Gangs The Feds U.S. Attorney

Feds Arrest Dozens in “Dirty Thirds” Operation That Aims to Loosen the Mexican Mafia’s Hold on LA County’s Jail System

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

In a massive operation targeting the notorious Mexican Mafia’s control in Los Angeles County jails and over street gangs in Pomona, hundreds of local and federal law enforcement personnel swept across Southern California Wednesday morning, conducting raids that led to 32 arrests.

A total of 83 people have been charged in two federal racketeering indictments, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Those charged include Wednesday’s arrestees, as well as 16 fugitives, and 35 defendants already in state or county lockups.

“These cases have delivered a major blow to the Mexican Mafia and leaders of many of the street gangs under the control of the organization,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “By taking out the gang members who control the jails, and by disrupting their communications network, we undermined the Mexican Mafia’s ability to coordinate street gang activity.”

The arrests and indictments are the culmination of an investigation led by the FBI’s San Gabriel Valley Safe Streets Task Force, the members of which include agents and officers from the FBI, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Pomona Police Department, the DEA, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.

The defendants are accused of numerous crimes, including conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), drug smuggling, extortion, money laundering, and assaults. The indictments lay out how the Mexican Mafia, also known as “La Eme,” came to have power over Latino street gangs, and to wield toxic influence inside LA County’s jails, from which they order assaults on fellow inmates, and individuals on the outside, and run a drug trafficking and extortion operation.

“Operation Dirty Thirds lifts the veil on only one aspect of the complicated factors behind inmate-on-inmate assaults and the dangers to our custody staff,” said Sheriff Jim McDonnell. “Many assaults have been directed, and carried out, by the Mexican Mafia and are documented in this investigation that took more than four years.”

The “Dirty Thirds” name refers to a tax that the La Eme leaders levied on non-Mexican Mafia inmates smuggling contraband into the jails.

“Once narcotics were smuggled into jail facilities at the direction of the Mexican Mafia members and their shot-callers, the narcotics were sold to inmates – and those who possessed other narcotics were not allowed to sell their drugs until the Mexican Mafia member’s drugs were sold,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. Once other groups were allowed to bring in contraband, they would have to give one-third to the jail facility’s Mexican Mafia leader. If that leader chose to sell his portion to inmates, the other groups would be again blocked from selling until the leader sold his “thirds.”

The extortion didn’t end there. Defendants are also accused of forcing other Latino inmates to give La Eme a portion of their commissary money from their families. That money would go into a “kitty” that would then be sold to an inmate, creating an additional profit for the Mexican Mafia leader.

The La Eme allegations also include fining and assaulting people associated with the gang who broke the rules, as well as reportedly laundering the money earned through extortion.

“Gang violence in the jails also spills over to the streets and adversely affects our communities,” said Paul Delacourt, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “This three-year investigation focused on players at all levels for their role in the conspiracy – from the shot-caller, to the secretary, to the dealer, to the smuggler. Today’s successful operation is a direct result of law enforcement partners working cooperatively at all levels of government.”

One of the 32 people arrested was attorney Gabriel Zendejas-Chavez, who is accused of personally ferrying messages from incarcerated La Eme members to state and federal prisons, including ADX Florence, and giving messages about possible snitches and other information to those running the Mexican Mafia’s LA County jail operations.

One of the indictments focuses on a racket allegedly run by Michael “Pomona Mike” Lerma, a 61-year-old inmate, who, according to the indictment “exercised control over, and extorted drug proceeds from, Latino street gangs in and around Pomona, as well as from incarcerated Latinos in Calipatria State Prison in Imperial County.” Lerma’s underlings allegedly conducted robberies, identity theft, fraud, kidnapping, drug trafficking, and violence.

Members of Lerma’s enterprise reportedly tried to steal an LA County jail inmate’s Mercedes. When the man who was watching the car for the inmate refused to give it up, one of Lerma’s man allegedly shot him.

Lerma’s men also reportedly kidnapped a woman, whom they extorted for money over a period of several days. Law enforcement reportedly thwarted the organization’s plan to kill the captive woman.

“The Pomona community certainly suffered from the criminal acts of those indicted,” said Pomona Police Chief Michael Olivieri. “I am very pleased with the success of this long-term investigation, and I am looking forward to more collaboration with our law enforcement partners in future investigations.”

