the case.

      The government is also seeking to seize the interests that Pardo and his wife have at 1615 S. First St and two additional properties located across East Bouldin Creek from the restaurant — 405 and 404 Milton St. The indictment alleges that the properties were derived from the proceeds of the drug dealing or were intended to be used to facilitate the crime. “The organized criminal drug operation was estimated to have daily sales between $3,400 to $6,250,” police spokeswoman Jennifer Herber said in a statement.

      “Illegal narcotics sales were conducted from the restaurant.”

      Police officials said the arrests were the result of a one-year investigation into an extensive heroin distribution operation that “focused on the dismantling of the local cell of the Texas Syndicate prison gang.”

      “During the investigation, investigators were able to determine that large amounts of heroin were kept, sold, and distributed from several locations in and around Central Texas using the City of Austin as the base of their operations,” officials said.

      Neighbors said that authorities moved in on a home on Milton Street in a predawn raid today. Authorities said they also searched the restaurant. By 9:30 a.m., law enforcement officials could be seen searching with dogs and pickaxes the backyards of homes in the 400 block of Milton Street. One of the homes is owned by Jovitas Inc. and the other is owned by Amanda and Amado Pardo, according to the Travis County Appraisal District.

      Police emerged from one of the homes with bags of seized items, including several ammunition boxes. One of the officers on the scene said that some of the Austin police officers were with the department’s gang unit. Another said that the people inside the home did not want to talk to the media.

      Police officials say they will release more information on the Jovita’s raid at 3:30 p.m. in a joint effort with state, county and federal officials they are calling “Operation Muerte Negra,” or “Black Death.”

      The indictment says little about the allegations against the defendant other than that they are accused of conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute heroin from May 11, 2011, toJune 15, 2011.

      Pitman’s office said that also indicted and arrested were: Jorge Carrillo, 44, of Lockhart; Jose Pardo, 68, of Austin; Tatiana Huang, 25, of Austin; Michael Martinez, 66, of Austin; Alfredo Alvarez, 62, of Austin; David Sosa, 42, of Austin; Lucy Estrada, 32, of Austin; Dionicio Sanchez, 62, of Austin; Chris Mier, 32, of Austin; Terry Ayers, 65, of Austin; Kilpatrick Williams, 46, of Austin; Leah Day, 24, of Austin; and Jeffrey Finn, 45, of Shenandoah. The Texas Secretary of State Office lists the owner as Mayo Jovita’s Inc., who lists Jovita Pardo Patino as its president. She is Amado Pardo’s sister and is not among those indicted.

      Photos: Suspects in Operation Muerte Negra

      Family members of Jovita’s owners sold heroin at restaurant, police say

      FBI's Ten Most Wanted list should include more cartel figures, some say

      By Jazmine Ulloa
      Updated: June 20, 2012

      Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán - the man labeled the world's most powerful drug trafficker -- is not among the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives.

      Neither is his rival, Heriberto Lazcano, though he is said to run one of the most vicious illicit networks to move tons of cocaine and marijuana into the United States. Nor is Miguel Ángel Treviño, a former Mexican military officer believed to be Lazcano's second in command.

      Some drug war analysts say the absence of such fugitive Mexican drug dons from the federal index is another indication that the struggle seething south of the border is not a national priority in the United States, where most residents are unfamiliar with its key players, even as a vicious battle rages so close to home.

      "The problem is almost like what you have with war in Iraq and Afghanistan," retired Special Agent Peter Hanna said. "The conflict is divorced from the United States. Only people in Mexico see the violence, live with the violence."

      But an entire web of couriers, distributors and suppliers branches into the U.S., facilitating the trade, security analysts say. Drug traffickers use the nation's highways to run their loads, tap into its businesses and generate billions of dollars from U.S. demand for illegal narcotics, said Sylvia Longmire, a cartel expert and law enforcement consultant.

      Unsealed documents at an Austin federal court last week divulged the latest bombshell: Officials say Mexican gangsters and their associates were laundering millions of dollars in profits from illicit drug gains through the U.S. quarter horse industry, and 15 members of the Zetas drug cartel — including Treviño — were indicted.

      The leaders of these illicit organizations should crack the FBI's Top Ten, not necessarily because it will assist with their capture, but for what it would mean symbolically, Longmire said.

      "It's important for us to put them on the list because it sends a really huge message that we mean business, that we intend to fight these cartels with the cooperation of the Mexican government," she said.

      FBI officials say the agency has strict criteria and a competitive review process for those it elects to the famous list of the infamous, which has featured 497 of the nation's most coveted criminals since its inception in 1950.

      Not all dangerous fugitives fit the bill, they say, no matter how deadly.

      List Mirrors Society

      The Top Ten initiative had an unintentional beginning when a reporter for the International News Service asked the bureau to provide the names and descriptions of the toughest, most heinous "guys" it sought to capture. The story got so much attention that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover implemented the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives program. The collection has evolved over time with the priorities of the bureau, reflecting "the growing changes and international aspect of criminal activity," said Joseph Lewis, a supervisory special agent with the FBI's national headquarters.

      "The list goes where the crime goes," he said. "It changes as society changes."

      The bank robbers, burglars and car thieves featured through the 1950s were thus replaced by the revolutionaries of the radical '60s, many of whom faced charges for destruction of government property, sabotage and espionage. Fugitives with links to organized crime and drug trafficking did not enter the spotlight until the '70s.

      The bureau has since broadened its scope to include those wanted for international terrorism, offenses against children and white-collar crime. Some of the most conspicuous to recently make the cut have included al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, who was hunted down and killed in May 2011, and James "Whitey" Bulger, Boston's most notorious mobster, who was caught a month later.

      But of all the men and women the FBI campaign has targeted over the years, only three have been wanted for their ties to major Mexican criminal enterprises — including two of 13 candidates proposed by Texas agents. Juan Garcia Abrego, former leader of the Gulf cartel, was recommended by the Houston division and made the list in 1995. He was nabbed by Mexican authorities the next year and is serving 11 life terms in a maximum security prison in Colorado.

      Eduardo Ravelo, pursued by El Paso FBI officials as captain of the Barrio Azteca Mexican prison gang, was put into the federal index in 2009 and remains at large with a reward of up to $100,000 for anyone with information that leads to his arrest.

      Eduardo Ravelo

      He is on the list along with six men sought for killings among other crimes such as sexual assault, kidnapping and prison escape; a former private school teacher wanted for possession of child pornography; a U.S. fugitive connected to an armed robbery; and a Ukrainian-born mobster said to be responsible for a multimillion-dollar money laundering scheme.

      Is Publicity Helpful?

      FBI officials said the minimal presence of leaders such as Ravelo and Abrego is due to its selective process, which is primarily based on two measures: the length of criminal record or extent to which current charges brand a person a menace to society, and whether the impact of national publicity can assist with capture. The bureau, which canvasses candidate submissions from 56 FBI field offices nationwide, says that some high-profile investigations do not need the publicity, while others could be ruined by intense exposure.

      "It does not mean (Mexican organized crime) is not a priority," said Special Agent Erik Vasys in San Antonio. "The bad thing about the list is that we have more than enough people to go on it."

      Hanna said each case is different. An FBI agent for more than 30 years, he was among investigators in the Houston field office who worked to place Abrego in the Top Ten. "It was a very useful tool," but it was one facet of a larger strategy that pressured a confidant to break his trust and played into the kingpin's downfall, Hanna said.

      Some law enforcement officials said the best use of the federal campaign is to highlight not international targets but lesser-known fugitives who can be recognized by the public and have greater chances of facing justice in U.S. courts. Though many high-ranking Mexican drug traffickers vacation and own property in the United States, kingpins are not likely to be spotted at, say, a craps table in Las Vegas, experts say.

      International criminals, whether bin Laden or El Chapo, should not crowd such an important space, said Michael A. Braun, a former top Drug Enforcement Administration official who heads Spectre Group International, a security consulting company. "Perhaps there should be two separate lists for foreign and domestic targets," he said.

      FBI officials created the agency's most wanted terrorist list in October 2001 shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, and bin Laden has been the only terrorist featured on both lists.

      Still, when Al Capone was bringing mayhem to the streets of Chicago in the 1920s, he was a household name, said Ricardo Ainslie, author and a professor at the University of Texas. The lack of public knowledge about key Mexican syndicate figures "creates a vacuum in the tools that we have to bring these people to justice," he said.

      Ask the average person in the U.S. to list notorious organized crime bosses, and you will hear names such as John Gotti and Sammy Gravano, Braun said, even though they could never put together the millions that leaders such as El Chapo can funnel in on any given day.

      Contact Jazmine Ulloa at 
      On Twitter @jazmineulloa

      FBI's Ten Most Wanted list should include more cartel figures, some say

      March 26

      Gangland Texas Terror - Aryan Brotherhood in Texas Prisons

      Past and present history on the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas Gang in TDCJ.
      With Retired TDCJ Darrington Warden Terry Pelz and Ex-TDCJ Gang Guru Maryanne Denner. Id the ABT still a formidable force behind the walls of Texas prisons?

      JANUARY 03, 2012

      Poor Mexico: Reports from the cartel wars

      A number of stories related to Mexican drug cartels and their relationship with US-side Prison Gangs, as well as other articles about US-side cartel infrastructure and organized crime in Mexico and Latin America and may interest readers:

      Houston Chronicle: Cartels cooperate with prison gangs

      Austin Statesman: Authorities work long hours to stamp out Mexican mafia

      Brownsville Herald: Prison gangs enforce brutal reign

      SA Express News: Prosecutors like RICO

      Huffington Post: Mexican drug cartels recruit young latinos in Southern California

      Catholic Online: Mexican drug cartels recruiting American teens

      Gant News Service: DEA: Mexican drug cartel extortion moving more into US

      McAllen Monitor: Gulf cartel lieutenant linked to various incidents on US side

      AP: Mexican cartels build own national radio system

      Wired: Radio Zeta: How Mexican drug cartels stay connected

      Global Post: Mexico police tortured suspects in Ciudad Juarez, human rights body says

      El Paso Times: Juarez forensic team a work in progress

      Honduras Weekly: Holding the United States accountable

      Reading these stories reminds me of Porfirio Diaz's famous lament: "Poor Mexico, so far from God, so close to the United States!"



      Baddest of the bad' lead solitary lives
      'Baddest of the bad' in Texas prisons lead solitary lives.

      By Dane Schiller
      August 14, 2011

      MIDWAY — Behind the razor-wire-topped fences of Ferguson prison and other Texas penitentiaries are 5,205 inmates branded the baddest of the bad — dubbed so devious they are locked in one-man cells for 23 hours a day.

      Lock down. Isolation. Administrative segregation.

      Spread among 22 prisons, Texas has among the most inmates in so-called “ad-seg” of any state.

      They have been deemed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to be “confirmed” members of gangs, too organized, predatory and violent to mix with the 150,000 prisoners in general populations.

      They serve in cages of about nine by seven feet with cement walls outfitted with solid-steel doors or bars covered with mesh.

      “We ain't the most likeable or most welcomed group in society,” concedes Anastacio Garcia, 38, a robber from the Rio Grande Valley who has been in isolation at this prison 35 miles east of Huntsville for 15 years. “We sit here day in and day out, basically rotting ourselves away.”

      Another 4,000 or so inmates are serving temporary stints in ad-seg as punishment for breaking rules or being escape risks.

      Their cells are identical to those on death row.

      The American Civil Liberties Union and others contend ad-seg is cruel and makes inmates meaner and more dysfunctional by the time they are freed, if they are freed.

      Citing its ineffectiveness as well as cost concerns, Mississippi and Maine have scaled back its use. In California, thousands of inmates recently launched a hunger strike in protest.

      In Texas, members of eight prison gangs, categorized as Security Threat Groups, automatically go straight into isolation regardless of the crime they committed.

      Those include “confirmed” members of the Texas Syndicate, Mexican Mafia, Aryan Brotherhood and others. Their only way out: Renounce gang affiliations, which they rarely do out of loyalty or fear of retribution.

      “When I first walked down that run, I seen it was dark and said, ‘What the hell did I put myself into?' ” said inmate Mike Mendoza, serving life for a Baytown murder. “All I did was walk forward. My heart was beating fast. I said, ‘This is for real.'”

      Ad-seg cells are rarely seen by outsiders, but inmates have access to ministers, counselors and medical and mental health specialists.

      Guards sometimes carry shields to protect themselves from being stabbed with home-made spears or pelted with excrement, urine or rotten food — rancid homemade cocktails used for attacks known as “chunking.”

      “Do not have sympathy for these men,” said a retired TDCJ guard who spoke on the condition of anonymity. The former guard noted they are served three meals a day, have medical care, and better lives than law-abiding people who end up living under bridges.

      When inmates are taken out of their cells and walked to showers or recreation (a one-man cage), they are handcuffed. For their part, Texas prison officials contend ad-seg keeps the most dangerous inmates under control.

      If placed in the general population, they will be asked by their gangs to follow orders and even kill.

      Jason Clark, a TDCJ spokesman, said gangs, for example, have threatened to harm guards' families if they don't let drugs or other contraband into the prison.

      The ACLU contends ad-seg is arbitrary and ineffective.

      “This type of isolation is pervasive around the country,” said Amy Fettig, ACLU's senior counsel for the national prison project. “It is now being used at an unprecedented level.

      “Unfortunately, when you place somebody in (ad-seg) you are not teaching them how to be a better person. You are simply driving them crazy.”

      Read more: HERE



        Frank's life:

        Frank Meeink became a SkinHead at 13, by 18 he was roaming the country as a SkinHead leader and Neo-Nazi recruiter, with gangs that would beat people indiscriminately. In Illinois he had his own cable-access TV show, "The Reich". He was finally arrested and convicted of kidnapping and beating a member of a rival SkinHead gang.

        While in prison he befriended men he used to think he hated, men of different races. After being released from prison, Meeink tried to rejoin his old SkinHead pals but couldn't bring himself to hate those whom he now knew to be his friends.

        Now a noted speaker, author and founder of Harmony Through Hockey, Frank's life stands for tolerance, diversity and mutual understanding in racial, political and all aspects of society. Frank is truly an inspiration in any time of strife and conflict.

        Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead
        The Frank Meeink story, as told to Jody M. Roy
        Paperback | $10.00 | Nonfiction/Memoir

        Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead is Frank Meeink’s raw telling of his descent into America’s Nazi underground and his ultimate triumph over hatred and addiction.

        Frank’s violent childhood in South Philadelphia primed him to hate. He made easy prey for a small group of skinhead gang recruiters led by his older cousin. At fourteen, he shaved his head. By sixteen, Frank was one of the most notorious skinhead gang leaders on the East Coast. By eighteen, he was doing hard time in an Illinois prison.

        Behind bars, Frank began to question his hatred, thanks in large part to his African-American teammates on a prison football league. Shortly after being paroled, Frank defected from the white supremacy movement. The Oklahoma City bombing inspired him to try to stop the hatred he once had felt. He began speaking on behalf of the Anti-Defamation League and appeared on MTV and other national networks in his efforts to stop the hate.

        In time, Frank partnered with the Philadelphia Flyers to launch an innovative hate prevention program called Harmony Through Hockey. He is currently developing a similar program for the Iowa Chops, an AHL team affiliated with the Anaheim Ducks.

        The story of Frank Meeink’s downfall and redemption has the power to open hearts and change lives.

        Frank Meeink works as director of fan development for the Iowa Chops hockey team. He has been on the national lecture circuit for nearly a decade, speaking to various groups on the topic of racial diversity and acceptance. This is his first book.

        Co-author Jody M. Roy, Ph.D. has been studying hatred within American culture, including hate-groups and hate-gangs, for the past twenty years. In addition to her work as Professor of Communication and Assistant Dean of Faculty at Ripon College, Jody serves on the Board of Directors for the National Association of Students Against Violence Everywhere. Her publications include Love to Hate: America’s Obsession with Hatred and Violence (Columbia University Press, 2002).

        Praise for Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead:

        Frank Meeink's story is inspiring, compelling, and moving. It has the power to change lives. We should all be grateful to him for sharing it. —Morris Dees, Founder and Chief Trial Counsel, Southern Poverty Law Center

        Frank Meeink's book is a candid and captivating story of upbeat transformation of a raw racist into a courageous citizen which has much to teach all of us. Don't miss it! —Dr. Cornel West, Princeton University

        Frank Meeink’s story is so brutal, so visceral, so unflinching, and in the end, so soul-wrenchingly, specifically American, that it should from this moment on be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the origin of race hatred in these United States of America. Autobiography of a Recovering Skinhead stands out as more than a great memoir. It is testament to a great heart, to a man willing to own up to his own violent past and, ultimately, shine a light of hope on this sick, pigment-fixated, demented nation we inhabit. The writing is phenomenal and Meeink’s tale will keep you riveted.

        In the end, like all true testaments, what the author has to offer is hard-earned, down-to-the- bone hope. I loved this book. —Jerry Stahl, author of Pain Killers and Permanent Midnight

        Frank Meeink’s Web Site

        Mexican Drug Kingpin Sentenced to 25 Years in Secret Hearing

        Mexico Attorney General's Office, via Associated Press
        Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, the head of the Gulf Cartel,
        during his extradition in 2007. He has been cooperating
        with prosecutors.

        By JAMES C. McKINLEY Jr.
        Published: February 25, 2010

        HOUSTON — One of the most brutal and feared drug kingpins in Mexican history was sentenced this week to 25 years in prison during a highly secretive hearing here that was closed to the public to protect the lives of everyone involved, according to a court transcript unsealed Thursday.

        Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, the head of the Gulf Cartel, which controls much of the cocaine traffic across the border in South Texas, has agreed to cooperate with the federal government, according to the transcript. Mr. Cárdenas pleaded guilty to five counts in a lengthy indictment, including drug dealing, money laundering and the attempted murder and assault of federal agents. He also forfeited $50 million in assets.

        The sentencing took place in a federal courtroom in Houston behind locked doors and armed guards before Judge Hilda G. Tagle, who granted the government’s request to bar the public. Only two members of Mr. Cárdenas’s family and a handful of federal agents were present.

        Judges often seal particular documents in drug and terrorism trials to protect informants or continuing investigations, but it is highly unusual to seal a sentencing hearing for security reasons.

        “I apologize to my country, Mexico, to the United States of America, my family, to my wife especially, my children, for all the mistakes I made,” Mr. Cárdenas, 42, said in court. He added, “I am remorseful.”

        Judge Tagle said people she had encountered whose lives had been ruined by the drug trade and the violence it generated had weighed heavily in her mind in deciding whether to accept the prosecutor’s recommendation of 25 years.

        “Kidnappings, extortion, gun battles in the streets, a desperate economy, innocence lost — that is your legacy to your country, to our communities on both sides of the border, and to society,” the judge told Mr. Cárdenas, according to the transcript.

        Before his arrest in Mexico in March 2003, Mr. Cárdenas ran a small empire of drug smugglers and gunmen in his home state, Tamaulipas, moving tons of cocaine every year into the United States. Law enforcement authorities on both sides of the border said he was famed for vicious violence against his enemies and for recruiting former military commandos to serve as his gunmen, known as Zetas.

        Even from his Mexican jail cell, he continued to oversee the cartel’s operations, law enforcement officials say. But in 2007, President Felipe Calderón of Mexico, having begun an offensive against drug dealers, broke with policy and extradited Mr. Cárdenas along with 14 other major figures from the Mexican underworld.

        Since then, Mr. Cárdenas has been cooperating with the United States authorities, as his organization has been weakened by arrests and by a lack of strong leadership at the top, experts on Mexican drug cartels said.

        The Zetas, meanwhile, have broken off and became a separate criminal operation that now controls the lucrative crossing at Laredo, Tex. In recent weeks, there have been a series of gun battles between the Zetas and the remnants of Mr. Cárdenas’s organization in towns along the Texas border as they vie for turf.

        “Ever since he’s been in the United States, he’s been cooperating,” said George W. Grayson, a professor at the College of William & Mary who studies the Mexican cartels. “He may be more inclined to talk about the Zetas given the hammer-and-tong conflict between them and the Gulf Cartel.”

        The sentencing and the two years of legal maneuvering before it were handled with the utmost secrecy. At the request of prosecutors, Judge Tagle sealed dozens of documents in the case, from those related to Mr. Cárdenas’s plea agreement to descriptions of his assets.

