California corrections officials have frozen the inmate trust accounts of 14 Mexican Mafia members and are investigating whether the prison gang is laundering drug money through the state’s tightest lockup, the Sacramento Bee reports. Investigators discovered last month that two Mexican Mafia members in Pelican Bay State Prison’s Security Housing Unit (SHU) each had more than $20,000 in their accounts. Two others had more than $10,000 and seven other members of the “Eme,” the Mexican Mafia nickname taken from the Spanish pronunciation of the letter “M,” had accounts ranging from $1,700 to $5,200. Investigators said prison gang members obtained the funds through a system of “trickle-up economics,” in which street gang drug dealers who work for the Mexican Mafia pay financial tribute- to the prison mobsters. FBI investigators visited the prison last week to discuss potential money laundering.
The trust fund probes are the latest evidence of the growing power, influence and wealth of the Mexican Mafia, the oldest, largest, and most feared prison gang in California. Some experts say the Mexican Mafia has become the leading organized crime organization in California, with tentacles touching many communities, including Sacramento. “Biker groups and street gangs pale in comparison to the Mexican Mafia, both in terms of level of organization, amount of money and their directed and controlled violence,” said criminologist Scott Decker of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Most alarming, experts said, has been the Eme’s ability over the past decade to tax Latino street gangs in Southern California.