Image by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department – LASD, Pomona PD, CDCR, FBI, DEA announce indictments


  • I’m sure the ACLU, DOJ and others will spin this so the public believes these “poor inmates” are simply victims, trying to find group-support and survive against those “brutal jailers”. Only sheriffs deputies form gangs in jail…right? Oh…most of these poor mis-guided “victims” of their environment probably have a “mental illness” too (doesn’t everybody), and can be better served by mental health treatment.

    Psychopathy, sociopathy and homocidal behavior are mental illnesses, but I don’t think the mental health profession has had any success in treating or curing these illnesses….ever.

    I’m sure all the policies and practices that were once in place to prevent drugs from entering the jail were either, watered down or the staff went into a career survival mode versus a pro-active enforcement/interdiction mode.

  • The Mexican mafia is still active in jails.
    So obviously incarceration is not working.
    Death penalties are what is needed.
    Moving them to super max is just more waste of taxpayer money.

  • Long overdue. Fx, you make a good point. Sick of reading about these huge criminal organizations terrorizing inside and out…

  • “Incarnation isn’t working.” That’s an understatement for these ANIMALS.

    They thrive behind bars. It’s their
    “workplace”. It’s a badge of honor for them, and they wear it proudly. Planning and carrying out a Killing, for them, is like a hardworking taxpayer putting in an 8 hour shift.

    Sick ANIMALS and they should be put down with a 50-Cent .308 round to the head.

  • Well, it is nice to know that under the Jim McDonnell regime the use of force is “slightly” less and these “brutal” deputies, are not as brutal. I am sure that under those conditions, where all these inmates are considered victims, and mentally ill, have allowed the “Mexican mafia” to flourish.

    I am sure “El Chapo” who incidentally is in the federal prison, has a better understanding of what is going on in the LA County Jail. After all, the drug dealing in the county jails and prisons are probably paying for his legal representation. Jim McDonnell should have a meeting with “El Chapo” so that he can understand the dynamics of his county jail.

  • I’ll keep it simple. If Jim McDonnell is as bad as purported and remains in office then ALADS loses all credibility. The anti McDonnell
    conversation amongst deputies is getting old with no action.

  • Far as “All American” you can add that tag to all of the school shooters including the one today in Indiana.

  • ALADS has no credibility all ready amongst most of the line staff. I think much of the talk regarding the current LASD regime is therapeutic and cathartic in a sense. In that it allows folks to ventilate and de-compress regarding a situation they themselves feel power-less to change in any way.

  • Sincerely, this is why it is scary for deputies to criticize the regime…his Excellency James McBuckles…From: Sheriff Department Announcement

    Date: May 25, 2018

    To: All LASD Employees

    Subject: LASD Special Message – Discussing Confidential Information

    ***LASD Special Message***


    The Department has trust in each of you! Department members must be cognizant of the confidential information entrusted to them on a daily basis. Information contained within Department databases, reports and files are confidential and/or sensitive and should not be communicated to others without a business reason. Department members need to think twice before communicating about Department-related topics.

    The official business of the Department is confidential. Members shall only discuss or give official information to persons for whom the information is intended; as directed by a superior officer; and/or as required by law.

    When Department members disclose confidential information, the rumor mill begins and will circulate even wider. If someone tells you confidential information, admonish that person that confidential information is CONFIDENTIAL.

    Members shall only divulge the contents of any directive when required to do so by the nature of the directive. The content of any criminal record or other official information maintained by the Department shall be disclosed only to those authorized by state and federal statute.

    The best way to stop the release of confidential information is by not repeating it to anyone other than Department members who have a business reason to know. It is important to re-brief everyone, making it clear that confidential information must remain within the LASD.

  • Exactly why the ALADS motto “Dedicated To A Stronger Voice” is proven to be false as evident to the actuality of happenings within the department. Do you realize how powerful the deputies could be if LASPA & ALADS came together. ALADS bows kowtow in dangers face with no results. The frustration is mounting to no avail.

  • The Mexican Mafia (California version) has been around for around 60 years
    This has nothing to do with McDonnell.
    When you have violent career criminals who live in jails this is going to happen.

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