        The final hearing on Wednesday was not even put on the court’s docket until hours after it was over. In the transcript, the judge explained that the United States Marshals Service had asked to keep the public from witnessing the hearing because it would jeopardize the safety of Mr. Cárdenas. The threat was never explained in court, and the affidavit requesting the unusual level of secrecy was itself sealed.

        Judge Tagle agreed to the request, saying there was a good chance, if she opened the hearing, that “the defendant, court personnel, United States marshal personnel, other courthouse personnel and the general public will be placed in imminent danger.”

        Several experts on criminal law said it was extremely rare for a judge to bar the public from the sentencing of an organized crime figure. It is more often the case that a judge will seal some documents related to a criminal’s plea agreement on the theory it could upend an investigation.

        And in some cases, a judge will close a sentencing hearing if the defendant is going to talk about his cooperation with investigators. But even in cases involving terrorists and American mobsters, most sentencing proceedings are public.

        Rachel Marcus contributed reporting.

        A version of this article appeared in print on February 26, 2010, on page A12 of the New York edition.

        Four gang members arrested in connection with kidnappings

        By Claire Osborn
        February 8, 2010

        Four members of the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas have been arrested in connection with the kidnapping Thursday of three people at a residence in Williamson County, officials said today.

        Kevin Brandon Radford, 26, Anthony C. Almeida, 27, and Samuel Cory Sikes, 22, are in the Williamson County Jail and charged with engaging in organized crime;aggravated kidnapping, Williamson County Sheriff’s Office spokesman John Foster said.

        Andrew Dominick Stellitano, 25, is in the Travis County Jail, court records show.

        Foster did not release details on the three people who officials say were tied up and beaten early Thursday morning at a home in the 4400 block of Oak Creek Drive near Leander.

        The kidnappings were not drug-related nor racially motivated, Foster said.

        One of the victims knew one of the suspects, Foster said, and all three victims had gone to the residence willingly. The Aryan Brotherhood is known to hold activities at the residence, Foster said.

        The victims, two men and one woman, were tied up with Flex-Cuff disposable restraints and gagged once they arrived, Foster said. The men were then thrown into back of pickup and the woman was left at the residence, he said.

        One of the men was able to escape when the truck stopped on FM 2243 at Bagdad Road, Foster said. The suspects then pulled into a park on Bagdad Road, realized that the first man had escaped and released the second, he said.

        The men called Leander police and told officials the location of the woman, officials said Thursday. Several law enforcement agencies, including Williamson County SWAT, descended on the home and removed the woman, who was alone.

        The suspects were arrested in Williamson and Travis counties in the days following the kidnappings, Foster said. The suspects told police they were members of the gang, Foster said.

        Foster said the investigation is ongoing and that more arrests could be made.

        Stellitano is in the Travis County Jail on $520,000 bail.

        Almeida and Radford are being held on $250,000 bail, records show. Sikes was also charged with possession of a controlled substance and is being held on $350,000 bail, records show.


        Report: Texas-born prison gang a growing threat

        White supremacist group likened to Mafia.

        By Mike Ward
        Updated: Dec. 18, 2009

        They go by nicknames like Droopy, Radar and Thumper. Members of their governing board are known as "ugly boys," their regional vice presidents "clowns."

        But those names hint at a sense of humor that masks the seriousness of their enterprise.

        Members of the Aryan Circle, a Texas-born prison gang that has become one of the fastest-growing and most dangerous white supremacist groups in the U.S., trade in murder, drug dealing and stolen property, according to a new report by the Anti-Defamation League, a human rights organization.

        "The Aryan Circle sets itself apart from the other white supremacist groups by running a profit-driven and often-violent criminal enterprise, both in the prison system and on the streets," Dena Marks, a Houston-based associate director for the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement.

        John Moriarty, inspector general of the Texas prison system , where the Aryan Circle was born in 1985, compared the group to the Mafia: "If anyone doesn't believe these people aren't as dangerous as the traditional mob, they're crazy."

        According to the report, many of the group's estimated 1,400 U.S. members are concentrated in Texas — in an arc that goes from Wichita Falls to Fort Worth to Waco to Austin to San Antonio to San Angelo.

        Many Aryan Circle members have service or manual labor jobs, and many work in the oil fields, the report states.

        Recently, Aryan Circle members were accused of stealing Ford pickups and taking them to Brownsville, where a Mexican crime group allegedly picked them up.

        Two months ago, Aryan Circle members were among 47 people arrested in San Angelo on federal and state charges in an anti-gang crackdown.

        Among the 33 confirmed gang members who were busted were members of eight other active Texas gangs — many of whom the Aryan Circle would not associate with in prison because of gang rivalries.

        "It comes down to drugs and money, like it usually has," said Homer Burson, a prison investigator who specializes in tracking gangs and security-threat groups. "Once they get out and get together having meetings, it's a whole collection of different criminals — burglars, people doing time for robbery, drugs, homicides — that get together in this criminal organization."

        Mark Pitcavage, an investigative researcher for the Anti-Defamation League in Ohio, said the pace of the group's growth is alarming; membership has increased about 50 percent in prisons during the past decade. The Aryan Circle now reaches into Arkansas, Colorado, Indiana, Louisiana, North Carolina, Tennessee and Wisconsin, according to the report.

        By 2008, there were 780 "confirmed" members in Texas prisons, up from 500 to 600 a few years before, according to the report. More than 150 additional members are in federal prisons.

        Unlike other prison gangs, the Aryan Circle admits women, and authorities said that practice recently gave rise to friction between various segments of the organization after a female member was put in charge of supervising men.

        "Organized criminal activity ranges from methamphetamine production and distribution to a variety of theft rings," the report states.

        "As is also the case with its rival gang, the Texas Aryan Brotherhood, a number of arrests for methamphetamine production or sales have been 'hotel busts,' in which the perpetrators rent a hotel room at an inexpensive hotel and use the room to cook and/or sell meth."

        Case in point is a bust in Round Rock: George Steven Owen — identified by police as an Aryan Circle member — was arrested in a room containing marijuana, meth and chemicals to make meth. In late 2005, Owen was sentenced to 40 years in prison.


        Find this article at:
        Report: Texas-born prison gang a growing threat

        Judge: Gangs more deadly than some Gitmo detainees

        The Associated Press
        Dec. 17, 2009

        WASHINGTON — The chief judge of the federal court in Washington told lawyers Thursday that domestic street gangs are more deadly than some Guantanamo Bay detainees who could face trial in U.S. courts.

        Judge Royce Lamberth was speaking at an American Bar Association breakfast about Attorney General Eric Holder's recent decision to put the reputed Sept. 11 mastermind and four accused henchmen on trial in New York federal court.

        Lamberth didn't refer specifically to those five in his comments, but rejected the suggestion made by some critics of Holder's decision that U.S. courts cannot secure defendants like terror suspects held at Guantanamo.

        "The gangs are more murderous, I think, than some of these people at Guantanamo," Lamberth said. "They've certainly killed their share of witnesses here."

        Lamberth presided over a 2004 trial in which six members of a gang called Murder Inc. were accused of killing at least 31 people, including witnesses to the gang's crimes. It was one of the city's longest and most tightly guarded trials.

        The judge and jury were protected by bulletproof glass.

        Lamberth also is the former chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Court, a body that meets in secret to review the government's evidence for eavesdropping on terrorists and spies. The court he now heads has handled all the appeals for freedom from Guantanamo detainees, including reviewing the secret evidence against them.

        President Barack Obama has ordered the federal government to acquire an underused state prison in rural Illinois to be the new home for a limited number of terror suspects now held at Guantanamo. The federal government will transform the site into a prison that exceeds supermax standards, officials said this week.

        Lamberth said he does not want to get into a political debate about whether detainees should be tried in military commissions or civilian courts, but he insisted the court system can handle whatever cases it gets.

        "Federal courts are very capable of doing this," Lamberth said.

        Some critics of Holder's decision argue that such trials will expose national security secrets to enemy terrorists. But Lamberth argued a trial judge can sort through the classified information in secret before anything is aired in a public courtroom.

        Stewart Baker, a former Bush administration homeland security official who attended Lamberth's speech, said afterward he was not convinced on that point.

        Such a trial "creates this massive hydraulic pressure to declassify information," said Baker. "We can always do something. Whether you can really protect national security fully is really an open question."

        Lamberth said he "bristled" when he heard Holder predict that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and the four others will be convicted, and bristled again when defense lawyers spoke publicly about the case becoming a "show trial."

        The judge suggested a gag order could be imposed on all the lawyers in any such case to keep the proceedings from getting out of hand.

        He also said that it is possible defendants will use the trial to launch anti-American invective, but said: "It's a free country. I don't think that that can be prevented and I think families have to understand that in a free country those things can happen."

        Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia talks about trying terrorists in Article III Courts, during an address to the Standing Committee on Law and National Security at the The University Club in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Chief Judge Royce C.. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia talks about trying terrorists in Article III Courts, during an address to the Standing Committee on Law and National Security at the The University Club in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia talks about trying terrorists in Article III Courts, during an address to the Standing Committee on Law and National Security at the The University Club in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia talks about trying terrorists in Article III Courts, during an address to the Standing Committee on Law and National Security at the The University Club in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia talks about trying terrorists in Article III Courts, during an address to the Standing Committee on Law and National Security at the The University Club in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia talks about trying terrorists in Article III Courts, during an address to the Standing Committee on Law and National Security at the The University Club in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

        Copyright 2009, The Associated Press.

        Judge: Gangs more deadly than some Gitmo detainees

        Prison gang leader is 21st Texas death row inmate executed in 2009

        November 11, 2009
        The Associated Press

        HUNTSVILLE, Texas – A Cuban-born man identified as a leader in a Hispanic prison gang was executed Tuesday evening for the robbery-slaying of a Houston drug dealer more than 10 years ago.

        Yosvanis "El Cubano" Valle, 34, had denied fatally shooting 28-year-old Jose Martin Junco at a Houston home in June 1999 but said there was little he could do to avoid lethal injection once he lost appeals in the courts.

        "I'm not going to blame nobody; I'm going to blame myself," Valle said from the death chamber, speaking alternately in English and Spanish. "I'm sorry from all my heart.

        "That's the reality of life. I am sorry. I got to pay for it."

        He addressed the parents of a man whose death he was blamed for but for whose killing he was not convicted.

        "I was forced to do it," he said. "I was a gang member."

        He became the 21st prisoner executed in Texas this year when he was pronounced dead at 6:21 p.m., nine minutes after the lethal drugs began flowing into his arms.

        The Associated Press

        Prison gang leader is 21st Texas death row inmate executed in 2009

        October 05, 2009

        Large marijuana grows in North Texas run by Mexican drug gangs

        This development merits watching; it could foretell a turning point where Mexico's cartel problems begin much more tangibly to become American ones. Reports McClatchy News:

        Mexico’s nimble drug cartels are leapfrogging tightened border security and establishing sophisticated marijuana-growing operations in North Texas and Oklahoma, law enforcement officials say.

        "There is no doubt" that three big marijuana fields uncovered this month in Ellis and Navarro counties "have a tie to the border and a Mexican drug cartel," said a drug investigator for the Department of Public Safety. "They brought the tenders up here from Mexico to do the work.

        "This is not Joe Bob growing some marijuana to smoke. These are professional drug operations," said the investigator, who asked not to be identified for security reasons.

        The traffickers’ farming operations, known as "grows," have been an increasing problem on public lands in California and other Western states for some time. But it’s only been in the last two years that the cartels have started to cultivate densely planted plots in North Texas and eastern Oklahoma, law enforcement officials say. ...

        This month alone, sheriff’s departments in Texas’ Ellis and Navarro counties found three irrigated, fertilized and manicured pot-growing operations near Ennis and Corsicana.

        More than 16,000 plants have been uprooted from the sites, said Duane Steen, an assistant commander of the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Narcotic Service in Austin.

        Last year, a 12,000-plant operation found in Ellis County was the first sign that Mexican drug cartels have branched out from smuggling marijuana to cultivating it in Texas, Steen said.

        The Piney Woods of East Texas was where investigators usually found pot patches, Steen said. "The old operations were local: The guy grew up in East Texas and decided to grow a little weed," he said.

        What’s being found now is on a different scale.

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

        Labels: Border Wars, drug policy, marijuana, Mexico

        On October 1, 2009, The National Youth Gang Center will merge with the National Gang Center.

        This merger is a collaborative effort between The Office of Justice Programs' (OJP) Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) and The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP).

        The site will offer information on training, gang-related legislation, web resources, threat assessments, and surveys & analysis.

        The most recent National Youth Gang Survey Analysis is available here.

        Posted by CC Pro at Juvenile Justice Connection

        Department of Justice Press Release:
        For Immediate Release
        September 23, 2009
        United States Attorney's Office
        Southern District of Texas
        Contact: (713) 567-9000

        Anti-Gang Effort Leads to Hefty Sentences as Ten Members and Associates of Texas Syndicate Street/Prison Gang Sentenced

        HOUSTON- Ten members and associates of a notorious street/prison gang have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms over the course of the last two weeks, United States Attorney Tim Johnson announced today.

        The sentences represent the first waive of hearings scheduled for the group after an 11-count indictment was returned in February 2007 charging 17 Houston area men with various murders, armed robberies and drug trafficking committed to gain or maintain entrance or increase their positions with the Texas Syndicate prison gang.

        Fourteen of the defendants were charged with conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) statute.

        "This gang was a violent group and its activities impacted not only the prisons in which their base of power resides but also our communities, " said Johnson. "This prosecution represents the continuing cooperative law enforcement efforts in this district to combat this activity and stop the violence of violent street and prison gangs."

        Willie Valdez, aka Jacker, was sentenced to 27 years imprisonment, while Rene Gonzales Jr., aka Slick or Amor Slick, and Johnny Perez Jr., aka Payaso or Ki Ki each received 22 year-terms. Francisco Nuncio Jr., aka Frank or Butcher, and Roberto Ybarra, aka Little Rob, were both sentenced to 20 years. Michael Thaman, aka Mikeo, received 17 1/2 years, while James Kessler was sentenced to 15 years in prison. Jesus Galvan Jr., aka Jesse or Peanut, and Roberto Garza, aka Flaco, both received sentences of 12 years each, while Michael Almaraz, aka Little Mike, and Robbie Lee Danas, aka Sleepy, were sentenced to 10 years and more than seven years of imprisonment, respectively. Each will serve his sentence without possibility of parole. The remaining defendants are scheduled to be sentenced in November 2009.

        The Texas Syndicate, one of the dominant prison gang in the state of Texas, originated during the 1970s and operates inside and outside jail and prison facilities as a criminal enterprise with the purpose of enriching the members and associates of the gang through the distribution of narcotics and robberies, according to the indictment.

        Its members, prospects or potential members, and associates of the prison gang preserve and protect the territory and profits of their illegal enterprise through the use of intimidation, violence, threats of violence, assaults and murders. Bound by a strict set of rules, members of the gang are members for life and subject to strict and harsh discipline, including death, for violating the rules of the gang.

        Beginning in August 1999 through February 2006, the defendants were engaged in a pattern of racketeering activity through their membership or association with the Texas Syndicate prison gang, a criminal enterprise, and one or more of the defendants engaged in three murders, two attempted murders, conspiracy to commit murder, five aggravated robberies or trafficked in cocaine and marijuana, all through and in aid of the criminal enterprise.

        The five-year investigative effort resulting in the return of this indictment was conducted by the FBI, the Houston Police Department, the Harris County Sheriff's Office, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Baytown Police Department with assistance from the United States Bureau of Prisons and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

        The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Tim S. Braley of the Southern District of Texas.

        Texas Syndicate gangsters headed to federal prison

        By DALE LEZON
        Sept. 23, 2009

        Several members or associates of a well-known Texas prison gang have been sentenced in the last few weeks to federal prison for a variety of criminal activities, the U.S Attorney's Office in Houston said this morning.

        The sentences were handed down after 17 Houston men tied to the Texas Syndicate were indicted in February 2007 in connections with murders, armed robberies and drug trafficking, federal officials said.

        Fourteen of the defendants were charged with conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization, or RICO, statute.

        Among those sentenced are Willie "Jacker" Valdez, who was sentenced to 27 years in prison.

        Also sentenced were Rene "Slick" Gonzales Jr. and Johnny "Payaso" Perez Jr., who each received 22-year prison terms.

        Francisco "Butcher" Nuncio Jr. and Roberto "Little Rob" Ybarra were both sentenced to 20 years in prison.

        Michael "Mikeo" Thaman was sentenced to 17 1/2 years, while James Kessler was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

        Jesus "Peanut" Galvan Jr. and Roberto "Flaco" Garza both were sentenced to 12 years. Michael "Little Mike" Almaraz was sentenced to 10 years and Robbie Lee "Sleepy" Danas was sentenced to more than seven years.

        The remaining defendants are scheduled to be sentenced in November 2009.

        Federal authorities said that from August 1999 through February 2006, the defendants were engaged in racketeering through their membership or association with the Texas Syndicate, a dominant prison gang in the state that originated in the 1970s and operates inside and outside lockups.

        One or more of the defendants were involved in three murders, two attempted murders, conspiracy to commit murder, five aggravated robberies or cocaine and marijuana trafficking.

        The five-year investigation that lead to the indictment was a combined effort of the FBI, the Houston Police Department, the Harris County Sheriff's Office, the Texas Department of Public Safety and the Baytown Police Department as well as the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

        Copyright © 2009 The Houston Chronicle

        APD Gang Unit, FBI, TDCJ end two-year federal drug trafficking investigation

        June 3, 2009

        On Wednesday, June 3, 2009 the Austin Violent Gang/Organized Crime Task Force, Safe Streets, will host a news conference at 2 p.m. at APD Headquarters to discuss the end of an investigation into a wide reaching cocaine conspiracy. Safe Streets is comprised of the Austin Police Department’s Gang Unit, Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Texas Department of Criminal Justice-Office of the Inspector General. This was one of the most successful Safe Street Task Force investigations in the nation for the year 2008.

        The investigation began in 2006 due to an increase in gang and drug activity in various Austin neighborhoods. The activity included increases in assaults, property crimes, weapons trafficking, home invasion robberies and other violence commonly connected to drug trafficking. The activity was due in large part to an increase in the availability of large quantities of cocaine for street level distribution.

        The main cocaine suppliers in the Austin area were Duane Hosea, Jr., Warrior Fennell, Sky McClure, and Timothy Jackson.

        The Austin suppliers were getting cocaine from a Honduran cocaine distribution organization operating in the Austin area. The Honduran group, headed by Victor Enrique Amador Rodriguez, was directly linked to Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations. During one of the seizures, the APD Gang Unit seized 22 kilos of cocaine, and over $500,000.00 in US currency, the largest seizure of cocaine at one time in APD History.

        On May 29, 2009 the last of 28 defendants were sentenced in U.S. District Court in Austin, Texas ending the two year federal investigation.

        Along with the APD Gang Unit, FBI and TDCJ the following agencies assisted in the investigation: The Texas Department of Public Safety, Pflugerville Police Department, Round Rock Police Department, Copperas Cove Police Department, Cameron Police Department, Travis County Sheriff’s Office, Hutto Police Department, Taylor Police Department and the Travis County District Attorney’s Office.

        The following subjects pleaded guilty and were sentenced in the Western District United States Court:

        Duane Hosea - 27 years
        Michael Hosea - 10 years
        Ronald Sloan - 10 years
        Marlon Battles - 5 years and 3 months
        Jose Aviles - 16 years
        Tony Brown - 12 years and 7 months
        Patrick Porter - 15 years
        Sherrod Whitley - 10 years
        George Walker - 6 years and 6 months
        Karry Collins - 6 years and 8 months
        Marcus Dupree - 5 years 10 months
        Robert Taylor - 3 years and 6 months
        Kenneth Peoples - 7 years and 6 months
        Jarod Mason - 5 years
        Crisoforo Llanas - 7 years and 6 months
        Jose Llanas - 9 years
        Sky McClore - 14 years
        Warrior Fennell - 14 years
        Timothy Jackson - 16 years and 8 months
        Jessie Clinton - 13 years and 4 months
        Bobby Cleveland - 6 years and 8 months
        Victor Amador - 16 years

        APD Gang Unit, FBI, TDCJ end two-year federal drug trafficking investigation

        Anti-gang bill passes

        By Mike Ward
        April 20, 2009

        A bill that would create gang-free zones to curb illicit activities around schools and other places where children are present was unanimously approved today by the Texas Senate.

