The Los Angeles County jails are run by the sheriff, but the Mexican Mafia wielded the power in the underworld behind bars. The organization made up of leaders from various Latino gangs operated like an illegal government, collecting "taxes" on smuggled drugs, ordering hits on people who didn't follow their rules, and even calling the shots on street crimes, federal prosecutors say. Their clout was diminished as 83 members and associates were charged in a pair of sweeping federal racketeering conspiracies that alleged drug dealing, extortion, violent assaults, and even murders, the AP reports. "We just delivered a blow to a cold-blooded prison gang and their associates," US Attorney Nick Hanna says.
The gang enriched itself through drug sales, taxes on drugs, and even by collecting a share of purchases on candy bars, deodorant, and other items at the jail commissary, the indictment said, adding that the gang was able to exert control by threatening and carrying out violence if people didn't pay up or follow the rules. Because the Mexican Mafia controlled drug trafficking in the jails, they got the first shot to sell their supply of methamphetamine, cocaine, heroin, or marijuana, prosecutors said. Other groups had to wait and give a third of their contraband to the Mexican Mafia leadership. The fee, known as a "thirds" tax, gave the name "Operation Dirty Thirds" to the investigation that led to the indictments and arrest of 32 people Wednesday. Another 35 defendants were already in custody and 16 are fugitives.
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