        The measure is a keystone in the anti-gang package of bills that are being pushed through with widespread support this session.

        State Sen. John Carona, R-Dallas, an author of the measure, said the goal is to lessen the impact that crime gangs are having in recruiting Texas youths, and to reduce the dangers to children from drug sales and other criminal activity.

        The gang-free zones are patterned after the successful drug-free zones enacted several years ago.

        Corona said that because gangs pose a dangerous threat to Texas communities, especially in areas that are frequented by youth, law enforcement and criminal prosecutors need additional tools to deter illegal activities by gangs in those areas.

        Under Senate Bill 1256, gang members arrested for crimes in the gang-free zones could face enhanced punishment.

        Gang-free zones are defined as “areas within certain distances of school property, higher education property, youth centers, playgrounds, shopping malls, movie theaters, public pools, video arcades and school buses.”

        In addition to Carona, the measure is sponsored by Sens. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth; Glenn Hegar, R-Katy; Joan Huffman, R-Houston, and Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, among others.

        The measure now goes to the House for consideration.

        Get more Legislative coverage inside the Virtual Capitol

        Anti-gang bill passes

        March 27, 2009


        America's criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace.

        Its irregularities and inequities cut against the notion that we are a society founded on fundamental fairness. Our failure to address this problem has caused the nation's prisons to burst their seams with massive overcrowding, even as our neighborhoods have become more dangerous.

        We are wasting billions of dollars and diminishing millions of lives.

        We need to fix the system.

        Doing so will require a major nationwide recalculation of who goes to prison and for how long and of how we address the long-term consequences of incarceration. Twenty-five years ago, I went to Japan on assignment for PARADE to write a story on that country's prison system.

        In 1984, Japan had a population half the size of ours and was incarcerating 40,000 sentenced offenders, compared with 580,000 in the United States. As shocking as that disparity was, the difference between the countries now is even more astounding--and profoundly disturbing. Since then, Japan's prison population has not quite doubled to 71,000, while ours has quadrupled to 2.3 million.

        The United States has by far the world's highest incarceration rate. With 5% of the world's population, our country now houses nearly 25% of the world's reported prisoners.

        We currently incarcerate 756 inmates per 100,000 residents, a rate nearly five times the average worldwide of 158 for every 100,000. In addition, more than 5 million people who recently left jail remain under "correctional supervision," which includes parole, probation, and other community sanctions.

        All told, about one in every 31 adults in the United States is in prison, in jail, or on supervised release.

        This all comes at a very high price to taxpayers: Local, state, and federal spending on corrections adds up to about $68 billion a year.

        Our overcrowded, ill-managed prison systems are places of violence, physical abuse, and hate, making them breeding grounds that perpetuate and magnify the same types of behavior we purport to fear. Post-incarceration re-entry programs are haphazard or, in some places, nonexistent, making it more difficult for former offenders who wish to overcome the stigma of having done prison time and become full, contributing members of society.

        And, in the face of the movement toward mass incarceration, law-enforcement officials in many parts of the U.S. have been overwhelmed and unable to address a dangerous wave of organized, frequently violent gang activity, much of it run by leaders who are based in other countries.

        With so many of our citizens in prison compared with the rest of the world, there are only two possibilities: Either we are home to the most evil people on earth or we are doing something different--and vastly counterproductive.

        Obviously, the answer is the latter.

        Over the past two decades, we have been incarcerating more and more people for nonviolent crimes and for acts that are driven by mental illness or drug dependence. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 16% of the adult inmates in American prisons and jails--which means more than 350,000 of those locked up--suffer from mental illness, and the percentage in juvenile custody is even higher.

        Our correctional institutions are also heavily populated by the "criminally ill," including inmates who suffer from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and hepatitis.

        Drug offenders, most of them passive users or minor dealers, are swamping our prisons.

        According to data supplied to Congress' Joint Economic Committee, those imprisoned for drug offenses rose from 10% of the inmate population to approximately 33% between 1984 and 2002. Experts estimate that this increase accounts for about half of the dramatic escalation in the total number imprisoned over that period. Yet locking up more of these offenders has done nothing to break up the power of the multibillion-dollar illegal drug trade.

        Nor has it brought about a reduction in the amounts of the more dangerous drugs--such as cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamines--that are reaching our citizens.

        Justice statistics also show that 47.5% of all the drug arrests in our country in 2007 were for marijuana offenses.

        Additionally, nearly 60% of the people in state prisons serving time for a drug offense had no history of violence or of any significant selling activity. Indeed, four out of five drug arrests were for possession of illegal substances, while only one out of five was for sales.

        Three-quarters of the drug offenders in our state prisons were there for nonviolent or purely drug offenses.

        And although experts have found little statistical difference among racial groups regarding actual drug use, African-Americans--who make up about 12% of the total U.S. population--accounted for 37% of those arrested on drug charges, 59% of those convicted, and 74% of all drug offenders sentenced to prison.

        Against this backdrop of chaos and mismanagement, a dangerous form of organized and sometimes deadly gang activity has infiltrated America's towns and cities.

        It comes largely from our country's southern border, and much of the criminal activity centers around the movement of illegal drugs.

        The weapons and tactics involved are of the highest order.

        The Mexican drug cartels, whose combined profits are estimated at $25 billion a year, are known to employ many elite former soldiers who were trained in some of America's most sophisticated military programs. Their brutal tactics took the lives of more than 6000 Mexicans last year alone, and the bloodshed has been spilling over the border into our own neighborhoods at a rapid pace. One terrible result is that Phoenix, Ariz., has become the kidnapping capital of the United States, with more than 370 cases in 2008. That is more incidents than in any other city in the world outside of Mexico City.

        The challenge to our communities is not limited to the states that border Mexico. Mexican cartels are now reported to be running operations in some 230 American cities.

        Other gang activity--much of it directed from Latin America, Asia, and Europe--has permeated our country to the point that no area is immune.

        As one example, several thousand members of the Central American gang MS-13 now operate in northern Virginia, only a stone's throw from our nation's capital.

        In short, we are not protecting our citizens from the increasing danger of criminals who perpetrate violence and intimidation as a way of life, and we are locking up too many people who do not belong in jail. It is incumbent on our national leadership to find a way to fix our prison system.

        I believe that American ingenuity can discover better ways to deal with the problems of drugs and nonviolent criminal behavior while still minimizing violent crime and large-scale gang activity.

        And we all deserve to live in a country made better by such changes.

        Posted By; November Coalition

        Turning crack dealers into chief executives

        By Lucy Ash
        Reporter, Fresh Start, BBC World Service

        The smartly dressed young woman scribbles some percentages onto a board.

        As she talks about excel spread sheets, due diligence, final contracts and $10m (£6.9m) deals, about 40 men sit in rows behind her listen intently and take notes.

        It may sound just like any other business school class, but the students are surrounded by the high fences and razor wire of the Cleveland Correctional Facility, just north of Houston.

        Four years ago Catherine Rohr was a venture capitalist on Wall Street. Then she left her job with its six-figure salary and decided to create the Prison Entrepreneurship Program, or PEP.

        "They don't all understand risk management as well as they should because they all got busted", Catherine Rohr, Founder of PEP

        Since then she has shared her professional experience with almost 400 inmates.

        It all started when Ms Rohr was invited into another Texas prison by a fellow executive from her church.

        At first she was not very interested.

        "I didn't know any prisoners personally, but I thought 'just lock 'em up and throw away the key'," she says.

        "I saw them as a waste of tax dollars. I was very brutal in my approach."

        But Catherine then recognised that many were ordinary human beings who had made some serious mistakes in their lives.

        She also spotted something else, something missed by the majority of prison visitors, namely the men's 'ROI' or return on investment potential.

        "It wasn't just their potential, it was their proven abilities", she says.

        "They understand basic leadership and management principles, profitability.

        "They don't all understand risk management as well as they should because they all got busted when they came to prison, but when it comes to execution and marketing - they get it."

        Felipe Dias is a former member of the Mexican Mafia now studying business.

        Ms Rohr realised that influential convicted felons could be America's most overlooked talent pool.

        Felipe Dias is one of the convicts Catherine plans to redirect into a legitimate enterprise.

        He was once a lieutenant of the Mexican Mafia gang and made tens of thousands of dollars a month importing drugs and selling firearms and stolen cars.

        I ask the soft spoken, heavily tattooed man what made him capable of leading 800 gang members.

        He looks me straight in the eye and replies: "When I made a decision it was a firm decision. I had to use investigative skills.

        "You see, before you hurt somebody or you promote somebody in the gang you have to investigate everything from A to Z. You cannot leave a single stone unturned."

        But how do you make men like Dias channel their energies and skills into a more positive and legitimate direction?

        Like many people, Ms Rohr is familiar with The Wire, an American TV series set in gritty west Baltimore, which shows how the drug trade explicitly follows the rules of capitalism.

        One of the characters, a high ranking dealer attends evening classes at a business school to learn the rules of running an enterprise.

        "Our goal is not to turn a good crack dealer into a better one", she says.

        "We aim to transform the whole personality".

        A fresh start

        Dias says he wants to start a tailoring shop when he gets out as he has learned to sew recently and often alters prison uniforms, including those of the guards.

        But will such a modest enterprise really satisfy him after years of highly lucrative crime?

        "I've made a decision that I will start from nothing", he says.

        "Sometimes when I am in my cell I tremble from fear because now I know I have to do everything the right way this time around."

        PEP has created a network of top executives and business schools around the country to help the inmates achieve the American dream.

        Prisoners get advice on business plans, operating budgets and market research.

        They learn to make elevator pitches in front of millionaire executives and Harvard students.

        Most funding comes from individuals and private foundations, but the scheme also receives donations from corporations.

        Inmates get to pitch their business ideas to leading company executives

        John Jackson, an oil pipeline boss, got an award for his work with PEP from President George Bush last summer.

        In his sleek high-rise office, he explains how he began thinking about the plight of ex-cons after his own brother was convicted for drink driving and couldn't get a job on his release.

        He says many businesses would like to give felons a chance, but they are afraid of the risks involved with a 50 to 70% national reoffending rate.

        "The beauty of PEP is that there has been an extremely rigorous programme up front", he says.

        "You can come into the prison and see these guys who have really worked hard to do a business plan and they have expressed a sincere desire to change.

        "So employers can take a chance on an individual but it is not just a random chance."

        Jimmy Vigil was sent to Texas in 1999 to find new members for the Milwaukee Kings, the biggest Latino crime syndicate in Chicago.

        At first he enjoyed the power and the money, but he was convicted of attempted murder, sent to prison and the glamour of his street life faded and he began to feel remorse for his actions.

        "They give you a clean slate - they don't look at you as a felon or a convict or somebody who does wrong. They look at you as someone with potential", Jimmy Vigil, former gang member.

        Vigil saw a PEP flyer on the prison notice board, signed up and four months later he got an interview. After all, he did have experience in sales and recruitment.

        Following an intense screening process of 1,100 applicants from 65 Texas prisons, he was one of 69 selected.

        "I felt truly blessed to be one of the 69," he says.

        "They give you a clean slate. They don't look at you as a felon or a convict or somebody who does wrong. They look at you as someone with potential."

        Permanent change

        But staying the course is tough.

        Usually only two thirds of the class will graduate.

        Some drop out because they cannot handle the peer-driven character assessments. Others cannot manage the workload, with 40 exams in 17 weeks.

        The programme's reoffending rate, admittedly based on a carefully selected group of students, is less than 5% and Ms Rohr is determined to keep it that way.

        Entrepreneurial success stories include a man who served 10 years for leading a cocaine ring and is now running a tree trimming company with a turnover of more than $1m a year.

        PEP graduate Troy with the first dollar he made from his new business.

        Another man, who served a 30 year sentence for multiple murders, got out aged 55 and is now profitably producing leather purses, belts and Bible covers.

        Some 43 of the 370 graduates have started their own businesses.

        But Catherine says she is also proud of those who come out, manage to hold down steady jobs and become taxpayers rather than tax consumers.

        More than 97% are employed at an hourly rate of about $10.50 within four weeks of release, well above the American minimum wage.

        Troy, a PEP graduate, did not have many roles models when he was growing up.

        His mother was an addict who died of an overdose and his elder brother is still selling drugs, but he decided he wanted to take another path.

        Now he has completed his sentence and has just opened a car repair workshop in South Houston.

        "When I was young I thought it was cool to sell drugs and cool to be violent," he says.

        "It took a lot of beating my head against a wall to realise that wasn't right. With PEP I had somebody to believe in me and mentor me and coach me for the first time in my life."

        Proudly he shows me the new weapons he has to help him go straight; a box of tools and an air impact gun for changing tyres.

        Then I notice the banknote taped to the door.

        "It's the first dollar I earned," says Troy with a grin. "I guess I ought to frame it."

        Turning crack dealers into chief executives


        You can hear Lucy Ash's full report 'Fresh Start' on Monday, 16 February 2009 at 09.00 GMT on the BBC World Service.

        February 03, 2009

        Why don't gang members sell sex toys?

        Robert Guest, creator of the Texas Criminal Law Generator, identifies what may be the most effective criminal statute of all time - a ban on gang members selling sex toys. He writes:

        Politically, this is the perfect Texas law. 71.02(a) combines the public's fear of gangs, with our state's Victorian sexual mores. Fear and chastity are the peanut butter and jelly of Texas legislation. It's political gold! (a) A person commits an offense if... as a member of a criminal street gang, the person commits or conspires to commit one or more of the following:.... (6) any unlawful wholesale promotion or possession of any obscene material or obscene device with the intent to wholesale promote the same; I am ready to declare 71.02 (a)(6) the most effective law of all time. I have never seen a single arrest or prosecution for this offense. ...

        Forget the high toned debates over "deterrence". The minute this law was passed every gang banger in the Lone Star state grabbed a copy of the Penal Code and realized; trafficking in lascivious obscene devices is wrong.

        Thank heavens! Surely we're all safer now?

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast at; Why don't gang members sell sex toys?

        Labels: Enhancements, gangs, overcriminalization



        A Job or a Gang?

        Published: December 29, 2008

        If the country has learned anything about street gangs, it is that police dragnets — hauling large numbers of nonviolent young people off to jail, along with the troublemakers — tend to make the problem worse, not better. Public policy should discourage young people from joining gangs in the first place by keeping them in school, getting them jobs and giving them community-based counseling and social service programs.

        Federal and state programs that are supposed to provide jobs, services and counseling have been poorly financed for years. They are likely to suffer further as cash-strapped states look for ways to save money. The timing couldn’t be worse.

        A new study by James Alan Fox and Marc Swatt of Northeastern University suggests that violent crime among young people may be rising, that the much-talked- about reduction in the crime rate in the 1990s may be over, and that much more must be done to prevent young people from succumbing to the gang culture.

        The study also shows that the murder rate for black teenagers has climbed noticeably since 2000 while the rate for young whites has scarcely changed on the whole and, in some places, has actually declined. While more financing for local police would be useful, programs aimed at providing jobs and social services are far more important.

        It is too early to say whether the numbers represent a long-term trend. But the economic crisis has clearly created the conditions for more crime and more gangs — among hopeless, jobless young men in the inner cities. Once these young men become entangled in the criminal justice system, they are typically marginalized and shut out of the job market for life.

        President-elect Barack Obama’s administration and Congress will need to address the youth crisis as part of the country’s deep economic crisis. That means reviving the federal summer jobs programs that ran successfully for more than 30 years.

        It also means directing more federal money at proven programs that keep young people in school and out of the clutches of the gangs.

        A Job or a Gang?

        Texas' Tango Blast gang draws kids with tattoos, loose affiliation rules

        November 30, 2008
        The Dallas Morning News

        They tattoo themselves with Dallas Cowboys stars and the area code 214. They proudly proclaim "D-Town" and brag about their hometown affiliations on MySpace and YouTube.

        The "214" and star represent this Tango Blaster's home territory, Dallas.
        He got the tattoo while in prison for auto theft.

        The Tango Blast, a violent, drug-dealing gang born in the Texas prison system, is growing in popularity and could change the Dallas landscape because it rejects old notions of prison gang exclusivity and lifelong commitments.

        Authorities say the trendy look and loose rules of the Tango Blast are proving irresistible to kids.

        Tangos can maintain affiliations with gangs they joined outside prison, a hybrid approach to membership that allows them to plant tentacles in many of Dallas' established Hispanic neighborhood gangs.

        "It's almost like a bandwagon effect," said Lt. Santos Cadena, head of the Dallas Police Department's gang unit. And law enforcement officials worry that ex-cons, members of some of Dallas' 90 other gangs and school-age recruits could be organized under one Tango umbrella – potentially bringing together rival factions.

        "All they need is some charismatic leader to put them all together," said Sigifredo Sanchez, who heads the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's security threat group office.

        Police won't say publicly how many Tangos are in Dallas, but a gang unit database shows more than 200 confirmed, hard-core members. Hundreds still classified under their original gang affiliations also may be Tangos.

        Law enforcement officials said there may be 1,000 Tangos in the city involved in crimes ranging from petty theft to murder.

        This new type of prison gang came to being in the early 1990s when Hispanic inmates from Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston banded together to protect themselves against more organized prison gangs such as the Mexican Mafia and the Texas Syndicate.

        They called themselves the "Four Horsemen," after the four cities they hail from, and became known as "Tangos" – which came to be known as slang for hometown.

        While old established gangs such as the Texas Syndicate, which was weakened last year as part of a federal racketeering investigation, have seen their fortunes decline, the Tango Blast's loose affiliation rules have made it attractive.

        Earlier this year, Texas prison officials added the group to their list of regularly monitored gangs. So far, they have identified about 700 confirmed Tango Blast members.

        Prisoners flocked to the Tango Blast because its laissez-faire philosophy is the antithesis of the established prison gang mentality of blood-in, blood-out – the notion that members have to commit an act of violence to get in and that the only way out is to die.

        "Tango will take anybody," said Randy Moreno, an ex-con who joined the Houston branch of the Tango Blast, dubbed "Houstone." "You don't even have to be down from Houston to be Houstone," he said. "They're like the headless horseman. He pops up out of nowhere. He's chaotic, but he has no head to tell you what his goals are."

        From the prisons

        Fewer than 10 percent of the prison system's inmates belong to monitored security threat groups – highly organized prison gangs. Tango members now frequently outnumber those individual groups.

        Tangos didn't have the strict organizational structure, leaders or constitution of a traditional prison gang – at least initially. "In the early days, they were footloose and fancy-free," said Cmdr. Terry Cobbs, a prison gang expert who works for the Office of the Inspector General of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

        "Their propensity for violence is just the same as anything else, but they just didn't have that allegiance yet or the accountability yet that the traditional prison gangs have."

        More recently, authorities say, Tango Blast has been locked in a pitched battle for control of illegal prison activities. The group is becoming more predatory, and prisoners who refuse to join are getting beaten over it, prison officials said.

        Sgt. Michael Marshall, a Dallas police gang unit supervisor, first heard about the Tango Blast four or five years ago from a professor who mentioned the gang in a book. "We just didn't have them on our radar," he said. But cops on the streets were soon encountering ex-cons with the Tango Blast tattoos.

        "Any Hispanic that has been arrested or has prior conviction in this area ... has a high potential of having a connection to Tango Blast," Sgt. Marshall said.

        Paul, who asked that his last name not be published, went to prison in early 2005 for burglary of a habitation and theft. He said Tango stands for "Tejanos Against Negative Gang Organizations."

        He became a member because he liked the idea of not having any strict obligations as a Tango. "I knew they weren't going to ask me to go beat up or kill," he said.

        Joining was as simple as meeting several inmates in the prison yard and getting "jumped in" – a beating that serves as an initiation. It lasted about a minute. He's been out of prison since 2006 and says he's not involved in criminal activity.

        Into the schools

        With the traditional prison gang's rigid, hierarchical structures, it once would have been unthinkable to allow juveniles who haven't been locked up to claim membership or adopt gang tattoos.

        Not so with Tango Blast, where kids are drawn by what they see as a cool look.

        Gang experts say many of the students are emulating what they see on social networking sites or older relatives or friends who have been to prison.

        David Garcia, a Dallas school district gang intelligence specialist, said he first encountered the Tango Blast phenomenon in the schools two summers ago when he saw a kid writing "Tango" on his hand. He asked the middle school student about it and was told that a relative who had gone to prison had become a Tango Blaster.

        Officials say schools now see elementary students sporting Tango Blast symbols. "There are more kids becoming involved," Mr. Garcia said. Michael Dovick, a gang prevention specialist, works part time at an Irving parks and recreation center and said he sees youths coming in with the Tango Blast stars. Carrollton-Farmers Branch schools also have seen some Tango Blast presence.

        "This is going to be a new type of gang," said Antonio Montanez, who runs the gang intervention program Nuestro Barrio and serves on the Dallas Achieves commission, a board whose mission is to reform the Dallas school district. "In a sports sense, the prison gangs are the major leagues, and they [the teenagers] are being accepted by a major league team," he said.

        Many students who don't fully understand the meaning of the symbols may be placing themselves in danger from rival gangs or from Tangos who view their wearing Tango symbols as a sign of disrespect because they haven't earned the right by going to prison.

        At 16, Ricky already wears the stars of the Tango Blast. He was 14 when he acquired them, not so much because he wanted to join, but because he saw gang members in his Dallas neighborhood sporting the Tango Blast tattoos. To him, they looked cool. But once those Tango Blast members spotted his tattoos, they were none too happy. He said they told him that he'd get beaten up every day if he didn't join them. "I didn't feel like getting jumped every day," said Ricky, who asked that his full name not be used. So he said he met them in a field and they "jumped him in" to the gang.

        Split within the gang

        Some older Tango Blast members have put out the word to the younger wannabes that they need to stop presenting themselves as Tangos because it is drawing unwanted attention. Increased law enforcement scrutiny may be contributing to a split within the amorphous Tango Blast: Mr. Montanez said older members want to remain strictly a prison gang.

        Newly released Tangos tend to want to expand and recruit juveniles. "The original Tango Blasters, if they see a kid with a star on them, they will beat up that kid," Mr. Montanez said. But the issue is far from settled. And while kids may be drawn to what they see as Tango Blast's cool-sounding lingo, faddish tattoos and hip Web pages, like most gangs, Tango Blast is about crime and violence.

        Members are behind crimes such as drug deals, auto theft, burglaries, illegal immigrant smuggling, home invasion robberies, kidnappings and murder.

        "I don't think they are committing their crimes for the purposes of the gang," Assistant District Attorney Hector Garza said. "They are just all thugs."

        Because they are so disorganized, it's not unheard of to see Tango-on-Tango violence, or even cases in which one Tango unknowingly kills another. "With these people, there are just no absolutes," said Heath Harris, who heads the Dallas County district attorney's gang prosecution unit. "The loyalty factor is just not there."

        But there is still reason for concern, given their growing numbers and the fear of gang members uniting into a more cohesive group.

        Police say they've seen Tangos who were originally members of gangs that didn't associate with each other, now running together and committing crimes. "You may have two individuals who operated in different street gangs, but now they're both out of the pen and Tango Blast," said Sgt. Mark Langford, a gang unit supervisor. "That feuding doesn't take place between the two. There's not quite the animosity. They coexist much better because of that Tango Blast connection."

        RUN-INS WITH THE LAW IN DALLAS A few examples:

        •On Nov. 16: A gunfight outside a downtown nightclub that started with an argument over a woman involved several Tango Blast members. Alejandro Vasquez, 25, was caught in the crossfire and killed. He and at least one of the shooters had tattoos indicating Tango Blast affiliation, police said.

        •On Nov. 5: Dallas police pulled over the vehicle of Christopher Alvarez, 26, in the 400 block of North Oak Cliff Boulevard on a traffic violation. Police found that he was a convicted felon, and there was a 9 mm loaded with eight hollow-point bullets – popularly known as "cop-killer" bullets – in the vehicle. As officers placed Mr. Alvarez in a squad car, he threatened one of them, telling the officer that he had a "hollow point" for him. Mr. Alvarez, who had a star tattooed on his neck and under his eye, along with the words "Tango Blast" on top of his wrist, told police that he had been a Tango Blast member for eight years and that he was also a member of a West Dallas gang.

        •May 2007: Jesus Elizondo, 22, shot and killed a 15-year-old boy and was charged with engaging in organized crime. A jury believed Mr. Elizondo acted in self-defense. He was convicted of manslaughter last month and received a six-year prison sentence. Prosecutor Hector Garza said Mr. Elizondo was both a Tango Blast member and a member of a large Dallas gang based in northwest Dallas. Mr. Elizondo had a star tattooed on the side of his torso, "214" stamped on his wrist and a skyline on his leg. He said that he wasn't a Tango anymore and that he had joined only for protection when he was previously behind bars. "They claim to be so tough, but in the courtroom, he cried for two straight weeks," Mr. Garza said.


        The four biggest Tango Blast groups – called the "Four Horsemen" – are in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and Austin.

        Houstone – Their hometown is Houston. They use the Houston Astros star and the area code 713 as their main symbols.

        D-Town – Their hometown is Dallas. They use the Dallas Cowboys star and the area code 214 as their main symbols.

        Foritos, Foros or Funky Town – Their hometown is Fort Worth. They use various nicknames and the area code 817 in tattoos.

        A-Town or Capirucha – Their hometown is Austin. Frequently seen tattooed symbols are ATX, the Capitol building and A-Town.

        Elsewhere in Texas: Tango Blast groups also formed in West Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. Those two, along with the original four groups, became known as "Puro Tango Blast."

        There are also Tango groups in other parts of the state.

        The look: Tango Blast tattoos typically depict the hometown sports team or its logo, a city skyline, area code numbers representing gang members' hometowns or slang terms for their hometown.

        Sometimes they brand themselves with the tattoo "16-20-2" to represent the letters in the alphabet for "PTB," which stands for "Puro Tango Blast."

        Their motto: "If you ain't blasting, you ain't lasting."

        Texas' Tango Blast Gang

        November 19, 2008

        2 gang members plead guilty in murder case

        SAN ANTONIO — An alleged member of the state's largest prison gang pleaded guilty to conspiracy in a sprawling case that accused the gang of up to 20 unsolved killings. More pleas are expected, prosecutors said.

        Michael Vargas, who federal prosecutors said was a captain in the Mexican Mafia gang, pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy to participate in racketeering in federal court to resolve allegations involving in murder, drug trafficking, extortion, robbery, racketeering and related crimes. He will be sentenced to 20 years in prison under the plea agreement.

        A second defendant, Ray Carrasco, has already signed a plea deal, and some of the remaining 20 defendants in the case are expected to follow suit, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Joey Contreras in court Tuesday.

        Authorities accuse members of the Mexican Mafia of peddling heroin and cocaine and taxing other drug dealers in some neighborhoods. Up to 20 unsolved murders are attributed by federal prosecutors to the prison gang.

        2 gang members plead guilty

        Information from: San Antonio Express-News


        By Alan Gomez
        USA TODAY

        Wardens across the nation are succeeding in driving down the violence in prisons, including by changing security measures.

        New York state prisons Commissioner Brian Fischer has focused on dealing with inmates' anger States work to curb prison violence.

        Serving time in prison isn't supposed to be easy. Surviving prison should be.

        That wasn't the case during much of the 1970s and '80s, during which time a prison riot in Attica, N.Y., left 43 dead and a riot in Santa Fe left 33 dead.

        As recently as 1980, the murder rate in prison was nearly five times as great as in the general population.

        "It was certainly a rougher time, where your emphasis was more on reprisal, retribution, punishment," said Shelby County (Tenn.) Sheriff Mark Luttrell, a former warden at three federal prisons and a member of the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America's Prisons. "We were a rudderless ship there for years and years without oversight."

        Faced with such staggering figures, corrections officers around the country quietly began changing their tactics. One by one, they took new approaches to handling gangs, using solitary confinement and dealing with inmates' mental-health issues.

        The result: From 2000 to 2003, the last year for which statistics are available, the homicide rate in prison remained below the national average, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

        "We finally decided to take back control of our prisons," said Sergio Molina, a 22-year corrections officer in the Illinois Department of Corrections and a former warden.

        Like other government agencies, corrections departments are facing budget shortfalls that have led to staff shortages and overcrowding. The worst case is in California, where Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger says they have 100,000 prison beds to hold more than 170,000 inmates. Yet prison homicides have maintained a steady, downward trend, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

        Bert Useem, a sociology professor at Purdue University in Indiana who has studied the issue, said there was no national drive to combat prison violence.

        Wardens each saw the violence in their prisons and decided to try new approaches.

        "I think the forecast (of continuing violence) itself played a role in moving people to take seriously the problem of violence in prison," Useem said.

        Although wardens across the country have adopted a variety of programs to spark a decline in prison murders, some general tactics have emerged:

        • Gang violence inside prisons has long been a major source of homicides, said Michelle Lyons with the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. In the mid-1980s, Texas began pulling confirmed gang members out of the general population and placing them in solitary confinement, Lyons said. The drop in murders was almost immediate.

        "It correlates almost directly with when we started segregating all the gang members," she said.

        In 1984-85, Texas had 52 homicides in its prisons, Lyons said. Since 2000, there have been 36.

        Other states are now using similar practices in dealing with gang members. In Illinois, corrections officials separate gang leaders from the general prison population.

        "We've basically cut the head off that monster," Molina said. "They may not have been the ones perpetrating the violence, but they were involved in calling the shots."

        • Corrections officials also changed security measures to combat violence. Maximum-security cells used to have curtains for privacy, but Molina said those were removed to eliminate the secrecy needed to commit violent acts. Inmates can no longer wear personal clothing, which eliminates the ability to identify one another through gang colors.

        Guards closely monitor cell and work assignments to ensure that groups of violent offenders are kept apart.

        • New York State Department of Correctional Services Commissioner Brian Fischer said prison officials rarely considered that inmates committing violent acts were suffering from mental problems. So he focused on that while serving as warden of Sing Sing Correctional Facility and later as department commissioner.

        "We've been more successful nationally dealing with the anger that many people come to prison with," Fischer said. He instituted group therapy programs and anger-management classes, which helped give inmates — and guards — a better understanding of why they became violent.

        He said studies have found that most violent acts for inmates come in the first five years of their incarceration as they struggle to adjust to prison life, and the last five, when they experience anxiety about returning to society.

        Understanding those kinds of issues has helped New York's prisons go from an average of three murders a year in the 1990s to one murder a year in the 2000s.

        "There was a recognition that we just can't continue to do what we always did before, and that is put them all together and pretend that they all get along," Fischer said.

        Find this article at:
        Safer in Prison?

        Gang behind Dallas-Fort Worth home invasions built empire on force, strategy

        July 20, 2008
        The Dallas Morning News

        They were the Renaissance men of crime, a mixture of white-collar cunning and blue-collar ruthless violence.

        With a SWAT-like precision, they carried out at least 70 home invasions and about 10 burglaries in Denton, Collin, Tarrant, Johnson, Dallas, Rockwall and Ellis counties since 2005.

        They posed as police officers and claimed to have fake search warrants. Sometimes they used Google Earth to plot their invasions. They tortured some victims and traded bullets with police.

        Their exploits paid handsomely – at least $1 million, authorities estimate. They plowed some of the money back into other ventures, some of them criminal, including mortgage fraud.

        One gang member ran a short-lived North Dallas nightspot named Club X that attracted glittering celebrities. Others went into real estate.

        "You're not talking to somebody that sags on a corner robbing liquor stores," said William Sedric Autrey, 39, Club X's former owner, whom police describe as the gang's strategist. He is out of jail on bond. "We don't drink 40s, smoke crack every day and go out and try to hustle."

        The gang's exploits came to light last week as police acknowledged the arrest of the gang's other, more violent leader, Earnest Lynn Ross, 43, and associates Courtney Farmer, 31, and Devin Stephens, 42.

        All three are in the Denton County jail on numerous charges in connection with the group's activities. They declined interview requests.

        Authorities across the area – and from as far away as Houston – are studying lists of unsolved cases, comparing notes and looking for links to what is arguably the most prolific and diversified North Texas criminal enterprise in recent memory.

        Police believe there are at least two other men and a woman involved in the ring. They remain at large.

        The endgame came when Mr. Autrey – who has more than a dozen felony convictions going back more than a decade, mostly for burglary – was indicted in a mortgage fraud case. In exchange for leniency, authorities say, he agreed to wear a wire and tell the authorities what he knew.

        All the notoriety has come at a price for Mr. Autrey. He says he has received death threats since his status as an informant was made public last week.

        "It goes with the territory," he said of the threats.

        Organized and violent

        Interviews and court documents show that the gang's methods were ruthless: During home invasions, beatings and assaults were common.

        "This is a very large and diverse criminal enterprise. It's fairly well organized and extremely violent," Denton County Sheriff Benny Parkey said.

        He should know: As a Denton police officer, he arrested Mr. Ross several times, and the sheriff was recently targeted by him in an assassination plot picked up on in one of Mr. Autrey's informant recordings.

        Sheriff Parkey recalled his first memorable meeting with Mr. Ross in the early 1990s.

        "He introduced himself and gave me a business card," Sheriff Parkey said, that listed Mr. Ross' name and offered services as a "skip tracer, bodyguard and weapons expert."

        Sheriff Parkey still has the card.

        Mr. Ross, whose criminal record includes a burglary conviction that involved the rape of a 14-year-old girl, was eventually fingered in the murder of a 19-year-old gang member. He was convicted and got a life sentence.

        But an appeals court tossed out the murder conviction. In 2001, as he was about to be retried, Mr. Ross pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of aggravated assault. He was released the same year.

        The gang forms

        About the time Mr. Ross found himself on Sheriff Parkey's radar, other soon-to-be gang members were having their own legal troubles. In 1992, Mr. Stephens, already a convicted felon, received a 40-year sentence in Harris County on a felony drug conviction. He was paroled in 2004 but did an eight-month stint for violating his parole in more recent years.

        Mr. Ross and Mr. Stephens may have met in prison when both were incarcerated in the McConnell Unit near Beeville between 1999 and 2001.

        Meanwhile, in Dallas and Tarrant counties, Mr. Autrey was convicted on numerous counts of burglary in 1992 and 1993 and went to prison for several years.

        Mr. Autrey would not talk about how the entire group came together. But he and Mr. Farmer met in a place not usually considered a haven for criminal enterprises – a softball diamond. Starting as far back as 2004, the two were playing on slow-pitch softball teams with names like the E-Town Ballers and Diesel.

        As the gang formed, its members' goal was simple: to get as much as they could from whomever they could, be it fellow criminal, businessman or ordinary citizen.

        "If they had money, that's who they were targeting," said Dallas police Detective Duane Boy, the lead investigator in the nearly three-month investigation that brought the gang down.

        Mr. Autrey's criminal interests ran to the white-collar, authorities said. He started several now-defunct corporations with names such as 1st Southern Financial and Western 3 Financial.

        Authorities suspect they were used to commit financial crimes. Not so, Mr. Autrey says. "I was trying to make a legitimate living," he said.

        In the spring of 2006, Mr. Autrey switched gears, opening Club X, an upscale nightspot off the Dallas North Tollway. The club's signature drink, "Sed on the Beach," a combination of Belvedere vodka and lemonade, was named after him. Celebrities such as OutKast and Kevin Federline drifted through.

        Mr. Autrey said Club X was also legitimate. He said he met Mr. Ross when he hired the ex-con as his head of security. He said he found out "much later" that his security director was running license plates and backgrounding the clientele, targeting some for robberies.

        Although Mr. Farmer worked at the club as an assistant general manager and Mr. Stephens worked in marketing, Mr. Autrey would not say whether those two were involved with Mr. Ross' activities there.

        Turning to brutality

        By spring 2006, Mr. Ross' appetite for brazen violence increased. Police said they only recently identified him as the culprit, information picked up through recorded interviews with Mr. Autrey.

        It began with the kidnapping in Cedar Hill of Caprice Herrod; her husband, Demont, a convicted drug offender; and their gardener. The gunman, who knew Mr. Herrod by name, "told Demont that he knew he was worth $1.2 million" before forcing them into Mr. Herrod's Lexus, authorities said.

        Holding a gun to Mrs. Herrod, the kidnapper negotiated a ransom amount with Mr. Herrod, who was behind the wheel. But the plan collapsed. When Mr. Herrod stopped in Duncanville and got out of the vehicle to get the money from an associate, he used a hidden cellphone to call 911.

        As a Duncanville officer arrived, the kidnapper opened fire. A bullet shattered the squad car's side-view mirror and window. The officer fired back, but the gunman got away.

        Violence escalates

        A few months later, in August 2006, another of the group's crimes generated headlines when two masked robbers busted into two Dallas homes, attacking and tying up a then 81-year-old retired attorney named William McGarvey and his friend, Betty Wheeler.

        Again, police did not learn until recently that the gang was responsible.

        Interviews and court records show that Mr. Autrey told police that they decided to rob Mr. McGarvey because they wrongly believed he was holding $2 million for a federal inmate whom Mr. Garvey had represented in a drug case.

        According to court and police records, they hit Ms. Wheeler's house on Waterford Road first. They bound her and shoved her into a bedroom closet while they hunted for Mr. McGarvey and his money.

        As they tore through the house, the woman's dog bit Mr. Ross, who choked the animal to unconsciousness and then threw it into the closet with her.

        They left with $38,000 in hand.

        At Mr. McGarvey's White Rock-area home on Olmos Drive, Mr. Ross crushed the lawyer's ear with a pair of needle-nosed pliers and poured water over the lawyer's face to simulate drowning, demanding the location of the money.

        They left with about $50.

        Authorities in Irving believe the gang struck there as well, targeting the homes of two Korean business owners in November and December. "I heard a really big noise outside. Three men came in," said a 56-year-old woman who was bound and gagged by robbers in November. She did not wish to be identified for fear of retaliation. "They had earpieces, and all of them kept talking to each other. They had masks. One pointed the gun at me. 'Where's the money?' I told him, 'Don't touch me.' I just opened my safe box."

        They left with a haul worth nearly a quarter million dollars, including a 400-year-old English Bible worth about $10,000, five Rolex watches, a $10,000 antique coin collection, a $15,000 diamond-encrusted gold necklace and $50,000 in cash.

        Beginning of the end

        The end of the gang began with the Jan. 23 arrest in Cedar Hill of Mr. Autrey, caught near a home that had just been burglarized of jewelry, money and a handgun.

        The next day, a Dallas County grand jury indicted him on twin felony counts of money laundering and mortgage fraud related to the purchase of a McKinney home in March 2006. Prosecutors allege that he doctored loan documents, using an unwitting person's name to get a line of credit worth at least $200,000.

        Facing lengthy jail terms, Mr. Autrey begged for mercy and promised to help police.

        "I have a wife and three beautiful young children, your honor, please don't throw me away; all I ask for is a chance," Mr. Autrey wrote in a three-page letter to District Judge Lena Levario.

        He ended up helping authorities unravel the connections between dozens of home-invasion robberies over several years.

        The conversations secretly recorded by Mr. Autrey showed the gang's level of planning, even plotting which trees or shrubs to take cover behind during their invasion, authorities said.

        On June 16, with Mr. Autrey's help, police conducted a sting operation.

        The plan – or so Mr. Ross, Mr. Stephens and Mr. Farmer thought – was to impersonate police officers to get into a Denton County home to steal a safe they believed contained about $400,000, records state.

        But police closed in on them as they staged at a Wal-Mart parking lot on Marsh Lane in Dallas. Police found zip-ties, a radio, two handguns, an assault rifle and SWAT-marked vests.

        On Mr. Ross' booking sheet, he described himself as a real estate investor. Mr. Stephens called himself a real estate consultant on his.

        To keep up Mr. Autrey's ruse, police also arrested Mr. Autrey and put him in a jail cell, but he was never booked and was soon released to continue his informant work, officials said.

        "I'm remorseful and hope I can atone for it," Mr. Autrey said last week, adding that he believes becoming an informant was "the right thing to do."

        "I feel sorry for any victims and apologize to them," he said. "I should have picked better friends."


        Gang behind Dallas-Fort Worth home invasions

        Slang List for Anti-Terror Officials Defines 'Hottie', 'Ninja Turtles'

        By Ryan Singel
        June 12, 2008

        At a recent counter-terrorism and fusion center conference earlier this spring, intelligence and law enforcement officials were given a number of tools to help them fight terror attacks, including a dictionary of street gang slang that was compiled by Woodman State Jail in Texas.

        Somehow that document fell into the hands of THREAT LEVEL.

        The 168-page document was compiled with assistance from the Texas Attorney General conferences in October 1999 and 2003, Texas Security Threat Group officers, the California Department of Corrections and the Sacramento Intelligence unit.

        The document (.pdf) warns to use "extreme care and caution in the display and use of this book. Do not leave it where it can be located, accessed or utilized by any unauthorized person."

        THREAT LEVEL hopes that readers will follow that advice when reading the list (.pdf).

        A selection of THREAT LEVEL's favorites includes:

        * HOLD THE UNPAID BILLS.....(Prison) .....Wait; don't stab this person

        * BEES KNEE's.....( Latin Kings).....An extraordinary person, thing, idea, The ultimate

        * HORSE FEATHERS.....(Latin Kings).....A term for nonsense; lies (Same as applesauce, banana oil)

        * BLUE and YELLOW WINGS.....(Bikers) .....For having sex with a Policewoman.

        * HOTTIE.....( Rap)..... A very attractive female.

        * EVER WORKED AT McDONALD's.....(Prison) .....Have you ever been a member of the Mexican Mafia?

        * JELLY FISH.....(Crips)...On to you or to know whats going on; (Mandingo Warriors).....Denotes a Sissy; Punk; Homosexual.

        * JIGGABLE PIE.....(Rap).....Refers to a woman's buttocks.

        * MOP AND PAIL.....(Aryan Brotherhood) .....Jail/Prison

        * NINJA TURTLES..... (Prison).....A team of Officers dressed in riot gear in preparation to quell a riot, or to conduct a forced removal of an offender. The term is derived from the fact that the Officers resemble the Teen-aged Mutant Ninja Turtle (Cartoon Characters) in this gear.

        * TENDER.....( Mandingo Warriors).....A Woman

        * WORKED IN FRISCO.....( Prison).....Did time in San Quentin.

        * YOU NO SEE.....(Jamaican) .....You don't understand, or do you understand.

        Prison Gang Slang List

        Why was suspected killer released?

        June 04, 2008
        HOUSTON (KTRK)

        -- A Houston family tells Eyewitness News they have been living in fear ever since a suspected killer with gang ties was released from his jail cell.

        He was legally let go after a judge issued his bond.

        That bond was issued in spite of Juan Gonzalez's violent criminal history and his alleged ties to a dangerous prison gang. Members of the victim's family are questioning the judge's decision and their faith in our legal system.

        Less than three months after Houston police arrested Juan Gonzalez Jr., 28, in connection with the murder of Kevin Alfred, 16, the accused killer, who is allegedly tied to one of the most notorious prison gangs in Texas, is back on the streets of Houston.

        "People in the neighborhood called and told me they've seen him," said Alfred's brother. "My cousin said he's seen him."

        Though he does not want to be identified, this relative of the slain teenager is angry. The way he sees it, the system failed his brother.

        "People get 20 years for a little marijuana joint, people here get murdered and they slap them on the hand and that is not right," he said.

        What's more, Gonzalez, an alleged gang member of the Texas Syndicate, was already out on another $10,000 bond for a felony possession of a firearms charge when authorities charged Gonzalez with Alfred's murder. Prosecutors requested he be held without bond after his latest arrest on March 18th.

        "We opposed it based on his danger to the community, a potential flight risk being that he's facing murder charges," said George Weissfisch with the Harris County D.A.'s Office.

        But Judge J. Michael Wilkinson felt otherwise. According to court documents, on May 7th Gonzalez was issued a $75,000 bond and posted it that same day.

        "We do our jobs and we do what we think is right," Weissfisch said. "And we hope the right outcome results, but we don't always have control over it."

        Gonzalez's attorney tells Eyewitness News the judge issued the bond because the district attorney's office did not file a motion to have Gonzalez held without bond within seven days of the date of his arrest. Gonzalez is due back in court in two weeks.

        Meantime, Houston police are still trying to track down Raul Roy Ramirez, Gonzalez's alleged accomplice. Homicide investigators have reason to believe he may have fled to California and working closely with police in Bakersfield to catch him. As for Gonzalez, Alfred's relatives are demanding justice.

        "I just want to make sure he's put up somewhere, where nobody else will get hurt by him," said Alfred's relative.

        We tried contacting Judge Wilkinson, but he could not be reached for comment. Gonzalez is due back in court June 17th.

        Why was suspected killer released?

        More than 40 arrested in East Texas drug busts

        May 29, 2008
        Associated Press

        LONGVIEW, Texas � Local, state and federal officials arrested more than 40 people in the Longview area on drug and gun charges, part of a two-year investigation targeting gang activity in the East Texas town.

        A total of 56 people were indicted on state or federal gun and drug charges. The 27 people charged with state violations are scheduled for arraignment Thursday morning at the Gregg County Courthouse, officials said. The other 29 face federal charges and will receive an initial hearing at the U.S. District Court in Tyler.

        The two-year investigation targeted two gangs, which are listed in the federal indictment as the 12th Street Crips and the Davis Street Gang.

        The gangs are alleged to have operated drug houses from which they sold crack cocaine, marijuana, and firearms, the U.S. Attorney's Office said in a press release.

        Gregg County Sheriff's Lt. Mike Claxton said more arrests could come if defendants decide to cooperate.

        "Sometimes that cooperation may lead to the clearing of other cases," Claxton said in a story for Thursday editions of the Longview News-Journal.

        East Texas drug busts

        Houstones gang grows in prison

        April 8, 2008

        By Jeff McShan/11 News

        HOUSTON -- Inside any Texas prison, behind the locked doors, you�ll find a gang called Tango Blast � a prison gang bigger than all the others.

        �Anytime you have a group that is growing as quickly as they are, you definitely want to at least keep your eye on them,� Deputy Michael Squyres said. He documents gang members in the Harris County Jail, entering pictures and information into a database.

        Squyres said the now popular Tango Blast actually formed inside Texas prisons nearly nine years ago when Hispanic inmates from various outside gangs came together to protect themselves against members of the Texas Syndicate and Mexican Mafia.

        The new group came up with the name Tango, because they say it translates into �hometown clique.�

        Its members from Houston often tattoo themselves with the Astros logo and an area code. They call themselves Houstone.

        On Web sites like MySpace and YouTube, you can learn a lot about Houstone, whose members strongly believe they�re unfairly targeted the second they get out of prison.

        �Cops against us; people talking about us, but there is nothing we can do,� one member says online.

        One member who showed 11 News his tattoos said the gang doesn�t cause trouble unless trouble comes to it first.

        �Being a Houstone is all about respect,� he said �But if others disrespect the Houstone, then it�s going to be dealt with that one.�

        Unlike other prison gangs, Houstone is not organized. It has no bylaws and no rank-and-file, which is very unique. And its members are not required to stay in the gang when they get out of prison.

        But many of them do.

        HPD said a fight between Houstone and another gang led to the death of a teenager.

        Last summer, a narcotics bust in the Heights sent several Houstone members back to jail.

        HPD said Houstone is so popular that some young people are committing crimes just to get into prison so THEY can join.

        Deputy Squyres said boys as young as 13 are getting these specific tattoos because they think they�re cool.

        �We are seeing younger guys, guys that have never been into the system that are claiming to be Houstone,� he said.

        But remember, you can only join while you�re in prison, and HPD fears that conflict could lead to even more violence.

        Just listen.

        �We don�t like it at all. Those that say they are Houstone, but they don�t know what it is,. those are the ones that get problems against them,� one member said. �Those are the ones that are going to get in trouble with them.�

        Seeing our youth join gangs saddens Squyres, because he knows walking away from that lifestyle is not easy.

        �It is depressing, because I have been doing this a long time and I know a lot of guys in their 40s and 50s that have been in prison gangs,� he said. �And I haven�t met one yet that told me,�wow, I am really glad i did this.��

        But more young people are joining gangs and behind bars in Texas, there are none bigger than Tango Blast AKA � Houstone.

        Texas Homies

        Jan. 30, 2008

        23 gang members indicted on racketeering charges in slayings

        Associated Press

        SAN ANTONIO � Federal prosecutors released an indictment today accusing nearly two dozen alleged prison gang members of racketeering in the shooting deaths of 22 people here and in nearby communities.

        Most of the 23 accused Texas Mexican Mafia members are leaders in the prison gang that authorities say uses intimidation and violence to control segments of the prison population and neighborhoods on the outside, said U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton.

        "The Mexican Mafia is a violent criminal gang. They deal in intimidation. They deal in drugs � heroin and cocaine. They deal in violence, and in this case, they dealt in murder," he said.

        The slayings go back to 2000 and occurred in San Antonio, Austin and Atascosa County, a rural county south of San Antonio. Most were unsolved before the racketeering charges, said Sutton.

        The victims were mostly members of the Mexican Mafia or rival gangs.

        In some cases, they were suspected drug dealers indebted to the Mexican Mafia, which authorities say enforces a street tax on drug dealers who work on gang turf.

        The defendants were not charged with murder, in part because tying them to a specific crime is harder than proving they ran an operation that committed murder and dealt drugs, Sutton said. Conviction under federal racketeering charges can bring a term of life in prison.

        Most of the defendants were already in custody on lesser charges before the Tuesday grand jury indictment, which was first reported by the San Antonio Express-News. By Wednesday morning, 18 were in custody. Another five were still being sought.

        None had attorneys listed in U.S. District Court filings.

        The investigation that led to Tuesday's indictment included the use of informants and undercover officers over a three-year period, said Sutton, though he declined to release details of the investigation. Other indictments could still be coming, he said.

        FBI Special Agent In Charge Ralph Diaz called the indictments, which included alleged generals and lieutenants in the gang, "a very significant hit to the organization."

        The Texas Mexican Mafia, allegedly founded by San Antonio native Heriberto "Herb" Huerta in 1984, is the largest gang in the state prison system, but it's not directly related to a California gang of the same name. Huerta and other gang members were later convicted on drug charges.

        The Texas Department of Criminal Justice tracks the number of Mexican Mafia members in the prison system but doesn't release the numbers because of concerns that it will exacerbate problems with rival gangs in the system, said department spokesman Jason Clark.

        Gangs like the Mexican Mafia recruit members inside the prison system as a way to ensure protection, but membership continues even when an inmate is released, said FBI spokesman Eric Vasys. Some members are also recruited among family or friends who not incarcerated.

        Outside prison, the gang allegedly deals drugs and extorts people.

        Members also carry out retaliatory killings or other violence at the orders of bosses, many of whom are still in prison, Vasys said.

        The federal racketeering law provides a way for prosecutors to go after gang members even if they didn't directly commit a violent crime.

        "You don't have be there to get convicted," Vasys said.

        While most of the victims in this week's indictment were gang members or drug dealers, authorities said the crimes affect neighborhoods and innocent family members.

        Even if it's "bad guy killing bad guy, it still deteriorates the fabric of the community," said Vasys.

        Gang Members

        'Tangos' vs. Prison Gangs: Power in numbers

        September 14, 2007

        Overcrowding and understaffing at Texas prisons has forced inmates to devise their own safety solutions in response to prison gang violence, reports Patrick Brendel at The Back Gate. A fascinating development to counter gang power in the last 20 years has been the creation of "tangos," or non-gang affiliated, regional-based self- protection groups. A "tango" isis a "hometown clique," [TDCJ gang specialist Sigifredo] Sanchez said � "homeboys, people that fall into our system who come from the same geographic area."

        Prisoners are pressured to join established gangs, involving a lifelong commitment or to seek protection elsewhere from those gangs, he said.

        David Stacks, criminal justice department deputy director for management operations, said prisoners naturally gravitate toward others with common interests or backgrounds � much like how high school students form social groups.

        Starting about 15 or 20 years ago, prisoners, originally from Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston, banded together for protection from security threat groups, calling themselves the "Four Horsemen," [TDCJ Special Investigation Unit Sgt. Javier] Leyva said.

        The Four Horsemen became known as "Tangos � an old Hispanic expression meaning hometown," Sanchez said.

        Tangos are more attractive to most prisoners than security threat groups, because members are not bound to the group once released from prison. Also unlike security threat groups, tangos do not have hierarchies, officers or a constitution, he said.

        Leyva said that, at most, a tango would appoint a spokesman to be the voice of the group at a particular facility.

        Tangos formed in West Texas and the Rio Grande Valley. These two tangos, plus the original four, sometimes support one another and are collectively known as "Puro Tango Blast," he said.

        Other tangos include prisoners from San Antonio and El Paso. With only about 8 to 10 percent of prisoners in security threat groups, Stacks said, tango members quickly outnumbered traditional gang members.

        "There's a lot of strength in numbers � a lot of power," Leyva said.

        So much power, that security threat groups across the state have declared truces amongst one another in order to present a unified front against the tangos, he said.

        According to Sanchez, one important factor to the formation of tangos was overcrowding in the state prison system.

        Instead of the normal two months or less, offenders on their way to prison would stay six months to a year or more in county jails, where security threat groups didn't have a strong presence. Prisoners would carry with them relationships formed in county jails to the prison system, he said.

        Read the rest at The Back Gate.

        UPDATE: A commenter points to this recent Houston Press story about tangos.

        Posted by Gritsforbreakfast

        Sex, Lies and the TDCJ Security Threat Group Office

        July 30, 2007
        A Top Gang Investigator speaks Out on TDCJ Politics & Misconduct!
        By: Max Ross, The Backgate Website

        At a glance, it seems like it could be a story right out of one of Hollywood's most popular film studios. But the reality of it is, it's not. In this first story of our ongoing series, we are opening the doors, and airing out the facts that most Texas citizens, and even our own Legislators in Austin probably would never know otherwise.

        STG's, or Security Threat Groups, as Texas Prison Officials have dubbed them, are in a mode of reconstruction of sorts, and are growing ever more popular, and more dangerous behind prison walls.

        During our series of interviews, we got to do a sit down with one of TDCJ's most knowledgeable and experienced Gang Investigators. Retired TDCJ Warden Terry Pelz, who has often testified in court as an expert witness regarding TDCJ and gang issues, also operates as a Consultant on Criminal Gustice, and Gang Subjects.

        The following is our interview with Mr. Pelz.

        Tell us a little bit about your background in dealing with gangs in TDCJ.

        Mr. Pelz:
        "My exposure to gangs began at the Retrieve Unit (now the Scott Unit) in early 1984 after being promoted to Captain. My Supervisor, Major Ernesto Carranza, had me reading inmate correspondence between members of the Texas Syndicate.

        I knew little Spanish but learned the primary gang vernacular through Eddie "Tank" Garcia, a long time correctional officer, who had helped Carranza interpret some of the letters. A couple of months later, Carranza were fired, along with several other employees, including Warden David Christian.

        I was then promoted to Building Major. We had experienced a couple of homicides but the most gruesome was in late 1983 when Arnold Darby and Eliseo Martinez stabbed Rafael Jacquez one morning in the infirmary. It was Darby's initiation into the TS. He was but one of the few white inmates in the gang. Jacquez was the first convict I had seen die in front of me. Darby and Martinez were passive when we took the weapons from them. They had accomplished their goal.

        I started to read more letters until the bulk of my time was spent reading and interpreting not only TS letters but ones from the newly formed Mexikanemi, Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, Texas Mafia, and the Self Defense Family, a loosely organized group of Black Inmates led by Dedan Kimithi.

        As the gang murders increased system wide in TDC, our unit was the first to segregate known gang members thus, avoiding multiple murders that hit other units. Our locking them up was a bit controversial at first because it took a lot of beds and more officers to supervise them but in the end, there was little Huntsville could do.

        They did not want anymore-dead bodies. We were the first to also invent the rolling shield after we retrofitted two cellblocks for segregation. There was no confirmation process in the early days and we only locked up those who had identifiable gang tattoos, gang paraphernalia, and gang correspondence.

        For a while, we had the leaders of most gangs on the unit. Sammy Buentello, myself and others from Huntsville were sent to Arizona to examine maximum-security units in Florence from which the Michael Unit prototype was born. Here, we learned methods of confirmation of gang members. Buentello was the self-anointed person in classification to form a central repository for gang information because even those in segregation had to have due process.

        I was eventually promoted to assistant warden in early 1986 and was transferred to Darrington a short time later where I was put in charge of segregation and monitoring gang members. Larry Ching and eventually Lt. Mike Kitchens and Maryanne Denner assisted me in forming the first gang intelligence office in the system. Other units had their majors and assistant wardens monitor their gang problems. Some of the first to do so were assistant warden Lon Glenn of the Ramsey I Unit and Assistant Warden Tommy Crow of the Clemens Unit.

        Other units followed. After a while, things started to settle down once the system got a handle on things. During the years of 1984 and 1985, there were 52 inmate homicides, most of them gang related. In one day in September 1985, the Darrington Unit had a triple homicide. The gangs involved were the Texas Syndicate and the Mexikanemi (La Eme). The Eme lost."

        What are your opinions on STG's 20 years ago, versus today, and where it�s headed in the future.

        Mr. Pelz:
        " Gang Intelligence twenty years ago was just beginning and it took years to develop the skill to do a job well. It is just something you can't learn in a short time. There's no such thing as a crash course in gang knowledge or gang intelligence. Today, the process is somewhat fractured but the violence is still abated, at least for now. Frankly, it's like putting your finger in a dike."

        How do you feel the Huntsville STG gang office has, or will impact the unit investigations?

        Mr. Pelz:
        "The HV STG Office today is full of incompetence. Regional STG's and Unit STG 's have no confidence in the present leadership. After Buentello resigned because of his illicit conduct, the office suffered a great deal. To his credit though, Buentello was good at what he did but became to self-serving and arrogant. Even Gary Johnson, the form Executive Director, is alleged to have commented that TDCJ could not afford to lose Buentello. People were losing confidence in him. There needs to be new leadership in the gang office."

        Maryanne Denner, who we know is a former colleague, and current close friend of yours, was a former longtime TDCJ STG Investigator. She recently won a lawsuit against TDCJ after she was fired for alleged misconduct by receiving gang information from an Inmate�s family. You were at the trial, and witnessed the outcome. Can you comment on the case, and the outcome a bit?

        Mr. Pelz:
        "Maryanne was run off because she was good at what she did. It was at the instruction of her own warden that she established a working relationship with a family of a Convict to get valuable gang information. Buentello was aware of it as well. He was the recipient of the information. Buentello thought she was feeding me gang information, which of course she was not. What the hell would I have done with it?

        Buentello was so paranoid of me in retirement that he kept a secret file on me in his office, having his clerk, later one of his crime victims, scan the Internet on anything I may have testified in court to about gangs. That crime victim, who I had spent countless hours helping through this terrible ordeal, recently responded on the Grits for Breakfast Blog, "Revenge against Sammy for taking the ball THAT WAS GIVEN TO HIM by Pelz, Denner, Ching (a former Darrington Unit STG Investigator) & Franco (Former Region 3 Gang Supervisor) and running with it. Thus putting Sammy in the limelight and Pelz out in the cold. REVENGE against an agency that made Sammy their darling that could do no wrong." I'll never know why he thought I was a threat to him. Her retort was a slam at me because I tried to get her to carry out her promise to expose a high ranking official about what he knew regarding Buentello's sexually harassing employees. It sounded as though someone on the hill put enough pressure on her to shut up. Or perhaps, having reveled in her rather large court settlement, suffered from selective memory. At least Maryanne had ethics about her and told the truth; this other one doesn't mind serving two Masters.

        Unfortunately, Maryanne suffered at the hands of others who disliked me as well, like Warden Stephenson, who lied in court. He was a subordinate of mine at one time. TDCJ should have fired him, along with others. But, we all know how that goes. Treon? What can you say? We all know why he's in Region I."

        ------------ --------- --------- ------

        We appreciate the time Mr. Pelz spent on this interview, and after the interview was concluded, a lot of pieces of the proverbial puzzle were put in place. The information shows just how the TDCJ, and its highest-level administrators find themselves to be untouchable, and revel in the fact that they have once again gone undetected. Our ongoing series of interviews in this investigation will strive to uncover the untruths, the scandals and the behind the scenes operations within the Texas Dept. of Criminal Justice that have been seen to be borderline criminal in nature.

        As of press time of this article, Warden Stephenson had been promoted to Asst. Regional Director, Robert Treon is now Regional Director in Region I, and the witness who reported her boss, Sammy Buentello, is now working at an even more lucrative position within TDCJ. Rodney Cooper, Deputy Director of Prison and Jail Management, oversees the TDCJ Gang Office.

        This concludes our first in the series of future stories on TDCJ's arrogant, costly and sometimes immoral and illegal behavior within the gang investigation community, and TDCJ in general that affects every employee of the agency, and every tax-paying citizen of Texas.

        Maybe these stories will fall into the right hands, or with your help, the readers, will find their way to the appropriate Legislators and Board Members for action.

        Stay tuned for part two, next week�

        Groundbreaking New Report: Gang suppression tactics fail to reduce crime, can worsen problem; Pervasive myths about gang members and gang crime debunked

        July 22, 2007

        Experts tell lawmakers more police, more prison and more punishment have not stopped gang violence; advocate for science-based approach to public safety

        Washington, D.C.- A groundbreaking new report released today by the Justice Policy Institute argues that the billions of dollars spent on traditional gang suppression activities have failed to promote public safety and are often counterproductive. The report is released as lawmakers consider legislation to stiffen penalties for gang-related crime and increase funding for gang suppression.

        Gang Wars: The Failure of Enforcement Tactics and the Need for Effective Public Safety Strategies, written by Judith Greene and Kevin Pranis, undertakes an extensive review of the research literature on gangs to clarify persistent misconceptions and examine the effectiveness of common gang control strategies. According to the report, in cities like Los Angeles where gang activity is most prevalent, more police, more prisons and more punitive measures haven't stopped the cycle of gang violence. Most surprising are conclusions that gangs are responsible for a relatively small share of crime; gang activity has not grown in the U.S.; whites make up a large- if largely invisible- proportion of gang members; most gang-involved youth quit before reaching adulthood; and heavy-handed suppression tactics can increase gang cohesion while failing to reduce violence.

        "The current preoccupation with gangs is a distraction from very real problems of crime and violence that afflict too many communities," says report co-author Kevin Pranis. "Gangs do not drive crime rates, and aggressive suppression tactics simply make the situation worse by alienating local residents and trapping youth in the criminal justice system. Our review of the research found no evidence that gang enforcement strategies have achieved meaningful reductions in violence, but ample proof that science-based social service interventions can curb delinquency."

        Senator Diane Feinstein (D-California) and Congressman Adam Schiff (D-California 29th) have introduced legislation that would create new federal penalties, establish a national gangs database, and invest more than $700 million in suppression activities, dwarfing the funds provided for prevention.

        Gang Wars points to Los Angeles and Chicago as examples of the tragic failure of the most popular suppression approaches to gangs. Despite decades of aggressive gang enforcement- including mass arrests and surveillance, huge gang databases, and increased prison sentences for gang crimes- gang violence continues at unacceptable rates. Despite this failed track record, policymakers nationwide risk following blindly in Los Angeles' and Chicago's troubled footsteps.

        "Other cities should not adopt Los Angeles' disastrous 'war on gangs.' That approach has failed our communities for generations, and we can't afford to lose any more youth to violence or prison," says Luis Rodriguez, a nationally recognized Chicano writer and poet, and author of Always Running: La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. "We need to invest in jobs, schools, and programs that are proven to reduce recidivism, and reject the policies that prevent young people from leaving gang life behind them."

        New York City, by contrast, did not embrace the aggressive tactics chosen elsewhere when gang crime was on the rise, and has experienced far less gang violence. When gang violence became a serious problem, the city established a system of well-trained street-workers and gang intervention programs, grounded in effective social work practices and independent of law enforcement. Gang experts conclude that the city's serious problem with street gang violence has largely faded away by the 1980s. Crime is at an historic low in New York.

        "This report shows that the cost of uninformed policy making is simply too high- in dollars and in lives," says report co-author Judith Greene. "It is unfortunate that this new legislation threatens to continue this legacy of waste."

        In addition to Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York, the report also examines gang problems and gang enforcement efforts in diverse jurisdictions including Boston, Dallas, Detroit, Indianapolis, Las Vegas, St. Louis, and the state of North Carolina.

        Based on a review of existing research, Gang Wars draws the following conclusions:

        Gang members account for a relatively small share of crime in most jurisdictions. The available evidence indicates that gang members play a relatively small role in the national crime problem. Further, analysis of state-level data shows no consistent relationship between crime rates and reports of gang activity.

        The public face of the gang problem is black and Latino, but whites make up the largest group of adolescent gang members. Most young people who enter gangs will leave the gang within a year. But law enforcement practices can target former gang members long after their active participation in the gang has ended, and many dissuade employers from offering jobs to former gang members or youth who merely look like gang members.

        Heavy-handed suppression efforts can increase gang cohesion and police-community tensions, and they have a poor track record when it comes to reducing crime and violence. In Chicago, a cycle of police suppression and incarceration combined with a legacy of segregation to sustain unacceptably high levels of gang violence. Results from the Department of Justice-funded interventions in the three major cities of Dallas, Detroit, and St. Louis show no evidence of a positive impact on target neighborhoods. The picture is little better for gang enforcement strategies that seek to combine suppression with social service interventions: evaluations of Operation Ceasefire and the "Comprehensive Gang Program Model" show that neither was able to replicate the apparent success of the pilot program, or to achieve a "balance" between law enforcement and community stakeholders.

        "We've tried to win the war on gangs with law enforcement alone, but we have little to show for it," says National Black Police Association Executive Director Ronald Hampton. "Rather than engaging in endless battles against gang members, we need to target the problem behavior that hurts communities. We should support the kinds of prevention and proven programs that we already know reduce violence and crime."

        The report advocates that public policy be directed toward reducing youth violence by learning from the lessons of the past and results from recent innovations in juvenile justice policy:

        Expand the use of evidenced-based practice to reduce youth crime. Instead of devoting more resources to the already heavily funded and ineffective gang enforcement tactics, policy makers should expand the use of "evidenced-based" interventions that are scientifically proven to reduce juvenile recidivism.

        Promote jobs, education, and healthy communities, and lower barriers to the reintegration into society of former gang members. Gang researchers observe that employment and family formation help draw youth away from gangs.

        Creating positive opportunities through which gang members can leave their past, as opposed to ineffective policies that lock people into gangs or strengthen their attachments, can help to improve public safety.

        Redirect resources from failed gang enforcement efforts to proven public safety strategies. Gang injunctions, gang sweeps, and various ineffective enforcement initiatives reinforce negative images of whole communities and run counter to best practices in youth development.

        JPI suggests that, instead, localities should end practices that can make the youth violence problem worse, and refocus funds on effective public safety strategies.

        About Justice Policy Institute:
        The mission of the Justice Policy Institute is to promote effective solutions to social problems and to end society's reliance on incarceration.

        ^Social Programs to Combat Gangs Seen as More Effective Than Police Area Officials Advocate Mix of Prevention and Enforcement

        By Tom Jackman
        Washington Post Staff Writer
        July 18, 2007; Page B03

        When it comes to fighting gangs, there's the New York City approach, and there's the Los Angeles approach, according to the Justice Policy Institute. And one statistic dramatizes the difference:

        Two years ago, Los Angeles police reported 11,402 gang-related crimes; New York police, 520.

        In a report being issued today, "Gang Wars," the Washington-based institute says it found overwhelming evidence that cities such as New York and suburbs and rural areas that use extensive social resources -- job training, mentoring, after-school activities, recreational programs -- make significant dents in gang violence. Areas that rely heavily on police enforcement, such as Los Angeles, have far less impact.

        ^Morningside Recovery, located 40 miles outside of Los Angeles, started a program for struggling teens in 2001. The program has seen great success thanks in large part to the highly trained staff and volunteers Morningside Recovery employs. Its not to say that this program will solve all the problems of the greater Los Angeles area, but it along with other programs has certainly helped in the curbing of social issues that young adults face on a daily basis.

        The institute analyzed dozens of academic reports on combating gangs and conducted research on the best ways to reduce gang violence. The report does not discuss gangs in the Washington area or its suburbs, partly because extensive investigations have not been performed in the region.

        "Nobody we talked to thought that D.C. had a real gang problem," said Kevin Pranis, one of the report's authors. "Which is good news."

        Institute officials say they hope the report will persuade legislators, in Washington and across the country, to allocate more money to proven social programs that target illegal gang behavior and less for large-scale arrest-and-imprison initiatives that often show short-term gains but make gang problems worse.

        Officials in the District and its suburbs often stress the importance of both prevention and enforcement. In 2003, then-D.C. police chief Charles H. Ramsey launched the Gang Intervention Partnership Unit, working with schools, neighborhood groups and resident activists to reduce violence.

        An independent report issued last year, looking at the unit's effects on the city's Latino population, gave a resounding endorsement: The number of Latino gang-related homicides in the city dropped from 21 between 1999 and 2003 to zero between 2003 and 2006.

        "Suppression [enforcement] alone, that doesn't work," said Sgt. Juan Aguilar of the D.C. police. "That's only a Band-Aid. You've got to get to the root of the problem. It's social."

        Similar sentiments were expressed by officials in Arlington and Fairfax counties, who said their police departments work closely with a variety of social service providers. In 2005, after a spate of gang violence in Northern Virginia, Fairfax launched a Coordinating Council on Gang Prevention and required several county service providers to participate.

        Last year, Arlington launched its "Attention to Prevention" initiative to provide mentoring, leadership training and tutoring for youths. Police spokesman John Lisle said, "It's clear to us, to reduce the impact of gangs, it's not just a matter of locking people up."

        The Justice Policy Institute describes itself as a think tank dedicated to ending society's reliance on incarceration and promoting effective solutions to social problems.

        ^Independent rehab facilities like Morninside Recovery have created certain scholarship programs as a way to curb such social problems.

        Statistics show that youth crime in the United States is at its lowest levels in 30 years and that gangs are responsible for a relatively small share of crime. In addition, according to a national Justice Department survey of police departments, gang membership declined from 850,000 in 1996 to 760,000 in 2004.

        But occasional outbursts of violence prompt the media and politicians to seek immediate answers, said the report's authors, Pranis and Judith Greene.

        "And it's more about politics than it is about serious efforts to do something," Greene said yesterday. "It's frustrating to see officials come forward with money for mass arrests, when the money is so sorely needed in programs that are tried and true and can really work."

        In New York, the use of social programs to prevent gangs started in the 1950s, and the programs have continued to receive funding throughout the cycles of gang activity, the new report says. Street-level social workers, gang intervention programs and job training have been used for decades. "New York really doesn't have a chronic gang problem," said Greene, a New York resident.

        Los Angeles, on the other hand, "retains the dubious honor of being the gang capital of the world," the report says. A 25-year anti-gang effort has cost taxpayers billions of dollars but has resulted in six times as many gangs and twice the number of gang members, because Los Angeles has not adequately funded social programs, the report says.

        "There are very little services," said Luis J. Rodriguez, a former Los Angeles gang member who is a member of that city's Ad Hoc Committee on Gang Violence and Youth Development. He said the city has 61 gang intervention workers to handle about 40,000 gang members.

        "We need substantial, root-based work, ways for people to get out of gangs," Rodriguez said. "But there are no jobs, rehabilitation or treatment, and schools and services do not work with gang kids."

        Social Programs to Combat Gangs

        Report: Anti-Gang Strategy Failing Badly
        Report: Anti-Gang Strategy Should Focus on Intervention, Not Imprisonment

        The Associated Press
        Associated Press Writer
        LOS ANGELES Jul 18, 2007 (AP)

        Share Anti-gang legislation and police crackdowns are failing so badly that they are strengthening the criminal organizations and making U.S. cities more dangerous, according to a report being released Wednesday.

        Mass arrests, stiff prison sentences often served with other gang members and other strategies that focus on law enforcement rather than intervention actually strengthen gang ties and further marginalize angry young men, according to the Justice Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank that advocates alternatives to incarceration.

        "We're talking about 12-, 13-, 14-, 15-year-olds whose involvement in gangs is likely to be ephemeral unless they are pulled off the street and put in prison, where they will come out with much stronger gang allegiances," said Judith Greene, co-author of "Gang Wars: The Failure of Enforcement Tactics and the Need for Effective Public Safety Strategies."

        The report is based on interviews and analysis of hundreds of pages of previously published statistics and reports. And though it is valid and accurate, the ideas raised in it are not new, said Arthur Lurigio, a psychologist and criminal justice professor at Loyola University of Chicago.

        "These approaches, although they sound novel, are just old wine in new bottles," he said. "Gang crime and violence in poor urban neighborhoods have been a problem since the latter parts of the 19th century."

        Lurigio, other academics and gang intervention workers have echoed elements of the report that found gangs need to be viewed as a symptom of other problems in poor communities, such as violence, teen pregnancy, drug abuse and unemployment.

        The report says Los Angeles and Chicago are losing the war on gangs because they focus on law enforcement and are short on intervention.

        It cites a report this year by civil rights attorney Connie Rice, who was hired by Los Angeles to evaluate its failing anti-gang programs. Her report called for an initiative to provide jobs and recreational programs in impoverished neighborhoods.

        Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Police Chief William Bratton both commended Rice's report. But in February, they unveiled a strategy that focused on targeting the city's worst gangs with arrests and civil injunctions that prohibit known gang members from associating with one another in public. Rice describes the city's policy on arresting the city's estimated 39,000 gang members as "stuck on stupid."

        Wes McBride, executive director of the California Gang Investigators Association, dismissed the findings of the report, which he said was written by "thug-huggers." The investigators association is a professional organization for police officers.

        "Are they saying we can't put a thief in jail, we can't put a murderer in jail, that we should spank them, put a diaper on them, pat them on the bottom, hug them and let them go?" McBride said. "It's obviously a think tank report, and they didn't leave their ivory tower and spend any time on the streets."

        "Gang Wars" also criticizes politicians who overstate the threat of criminal gangs and seek tougher sentences.

        Greene specifically criticized a bill introduced by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, that would make it illegal to be a member of a criminal gang and would make it easier to prosecute some minors as adults.

        But Feinstein spokesman Scott Gerber said the bill also calls for spending more than $400 million on gang prevention and intervention programs, which he said would be the largest single investment of its kind.

        Associated Press writer Dan Strumpf in Chicago contributed to this report.

        On the Net: Justice Policy

        Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
        Report: Anti-Gang Strategy Failing Badly

        Members of prison drug ring sentenced

        Posted July 18, 2007
        By Celinda Emison

        Two Abilene men affiliated with the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas were sentenced to more than 10 years in prison on federal drug and money laundering charges.

        On Friday, Barry Glen Seabourn, 43, and Brandon Earl Blue, 27, both of Abilene, were sentenced to federal prison for their roles in a methamphetamine distribution organization headed by former Aryan Brotherhood of Texas (ABT) prison gang member Donald Eugene Shane, 44.

        The U.S. Department of Justice considers ABT to be a white supremacist prison gang.

        Seabourn was sentenced to 10 years in prison. Blue was sentenced to 12-1/2 years in prison.

        Shane, a former "general" of the ABT, was sentenced to 20 years in prison July 5 for his role in the methamphetamine distribution ring that originated in Dallas, according to a report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

        Shane, Seabourn, Blue and Shannon Ridner, 32, of Coleman, were named in a 24-count federal indictment charging them with federal drug and money laundering offenses in October 2006. Shane, Seabourn and Blue were on parole at the time of their arrest in January. Ridner is serving a four-year prison term.

        According to the report, an investigation revealed the group distributed more than 60 pounds of "ice," a potent form of methamphetamine, to other gang members in Abilene, Sweetwater, Midland and other parts of West Texas.

        The investigation was initiated based on information from a gang intelligence officer from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, stationed at the John Middleton Unit in Abilene.

        The joint investigation was part of the Safe Streets Task Force sponsored by the FBI.

        Agencies that participated in the investigation include the Taylor County Sheriff's Office, the Criminal Intelligence Service of the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Dallas Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the Defense Investigative Service.

      Santisima Muerte: Patron saint of security threat groups

      Posted on July 17, 2007
      By Tony Kail; Director, Forensic Theology Resource Center

      As a security threat group coordinator you may discover a mysterious image that has been appearing on the skin and in the writings of a number of criminal organizations. �Santisima Muerte� or �Holy Death� is an image that is finding popularity among members of such gangs as MS-13 as well as members of Mexican drug cartels.

      The image typically appears as a skeletal figure holding a bladed sickle or a globe. Its exact origins are unknown, but there are a number of speculations that the icon comes from a mixture of Aztec heritage, Spanish Catholicism and even African religious culture. Regardless of the figure�s origin, its current symbolism has criminal justice professionals concerned.

      The mythology of Santisima Muerte teaches that the spirit has the power to affect events in the lives of humans. Events surrounding money, love and justice can be manipulated through the power of the folk saint. Current literature and personal interviews with followers communicate a focus on the spirit�s power to protect criminals from law enforcement. International newspapers have even carried examples of �prayers� that drug dealers offer to the spirit. U.S. law enforcement agencies in Arizona, Florida, Tennessee and Texas have encountered shrines and altars to the saint inside dwellings of narcotics traffickers.

      Santisima Muerte�s most popular image is found in the form of a plastic or ceramic statue. The statue is hollowed out with various ingredients such as beans, rice, coins and thread placed inside. These ingredients represent various aspects of the saint and are typically �sealed� in the base of the statue with wax.

      The image can be male or female in gender, and is depicted in a number of colors including red, black, gold, white and green. The colors represent the specific purpose that the statue is being used for in rituals. For example, a black statue represents protection and aggressive magic while red represents matters pertaining to love. Some variations of the saint include removable hands, which can be removed from the image and returned to the image when the prayers are answered.

      Offerings given to Santisima Muerte include gifts of flowers, fruit, coins, alcohol and cigarettes. Prayers called �Oracions� are given to the saint to ask for her assistance and protection. Traditional religious artifacts of the Catholic Church such as rosary beads and prayer cards may be found in her shrine.

      Magical operations with Santisima Muerte are known as �Trabajos� or �Workings�. The three primary areas of magical assistance appear to focus on physical and spiritual protection, good fortune and issues relating to love.

      While inmates may not have access to statues of the saint, corrections personnel may observe inmates with tattoos of the saint. Images may also be found on the jewelry of her followers. Some carry �amulets� or �charms� made from seeds, plastic beads and stone decorated with the saint�s image. A popular Santisima Muerte image is a mass produced amulet in the form of a necklace with the skeletal image on one side and an image of the saint �Our Lady of Guadalupe� painted on the back.

      There are no established sacred texts or orthodox rituals associated with the image, but a traditional church has been established in Mexico with some branches throughout the United States. There is an established church for the folk saint known as the �Traditional Catholic Church of Mexico-United States� in Mexico City. Most followers of the saint appear to be practicing rituals obtained through oral teachings and a few written prayer books available through some retail outlets.

      Santisima Muerte is also honored by those who are not involved in criminal activity. Some believe she is simply a saint that can identify with the poor, the sick and the oppressed.

      Inmates may pray to the image for protection from other inmates. Santisima Muerte is the personification of death and may be honored in order to avoid her wrath. The �angel of death� may also give her followers �psychological strength� if they believe that she will keep them from death.

      The image�s subculture appears to be accepted within the religious cultures of Afro-Caribbean religions such as Santeria, Palo Mayombe and Haitian Voodoo.

      The religious communities of Mexican Curanderismo and Brujeria also appear to incorporate the image into their spiritual practices. Some followers of the folk saint call upon her powers without fully integrating the saint into their full-time religious practices.

      Santisima Muerte is but one of a few folk saints that are honored for the protective power over criminal activities. The folk saint �Jesus Malverde� is a �robin hood� of sorts from Sinaola Mexico that was hung for committing crimes in the early 1900s. His image is adorned on jewelry for his ability to protect narcotics traffickers from law enforcement authorities. He is also known as the �narco saint.�

      The Santisima Muerte subculture appears to growing. A number of incidents surrounding the figure continue to give the spirit�s reputation more credibility as a protector of crime. Murdered victims of the notorious Mexican Gulf Cartel were left at a public shrine to Santisima Muerte in Monterrey Mexico on May 11, 2007.

      Reports of shrines discovered among drug labs and in the homes of drug dealers continue to grow. Corrections personnel should familiarize themselves with the use of the image among the inmate population.

      Tony Kail is the Director of the Forensic Theology Resource Center, a private agency that provides training and consultation to law enforcement and public safety agencies on unfamiliar religious groups and ritualistic crime. Consultation services for corrections personnel are available at no cost.

      Contact the center at 1-800-205-4256 or www.cultcrime.org

      Inmate suicides linked to solitary

      Posted 12/27/2006
      By Kevin Johnson, USA TODAY

      The number of suicides in the nation's two largest state prison systems is ticking upward, and authorities in California and Texas are linking the increase to the rising number of inmates kept in solitary confinement.

      In California, which has the largest state prison system with about 170,000 inmates, there have been 41 suicides this year, the most in at least six years and a 17% increase from 2005. Although an estimated 5% of California's inmates are ! housed in solitary confinement � also known as "administrative segregation" � 69% of last year's suicides occurred in units where inmates are isolated for 23 hours a day, according to state Department of Corrections records. About half the suicides this year were in such units.

      In Texas' prison system, which has 169,000 inmates, there have been 24 suicides this year, up from 22 in 2005. Most of the inmates who killed themselves were in some form of solitary confinement, says John Moriarty, inspector general for the prison system.

      Texas prisons also are reporting a 17% increase in attempted suicides: 652 so far this year, compared with 559 in 2005. The number of attempted suicides this year is the most in nearly a decade, according to state prison records. Statistics on attempted suicides in California prisons were not immediately available.

      The figures from California and Texas are fueling a debate over whether solitary confinement is the best way to control or punish violent or dangerous inmates, particularly those who are mentally ill.

      More than 70,000 of the 1.5 million inmates in state and federal prisons are kept in isolation, a reflection of get-tough policies designed to separate rival gang members and those who have gotten into fights while behind bars.

      Isolated inmates typically have significant restrictions on visitors and get little help in dealing with the psychological problems that can be caused by isolation. They usually are allowed out of their cells for no more than an hour a day to exercise alone; their exposure to TV and reading material also is limited.

      "Are we housing the mentally ill in prison facilities?" Moriarty asks. "I think the answer is yes. But I don't know if that's the best place for them to be."

      Moriarty, whose office investigates every inmate death in Texas, says stress from isolation and increasing numbers of inmates with long sentences have contributed to the rise in suicides. "Length of sentence is a big factor. There is despair about not getting out."

      The increase in inmate suicides in California has triggered recent changes in segregation units. In October, guards began checking inmates housed in solitary confinement every 30 minutes, rather than every hour, says Shama Chaiken, the state prison system's chief psychologist for mental health policy.

      Some segregation cells also will be modified to remove shelving, vent openings and other features that offenders could use in hangings, the most common form of suicide in California prisons, Chaiken says. This month, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced a $1 billion plan that includes 10,000 new beds in prison medical and mental health units.

      A few jurisdictions have credited expanded mental health programs with reducing prisoner suicides. After Kentucky set up a mental health program for those in the state's 83 county jails in 2004, suicides in the jails fell 47%, according to The (Louisville) Courier- Journal.

      There have been 13 suicides this year in the 188,000-inmate federal prison system, the same total as in 2005. Florida, the third-largest state system with 90,000 inmates, has had nine prison suicides this year; it had eight last year.

      Inmate suicides linked to solitary


      Q&A: Solitary Confinement & Human Rights

      by Maria Godoy

      Long-term segregation -- also known as solitary confinement -- has been used in U.S. prisons since the late 1820s. But the practice only became widespread during the past two decades. That rise has coincided with a burgeoning prison population, and with the growing power and influence of gangs within the U.S. correctional system.

      And yet, for more than a century, legal questions have surrounded the use of long-term segregation.

      Roger Pilon, a legal scholar with the Cato Institute, discusses some of the legal concerns involved. Read the Q&A with Pilon.

      NPR.org, July 27, 2006 � Prisoners confined to long-term segregation live in isolation, in small, often windowless cells, for years or even decades. They are passed food trays through slots in the doors. A few times a week, they are let out, in handcuffs and shackles, for a shower or to exercise in a small, enclosed space. As a general rule, they have almost no human interaction except with guards, no access to newspapers or television, and are allowed few personal items -- a few photographs, perhaps a book.

      Estimates suggest at least 25,000 U.S. prisoners are held in such "Supermaximum security" conditions, which were designed to hold the most violent of inmates. The rising use of long-term segregation has drawn sharp criticism from human-rights experts.

      NPR discussed these concerns with Jamie Fellner, director of the U.S. program for Human Rights Watch. She has been researching and writing about prison conditions in the United States, with a focus on Supermax confinement, for more than a decade.

      Q: Is there good reason to keep prisoners in long-term segregation in U.S. prisons?

      The massive use of long-term segregation reflects a failure of correctional policies. Segregation has become routine because of exploding prison populations, which strain meager prison budgets. That has made it difficult for officials to provide humane prisons with educational, counseling and rehabilitative activities. And we know that prisoners who have access to education while incarcerated, for example, are more likely to remain law-abiding once they're released.

      That said, there may always be a few inmates who simply prove too dangerous to be in the general population. For them, some form of segregation may be the only option. But even then, the nature of segregation should be rethought. No one should be confined in small, empty cells with nothing to do -- and no one to talk to -- day in and day out, year in and year out.

      Q: What worries you most about long-term segregation?

      Our research shows that segregation is used far more frequently, for far longer periods of time, and under far harsher conditions than is legitimately needed to manage inmate security.

      Supermax facilities have been built in excess of the number of truly "worst of the worst" prisoners they were ostensibly intended to house. They're often used for any troublesome inmate -- including those who break minor rules, are in a single fight or are mentally ill and act out.

      The conditions of isolation are harsh and degrading. For many, the absence of normal social interaction, of mental stimulation, of exposure to the natural world -- of almost everything that makes life human and bearable -- is emotionally, physically and psychologically destructive. The experience is hardly conducive to successful re-entry to the community. No other Western democracy imposes such conditions of confinement for prolonged periods on so many people.

      And segregation can last for decades. Officials have complete discretion when to release an inmate; there's no guarantee good behavior will secure a release. Corrections officials must be able to exercise their professional judgment -- but such discretion must be tempered to minimize the risk that an inmate is unnecessarily sent to or kept in segregation. Principled leadership, careful staff training and effective internal-review processes can help. But external, independent scrutiny is also needed to prevent abuse and give inmates recourse against arbitrary and unfair treatment.

      Q: What do human-rights experts believe to be most problematic about the day-to-day conditions of long-term segregation?

      More than a decade ago, a federal judge noted that prolonged segregation pushes the bounds of what human beings can tolerate. Whether or not it produces clinical psychiatric symptoms, living in such conditions for years is likely to produce unfathomable misery and suffering.

      Some inmates with no prior history of mental illness develop clinical symptoms of psychosis or severe affective disorders. For prisoners with a history of mental illness, the isolation, lack of social interaction and lack of structured activities can aggravate their symptoms. Even worse, mental health service for prisoners in segregation is usually far worse than for the general population. The result is mental agony, sometimes to the point of suicide. Inmates whose illness becomes acute may be transferred to mental hospitals -- but once their condition is stabilized, they are returned to segregation, where the cycle of illness begins again.

      In several states, lawsuits have resulted in bans against placing mentally ill prisoners in segregation. But elsewhere, in state after state, a disproportionately large number of prisoners in long-term segregation are mentally ill.

      Q: Prison officials say a burgeoning gang problem is one reason for long-term segregation. How can they deal with gangs without housing offenders in isolation?

      The problem of violent gangs in prison is serious -- and growing. But there's no evidence that long-term segregation is the solution. California, for example, has a horrific problem with gangs -- despite the fact that it has been locking gang members in segregation for years, refusing to let them out unless they renounce the gang and identify members.

      Gangs in prison serve many purposes: They provide status and respect, a sense of purpose, protection and an opportunity to acquire goods and services. Punishing gang members does little to change this function or to reduce the allure and power of gangs.

      Many corrections experts believe a solely punitive response to gangs is doomed to fail in prisons, as it has in communities. What's needed is an approach that combines "law enforcement" with better prison conditions: reduced crowding, increased educational and productive activities, more mental health counseling, and more staff to increase safety.

      Q: Some prison officials say some inmates are too violent to remain in the general population. If they aren't sent to isolation, what should be done with them?

      There would be much less violence in prison -- and much higher prospects of successful reintegration into the community upon release -- if public policies and correctional practices yielded something other than today's barren, overcrowded warehouses for people.

      But prison officials can't do it alone. The single biggest problem they face is the staggering and ever-growing size of the prison population. Too many people are sent to prison for crimes for which alternatives to incarceration would be appropriate, and their sentences are far too long. Public officials have been willing to give the United States the largest prison population in the world, but they haven't been willing to allocate the funds to ensure humane confinement.

      Elected officials should put prison reform on their agenda. They should give prison officials a clear mandate to provide productive confinement, they should give them the necessary resources, and they should hold them accountable when they fail. If prison were dramatically improved, long-term segregation would be needed for very few.


      Prisons Breeding Ground for Gang Membership

      July 23, 2006 07:49 AM
      Reported by Andrea Conklin

      They started as street gangs, youth in search of power.

      But groups like the Tri-City Bombers and the Texas Chicano Brothers, groups that first began right here in the Valley, have now become powerful businesses.

      "It was cute when it started out. It was funny, it got scary, and then it got bad," says Edinburg Detective Robert Alvarez.

      Alvarez has followed the growth of the Valley's gangs over the last two decades, and says law enforcement has un-intentionally helped them prosper.

      "Back in the 80's we were locking them up and putting them away," says Alvarez. "Because of the way the system is run, we allow them to flourish."

      Alvarez says police departments have struggled to contain the crime caused by gangs, but the more members they arrest... the more they seem to create.

      That's because, besides the street, the main recruiting ground for gangs has been behind bars.

      "There's nothing we can do once they get in the jails. They will grow stronger no matter what you do," says

      In Hidalgo County, Sheriff Lupe Trevino has attempted to slow the growth of gangs within his jail.

      He gave Action 4 News a special peak inside to show us how it works.

      "We make every attempt to prevent recruitment by segregating gang members by gang," says Trevino.

      That means each gang exercises and eats meal together, completely isolated from the rest of the inmates.

      "It leaves no room for anytime for socializing or recruitment," says Trevino.

      But Alvarez, a former jailer for Hidalgo County says inmates know how to get around the rules to keep up their operations.

      Just take a look at this letter he found, it uses what authorities call ghost writing.

      A coded message on the front directs the reader to look on the back, where a pencil rub reveals hidden instructions for inmates inside.

      Many of these letters get intercepted by guards.

      But even Sheriff Trevino says it's impossible to stop all gang activity inside the jails.

      "You gotta remember, these guys have 24 hours to sit here and think of how to beat the system... so you gotta try to stay one step ahead of them," says

      after years of studying the problem... Alvarez believes the best way to stop gangs... is when they first start.

      "They exist because we let them exist," says Alvarez. "Once you start seeing the graffiti, that's the beginning. Don't let that happen."

      Alvarez says new gangs are sprouting up every year, and the more communities ignore the problem, the worse it gets.

      "You allow them to do things like that... kill each other in the streets, let's say. And you say that's not okay, but it's not a huge priority to me. And that gives them the sense that they can do whatever we want to do," says Alvarez.

      But if we reveal their secrets openly discuss their crimes and refuse to live in fear.

      Then, and only then, Alvarez believes will the war against gangs be won.

      "The community can say no. It can say no to gang members, gang activity, graffiti, it can say no to all of that," says Alvarez.

      "It's crazy that we let it happen, but we do."

      Gang Membership

      Posted on Thu, Jul. 13, 2006

      Racist gang members pleads guilty to firearm charges

      Associated Press

      LUBBOCK, Texas - A pair of Lubbock men, the last of five members of a racist prison gang indicted on federal firearms charges earlier this year, pleaded guilty in this West Texas city on Thursday, federal officials said.

      Jeremy Lynn Womack, 27, pleaded guilty to one count of possession of an unregistered firearm in connection with an explosive device Lubbock police found in his car in April.

      A sentencing date was not set. Womack faces a maximum of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

      Also on Thursday, John Arthur Clark, 35, pleaded guilty to being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm. He faces a maximum 10- year sentence.

      The other three members of the Aryan Brotherhood have either been convicted at trial or pleaded guilty in the past months.

      On July 6, a jury found Matthew C. Courtney, 34, guilty of conspiracy to possess and dispose of stolen firearms, being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm and possession of a stolen firearm.

      On June 29, Cory D. Daniel, 27, pleaded guilty to convicted felon in possession of a firearm. Two weeks earlier, Aaron Thompson, 22, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to possess and dispose of stolen firearms.

      The brotherhood is a violent white supremacist prison gang that has infiltrated nearly every federal and state prison since its beginnings in San Quentin in 1964.

      ------------ --------- --------- --------- ---------

      � 2006 AP Wire and wire service sources.
      All Rights Reserved.
      http://www.dfw. com

      July 14, 2006

      Gang member sentenced to nearly 20 years on drug charges

      Associated Press

      LUBBOCK -- A member of the Texas Syndicate prison gang was sentenced to nearly 20 years in prison today on methamphetamine charges, a federal prosecutor said.

      Roberto "Crazy Rob" Rodriguez, 35, of Abilene, pleaded guilty in March to possession with intent to distribute five grams or more of methamphetamine. He was sentenced to 235 months in prison, U.S. Attorney Richard B. Roper said.

      Authorities said a state trooper stopped Rodriguez in October after noticing his vehicle speeding in Palo Pinto County. The trooper said Rodriguez acted nervous by failing to make eye contact and continuously talking. After searching the car, the trooper found a clear plastic bag with a white crystalline substance and records that appeared consistent with a drug ledger inside an organizer, prosecutors said.

      A month later, police in Abilene arrested Rodriguez on an outstanding arrest warrant and discovered about 1.24 kilograms of methamphetamine in his possession.

      HoustonChronicle.com -- This article is:
      Prison Gang Member

      Prison gang fight leaves one dead

      Several Texas facilities on lockdown
      again after Monday disturbance.

      By Mike Ward
      Tuesday, June 06, 2006

      One inmate was killed and at least three others were injured Monday after a long-simmering feud between two rival gangs erupted into a bloody lunchtime attack at a northeast Texas prison.

      Officials insisted that the incident was isolated and quickly controlled. But the violence underscored two issues that concerned prison administrators have been closely monitoring for months: increasing gang tensions and brim-full prisons, ingredients that can prove explosive during hot summers.

      The killing was the first this year in a Texas prison. Two were reported last year.

      "Any type of gang activity is something we closely monitor," said Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "This (incident) is why we are doing that."

      Authorities said Augustin Amador, 34, died in a hallway at the Telford Unit in New Boston after receiving 23 stab wounds. Three other prisoners all confirmed members of the gang Amador was in were treated for stab wounds at the scene, officials said.

      Six prisoners all members of a rival gang were arrested and were being questioned, officials said.

      According to preliminary reports, some offenders at the 2,800-bed Telford Unit had been on lockdown restricted to their cells since April 29 because of gang tensions. But officials lifted parts of the lockdown Thursday after being assured by leaders of the two gangs that a truce had been agreed to. Eighty-four convicts remained on lockdown Monday when the attack occurred, a report shows.

      Prison investigators would not confirm whether any of the inmates involved in Monday's incident had been locked down earlier.

      About 12:35 p.m., as Amador and four other confirmed members of the Tri-City Bombers a mostly Hispanic gang whose membership comes largely from communities west of Harlingen in far South Texas were being escorted back to their cellblock after lunch, six members of the Texas Chicano Brotherhood armed with prison-made knives attacked them as they were passing in a hallway.

      Correctional officers immediately deployedthree canisters of pepper gas to stop the fight and, within minutes, had the offenders separated and restrained, officials said. Amador was pronounced dead at 12:54 p.m., and three other convicts who were stabbed trying to come to his aid were treated for puncture wounds at the prison infirmary, they said.

      Six "shanks" crude, prison-made knives were found in the hallway and were seized as evidence, officials said.

      Other inmates at the Telford Unit were ordered back into their cells, and the unit remained on lockdown late Monday a standard reaction, officials said.

      It was one of 13 Texas prisons on partial lockdown Monday, at least eight of them because of gang tensions and disturbances, officials said. In some previous weeks, dozens more prisons were on cell restrictions, records show.

      On May 28, most of the 1,600-bed Darrington Unit in Rosharon, south of Houston, was placed on lockdown because of a gang-related disturbance, officials said. Slightly more than 1,100 inmates at that prison remained restricted to their cells Monday.

      The number of members in the two gangs involved in Monday's incident is not publicly known.

      Prison officials routinely keep that information secret as a security measure to keep gangs from knowing how strong their rivals are.

      Officials said Amador came to prison from Hidalgo County in February 1997 to serve a 16-year sentence for murder and burglary.

      He was also serving a separate sentence of undetermined length from Jackson County for possession of marijuana and possession with intent to deliver cocaine.

      mward@statesman.com; 445-1712

      Find this article at: http://www.statesman.com/news/content/news/stories/local/06/6prison.html

      Valley Man Killed in Texas Prison Gang Fight

      June 6, 2006, 01:08 PM EDT

      A fight between two rival gangs left one inmate dead and at least three others injured with stab wounds at a northeast Texas prison, officials said. Prison authorities said Augustin Amador, 34, died in a hallway at the Telford Unit in New Boston after receiving 23 stab wounds.

      Officials said the incident was isolated and quickly controlled. It was the first killing this year in a Texas prison after two were reported last year. "Any type of gang activity is something we closely monitor," said Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. "This (incident) is why we are doing that."

      According to officials, Amador and four other members of the Tri-City Bombers were attacked by six members of the Texas Chicano Brotherhood as they were being escorted back to their cellblock after lunch. The Tri-City Bombers is a gang based in far South Texas in communities west of Harlingen. The assailants were armed with prison-made knives, six of which were found in the hallway after the fight. The assailants were arrested and were being questioned, officials said.

      Correctional officers deployed three canisters of pepper gas and stopped the fight within minutes, officials said. The three injured inmates were treated at the scene.

      Other inmates were ordered to their cells and the unit remained on lockdown late Monday, which is standard procedure after a fight, officials said. The 2,800-bed Telford Unit, which is located in Bowie County about 145 miles northeast of Dallas, was one of 13 Texas prisons on partial lockdown Monday, officials said. In at least eight cases, gang tensions and disturbances prompted the lockdowns.

      Officials said Amador came to prison from Hidalgo County in 1997 to serve a 16-year sentence for murder and burglary. He was also serving a separate sentence of undetermined length from Jackson County for possession of marijuana and possession with intent to deliver cocaine.

      (Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

      Gangs: Prison sentence enhancements

      Gang Expert testimony, by a STG [Security Threat Group] officer, that a crime was committed on behalf of a gang, is the greatest fraud in the criminal justice system today.

      TDCJ Prison Units label young men as gang members just for living in a gang infested prison compound area.

      They label you as a gang member just for knowing a gang member.

      Never mind that you grew up and went to the same schools as these gang members.

      Never mind that you played sports, as a child, with these gang members.

      If they see you even talking to a gang member, that you knew as a child, you will be labeled as gang member.

      Even if you have no criminal record, no gang tattoos, no gang moniker, or if that STG officer has never confronted you about any gang activity. Even if that STG officer has never met or heard of you.

      If that STG officer doesn't like you, and decides you fit the description of a gang member, you are a gang member.

      You will be labeled as a gang member and immediately be put in their gang files.

      The STG Department in Huntsville files gang enhancements for just about everything an alleged gang member does.

      And, they make the charges stick until their kangaroo court. Which is all that really matters.

      Once their kangaroo court hears that someone is a gang member, and hears all the bad things the expert "witness" says that gangs do, you can bet your life that they will take away all "reasonable doubt" requirements in a kangaroo court.

      And, without "reasonable doubt", you are automatically guilty.

      The STG prosecutor gets past the preliminary hearing by putting a STG officer, "the gang expert", on the witness stand, who says that just about everything the defendant did was for the benefit of a prison gang.

      Drug Use - It�s for the benefit of a gang. There's no such thing as only being a drug addict. They label you as a drug addicted gang member so they can add enhancements to your prison term.

      Robbery for drug money - It�s for the benefit of the gang. There's no such thing as only being a thief. They label you as a drug addicted gang member, who steals, so they can add enhancements to your prison term.

      Their gang enhancements are not like any other prison sentence enhancements.

      Sometimes the enhancements are longer then the original prison sentence.

      That's because they are gang enhancements.

      The gang enhancements can add anywhere from 16 months for petty crimes, 5 years for serious crimes, and 10 years for violent crimes, to your prison sentence. Even for first time offenders.

      And, that is just for the gang enhancements. That doesn't count the original sentence the judge gave you.

      The enhancements are added on top of the prison sentence.

      If you, or a loved one, has been in prison before, the judge can double and sometimes triple the enhancement years.

      And, all that is fine, if it would only apply to actual active criminal prison gang members.

      But, that isn't how it works.

      It's all up to the STG officer who convicted you, or your loved one, to determine if he thinks you are a gang member.

      If that STG officer thinks your hair is too short, your clothes are too baggy, he just doesn't like you, or he's just in a bad mood that day, he can label you as a gang member.

      All a STG officer has to do is check a little box on the their report. And, puff, you're a gang member.

      And, there's nothing you can do about it.

      If and when you find out that you are a labeled gang member, you can spend thousands of dollars, on a lawyer, to try and clear your name. But, there's no guarantee that your name will stay clear.

      After the conviction is done and gone the STG officer can add you name to the gang files again.

      Most likely, this will happen, because any lawsuit will surely piss them off. And, you won't even know if they add your name again, because they are not required to notify you.

      Once a STG officer marks your name as a gang member, you are marked for life.

      To them, once a gang member, always a gang member. Even if it was a bad STG officer who labeled you.

      STG officers don't have to justify their actions.

      They can write whatever they want on their report. It's your word against theirs. It's up to you to prove them wrong. Most STG Officials will believe a STG officer before they believe you.

      If you are a gang member, and want to change your way of life, forget it.

      Once a STG officer marks your name as a gang member, you are marked for life.

      Former gang members cannot turn their lives around. It is almost impossible for anyone to leave gang life.

      The STG officers, "the gang experts", will tell the jury that once you join a gang it is for life. Other gang members will kill you if you try to leave the gang.

      In their book, there is no such thing as an "inactive" gang member, regardless of how active the person may or may not be, everything they do is for the benefit of the gang.

      Protect your wife or child, own a gun, fart in public, have a job, drive a nice car, it doesn�t matter, to them it�s all for the benefit of a gang.

      Soon they will be filing every Texas Prisoner with gang allegations, so that they can give these prisoners 5 years for not obeying to their rules , for spitting on the sidewalk or for something of the sort.

      These gang enhancements affect everyone on us. Our jails and prisons are full of people, who are first time offenders, and doing life sentences.

      Did you know that your kid could just be with someone who commits a crime, or just know that person and be convicted of being with that someone, and a get 3-Strike life prison sentence, even if he has never been to prison before?

      That's right! They can strike out your child, and send him to prison for 25 years to life, the first time he ever gets into trouble.

      And, that doesn't count the gang enhancements. Which will most likely add 10 to 40 years to his prison sentence.

      But, that's another issue we need to deal with.

      Former anti-gang chief Buentello avoids time behind bars with deal on lesser charges.
      By Mike Ward
      Saturday, April 01, 2006

      The Texas prison system's former anti-gang chief pleaded guilty Friday to reduced criminal charges in a deal that allows him to avoid going to prison for sexually assaulting co-workers.

      Salvador "Sammy" Buentello, an assistant director of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice who retired under fire in May 2004, pleaded guilty in a Huntsville state court to a felony charge of unlawful restraint and five counts of official oppression, all misdemeanors.

      Three felony sexual assault charges were dismissed.

      State District Judge Bill McAdams sentenced Buentello to five years' deferred adjudication on the felony charge and a year's probation on the misdemeanors. He was also fined $7,000.

      The felony charge carried a maximum 10-year prison sentence, the misdemeanors a maximum year each in the county jail.

      Under the deferred adjudication agreement, if Buentello is not arrested on or convicted of new charges, he will not have a felony conviction on his record, according to prosecutors.

      Walker County Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Stroud said Buentello must undergo psychiatric counseling and a sexual-therapy evaluation but will not have to register as a sex offender.

      Buentello, 50, was indicted in Walker County, where the Texas prison system is headquartered, in June 2004 on felony sexual assault charges for attacking three female employees on four occasions. He faced up to 20 years in prison and mandatory registration as a sex offender on those charges.

      He was also charged with official oppression, in what prosecutors characterized Friday as a pattern of sexual harassment "involving inappropriate comments, touchings and intimidation to several individuals supervised by Mr. Buentello."

      Buentello could not be reached for comment after the sentencing.

      His attorney, Hal Ridley, said Buentello was relieved the case was over.

      "He and his family want to get on with their life," Ridley said.

      Stroud said all six victims agreed to the plea deal.

      "Having considered the advantages and disadvantages of a public trial, each victim individually agreed to allow Mr. Buentello to plead guilty without the necessity of a trial," District Attorney David Weeks said in a statement. "This plea bargain finally vindicates the victims who for so long were trapped in an intimidating work environment. . . . Today also serves as a victory against all those who knew of Mr. Buentello's conduct but consciously disregarded it.

      " Michelle Lyons, a spokeswoman for the prison system, said the agency was pleased the case has been resolved.

      "TDCJ has a zero-tolerance policy regarding sexual harassment," Lyons said.

      mward@statesman.com; 445-1712

      Lockdown details out of public reach

      Abbott rules that reports justifying lockdowns is secret.

      By Mike Ward
      Sunday, December 11, 2005

      HUNTSVILLE � Want to know how prison officials justify their growing use of long-term lockdowns in Texas prisons? Prison officials say that information should be kept secret. And Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott's office agrees.

      It's among a growing list of policies and statistics that the Texas Department of Criminal Justice has gotten official permission to keep secret in recent years.

      The list includes the detailed policy in a manual on use of force, emergency procedures at prisons, even copies of rules for the use of restraints on prisoners.

      Consider the request filed with prison officials July 7 by the American Civil Liberties Union's Prison and Jail Accountability Project, for the details of why 45 convicts had been locked down for 409 days at the Connally prison outside Kenedy.

      Under the Texas Public Information Act,Bill Medaille asked for copies of "the initial report regarding this lockdown and of the 14 most recent available daily updates regarding this lockdown," reports that are supposed to justify its continuation.

      "If these reports contain individual lists of all prisoners in lockdown, I am not seeking that information, merely whatever summary data is available in the reports regarding total numbers of offenders by custody (level)."

      Michael Mondville, an assistant general counsel for the prison agency, replied that people could be hurt, even killed, if the state released those statistics.

      "The requested information does not identify individual inmates by name and number, but it does contain the housing assignments, classification and gang affiliation of those inmates affected by the lockdown in sufficient detail to make individual identification likely," Mondville stated in a subsequent letter asking Abbott to let the data remain secret.

      "TDCJ gang members are particularly adept at finding security weaknesses in prison procedures for the specific purpose of carrying on criminal activities while evading detection by TDCJ staff. . . .

      "Such information could be used by members of the gangs in questions (sic) to identify members of the opposition. It could be used by these or other gangs to determine the relative strength among the gangs at the Connally Unit. Release . . . will result in increased tension and violence at the Connally Unit."

      On Sept. 21, Abbott agreed. State law allows the information to be kept secret, Assistant Attorney General L. Joseph James wrote in a three-page letter to Medaille.

      Under that law, information about convicts can be kept confidential, even "statistical or other aggregated information relating to inmates."

      In the past, such statistics and other reports and records concerning official actions and decisions have been made public, to allow taxpayers to hold prison officials accountable.

      Find this article at:
      Lockdown details out of public reach

      Inmates isolated for fear of gangs

      Violence concerns keep hundreds in cells, some for more than a year.

      By Mike Ward
      Sunday, December 11, 2005

      BEEVILLE � For more than a year, Cruz Hernandez's world has been defined by the four stained concrete walls of his prison cell, a double-decker steel bunk with chipped paint and the stainless steel toilet.

      "If I was weak, I'd have gone crazy before now," Hernandez, 37, says at the McConnell prison unit. "I spend my time looking at the concrete walls. And I read."

      Serving a life term for murder, Hernandez is among hundreds of Texas convicts who have remained locked in their cells for months because officials suspect that they might be involved with two prison gangs that are at war.

      In lockdown, as the confinement is officially known, there are no extras. Showers only three times a week. Peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner. No visitation from family or friends. No educational programs.

      In years past, lockdowns in Texas prisons were usually limited to just a few days or weeks. They were defined as "a temporary suspension of ordinary and routine activities" at a prison � or portions of one.

      That changed in June 2000, when the word "temporary" was removed from the policy. Now, in a trend that officials say is working well at keeping order in Texas' increasingly crowded prison system, hundreds of convicts such as Hernandez are being kept on lockdown for months, in many cases for more than a year.

      The details about convicts who are involved are a tightly guarded secret. In June, the last time a detailed list was made public, 7,453 convicts, or roughly 5 percent of Texas' total prison population, were on lockdown, and more than 300 had been in it for more than a year.

      At the time, 45 convicts at McConnell and 57 at the Connally prison near Kenedy, southeast of San Antonio, had been on lockdown for 409 days.

      For convicts, the shift means less freedom and a harsher environment. For correctional officers and prison officials, it means fewer gang fights and operati�onal problems: a safer system, as they put it.

      "We had fights at several units as a part of this tension (between gangs), and I would rather keep someone on lockdown rather than have them hurt," said Doug Dretke, director of prisons for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

      Civil liberties and prisoner advocate groups are less enthusiastic, noting that Texas is among several states such as California and Ohio that have begun using long-term or frequent lockdowns, with similar trends reported as far away as Canada and Australia.

      They say the trend is disturbing and raises legal questions, since most convicts on lockdown are in a more restrictive environment than those in administrative segregation. There, convicts are separated from other inmates but allowed out of their cells daily for recreation and showers, and they get hot meals brought to their cells.

      "If they're on lockdown for days or weeks, there's not a problem, but when you get into months and years . . . it could be a problem," said David Fathi, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union's National Prison Project in Washington. "This is unmistakable sign of a failure of the prison administration to manage their system, that they can't maintain control without keeping inmates locked up all the time."

      Adds Bill Medaille of Austin, who has studied Texas' increased use of lockdowns for the ACLU's Prison and Jail Accountability Project: "It's a replacement for the (administrative segregation), to keep the gangs under control. . . . When you have a system like this, you lose the oversight."

      At the same time, an official with the union that represents Texas correctional officers says that chronic staffing shortages at full prisons are another reason for the lockdowns, something prison officials deny.

      At the end of October, Texas prisons had more than 2,700 vacancies in their ranks of correctional officers. In all, 23,558 officers were responsible for supervising the more than 151,000 convicts around the clock.

      "It's easier to deal with inmates if they're on lockdown," said Brian Olsen, executive director of AFSCME Correctional Employee Council 7, which represents correctional officers and other prison employees statewide. "You have more dangerous inmates; the staff is short. Let's face it, it's dangerous as hell in there.

      "And it's getting worse, not better."

      Two gangs

      Two prison groups with ugly reputations are the focus of the current lockdown: Barrio Azteca, a Hispanic gang that surfaced 11 years ago to keep El Paso convicts from being preyed on by other gangs, and Partido Revolucionario Mexicanos (PRM), a much-smaller clique of mostly Mexican-born inmates that first showed up in Texas prisons a few years earlier, about 1988. Both are active inside and outside Texas prisons, officials say.

      In the world of prison, gangs are organized. With names like the Texas Syndicate, Mexican Mafia and Aryan Brotherhood, most have written constitutions that govern members' actions. Cliques � with names like White Knights and Black Gangster Disciples and Mexicles � are more loosely organized groups with few, if any, written rules.

      Gangs generally have more members. But the smaller cliques can cause just as much trouble, officials say.

      At the end of October, Texas' prison system held 9,501 confirmed members of "security threat groups," the official assigned name to gangs and cliques that pose a security risk, groups ranging from Barrio Azteca and PRM to Bloods, Crips and the others. Another 1,599 convicts had been identified as members of miscellaneous other cliques and street gangs that pose less of a problem.

      "A 30-member group might be worse to deal with than a 1,000-member gang," explained Sigifredo Sanchez, head of the Security Threat Management Office that monitors prison gangs and cliques, a key intelligence group that officers monitoring each of Texas' 106 prisons. "Constant monitoring, constant showing ourselves, we're a constant cop on the block.

      In the prison business, knowing what convicts are up to at every moment is a key to maintaining control. With prison gangs, not knowing can get someone killed.

      For that reason, the details of Texas' gang monitoring and enforcement efforts are a tightly kept secret. Numbers of gang members, gang activities and the details of how officials keep such a tight lid on the gangs are all secret.

      As a part of their close monitoring of security threat groups, officials had been watching escalating friction between PRM and Barrio Azteca for some time, noting an increasing number of prison fights between suspected members.

      In May 2004, when gang investigators got wind of a message between two gang members, they knew the situations might explode. "Be careful" was the warning.

      Hundreds of members and suspected members of Barrio Azteca and PRM in at least five maximum-security prisons were placed on lockdown. In succeeding weeks, hundreds were moved from one prison to another, a move that officials said let them cut the numbers of prisoners on lockdown.

      In July, PRM was officially listed as a security threat group for the first time. Officials will say only that its numbers and aggressive behavior warranted the decision.

      The result of the lockdowns? Quieter cellblocks.

      "It was bigger than just one unit," Dretke said. "It's more difficult to confirm (membership in a group or gang) than it used to be. . . . Twenty years ago, gangs were in the open. Now, they're not because we've cracked down."

      The decision: Continue the lockdowns.

      Life on lockdown

      At the McConnell Unit, a small city of concrete, steel bars and razor wire just outside Beeville, life on lockdown has become the norm in two cellblocks.

      On a recent afternoon, convicts wearing white T-shirts and boxer shorts milled nervously in their small cells as a reporter walked down the narrow walkways outside their steel doors.

      A pungent smell of urine, dirty socks and sweat permeated the air. Discarded "johnnies," as the peanut-butter lunches are known, littered the day room and grassy areas outside their windows. A din of screams and yelling from inside the cells made conversation difficult.

      On this day, the entire prison is on lockdown for a shakedown, a search for weapons and contraband. Inmates converse by yelling from cell to cell. The hallways are empty except for guards. The gyms are silent. In one outdoor exercise yard, inmates are queued up in long lines, waiting to be strip-searched.

      "They say I'm here because they think I'm with some group. I don't know anything about any group," explains Jose Salto, 45. "I've spent 18 months in my cell."

      Salto, who prison officials say is serving a life term from Brazoria County for murder, shows his lunch for the day: a slice of ham on a peanut butter sandwich.

      Yesterday, he got a hot dog. He still has it, untouched, in his cell.

      This is a cellblock where suspected PRM members are housed, mostly two to a cell. Most deny knowing what PRM is, though several smile as they do so.

      As a reporter works his way down a row of cells, inmates who have just been interviewed yell in Spanish to alert the others about what to say or what they have just said.

      "They think I'm in the gang because I know some who say they are," explains Jaime Paez, 37, who prison officials say is serving 30 years for aggravated assault. "We're just stuck here."

      Just down the walkway, other inmates note that they are not Mexican-born to underscore that they are not in PRM. One says he's from Idaho.

      A prison gang investigator standing nearby smiles and shakes his head at their pronouncements of innocence.

      "They're here because we have good information," he says, asking not to be quoted by name to protect his identify from gang members. "That one who said he killed a man in a family feud. He killed his two brothers."

      In another cellblock at McConnell, where suspected Barrio Azteca members are locked down, the story is much the same, only with less cacophony.

      Juan Marquez, 24, and Edgar Sonora, 32, are among many who insist that they have no idea why they've been on lockdown for months and months. "They're treating us like we're something we're not," complains Marquez, who is serving five years for aggravated robbery. "They don't prove anything; they just lock us up."

      Even so, both are from El Paso. And both have a spider-web tattoos on their arms and chests, much like those that prison officials say Barrio Azteca members wear.

      Both deny that they are Barrio Azteca members.To Assistant Warden Richard Crites, complaints about the lockdown ring hollow. In fact, he says, those on lockdown can � and do � receive hot meals, visitation with their families and other aspects of more normal prison life if they behave. The restrictions can be lifted from one week to the next, until the convicts have a more normal prison life.

      "We review it every 30 days . . . whether to take them off lockdown," he says, noting that the conclusion so far has been, "If we release these two groups together, the potential for trouble is likely."

      A national trend?

      Just how likely? Because state officials are so secretive with details, they say the success of the lockdowns can be measured publicly only in the relative quiet in recent months in Texas prisons.

      Officials defend the secrecy, their refusal to make public even basic reports such as when and where a lockdown was imposed, by whom, how it was implemented and the convicts involved. Even the portions of each prison that are on lockdown are blacked out from official reports made public under the Texas Public Information Act, after repeated delays.

      Monthly reports on security threat groups list aggregate totals of members but give no detail on how much the various troublemaking groups are growing, if at all. Likewise, reports on the lockdowns are redacted to remove detail, although "racial tension" and "gang disturbance" are listed repeatedly as the reasons.

      From most indications, gangs remain a key problem in Texas prisons.

      "If a lot of this (detailed) information got out, it would compromise our intelligence efforts," Sanchez explains of the missing details.

      Letting too much information out, officials say, would give gangs the opportunity to measure each other's size and strength, even how much officials know about them.

      But such detail would also allow outsiders to measure how the lockdowns are being handled; whether they are unfairly targeting ethnic or racial groups; whether they constitute cruel and unusual punishment by keeping convicts confined too long without sufficient rights of appeal and exercise, according to prisoner-rights and civil liberties groups.

      California and other states have been criticized for placing groups of convicts on extended lockdown and restricting those rights, Texas and California officials concede. But they point to several recent court opinions which they say justify Texas' handling of the lockdowns, including decision in June by the U.S. Supreme Court.

      That decision upheld the right of prison officials in Ohio to keep troublesome inmates in restricted confinement so long as they allow them the right to appeal that more restrictive confinement. Prison officials in Texas say grievance and appeals procedures for convicts on lockdown accomplish that.

      Whether Texas convicts can avoid remaining in long-term lockdown for years remains open to debate. Were the convicts on lockdown serving their time in administrative segregation instead, the ACLU's Medaille and others say, they would have access to educational programs and other privileges they do not now have.

      Administrative segregation beds in Texas are essentially full, like the rest of the prison system, they note. Those beds are one to a cell, not two to a cell as in lockdown. Such a shift of the convicts from lockdown to administrative segregation would require many additional beds in a system that already is brim-full.

      Even so, the primary concern for prison officials remains safety. And from that standpoint, the lockdowns have worked well. The numbers of convicts on lockdown has decreased monthly as officials work to focus the lockdowns on only the convicts who most need it, they say.

      "As we operate at near full capacity, it makes it more difficult to move people between the units like we used to, but we'll still move them if we need to," Dretke said. "We'll create room if we need it.

      "I'd rather not increase (administrative segregation) beds," he added. "We've been successful so far in managing these issues with cliques with these lockdowns."

      That probably makes little difference to most of the convicts on lockdown at the McConnell Unit.

      "How long before we get off lockdown?" one convict yells. "This seems like forever."


      Confinement of inmates to their cells as part of a suspension of normal activities in a cellblock for 24 hours or more 'in an attempt to restore order, minimize threats to the safety of officers or offenders, suppress a serious disruption in the operation of a unit, or conduct a semi-annual shakedown.'

      Administrative segregation

      'A non-punitive, maximum custody status involving separation of an offender from the general population within the prison institution for the purpose of maintaining safety, security and order among general population offenders, correctional personnel and the public. An offender shall be considered to be in Administrative Segregation anytime he is separated from the general population by confinement in a cell for more than twenty (20) hours or more a day without a disciplinary hearing. . . . An offender is not considered to be in Administrative Segregation if he is segregated due to an institutional lockdown; undergoing intake and diagnostic evaluation; transient status or the offender is on a non-permanent unit of assignment.'

      Source: Texas Department of Criminal Justice administrative directives

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      Inmates isolated for fear of gangs


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