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on the border line between the US and Mexico

Saturday, March 2, 2024

LA Defense Lawyer Charged in Mexican Mafia Member's Murder

"Socalj" for Borderland Beat

A criminal defense attorney was charged in a federal indictment unsealed last week with conspiring to murder a member of the Mexican Mafia who had fallen out of favor with the prison-based syndicate.

Gabriel Zendejas Chavez was first indicted in 2018 in an indictment with dozens of gang and Mexican Mafia members, is accused of using the confidentiality afforded by his bar license to relay messages between Mexican Mafia members held in far-flung prisons. Witnesses have testified that he helped the organization traffic drugs, collect extortion proceeds, and unmask government informants.

Chavez, who taught English at high schools in Pomona while studying to become a lawyer at night, has maintained his innocence. At his trial in federal court in 2022, he testified that after he won a longtime Mexican Mafia member’s release from prison in 2013, other inmates sought his representation.

Records showed Chavez conferred with dozens of Mexican Mafia members at the high-security state prison at Pelican Bay, the federal Supermax facility ADX Florence, Colo., and other institutions designed to isolate gang leaders. Chavez testified he only pretended to help imprisoned gang members after one of them threatened his young daughter, telling the jury tearfully: “There’s no manual for this situation.”

At the time, there were 14 Mexican Mafia members housed at the Colorado Supermax prison that is also home to "El Chapo" and terrorists. Inmates are allowed just a few phone calls each month, all recorded. Inmates can speak freely, with no recordings, and in person with attorneys after an approval process.

Chavez was charged with 4 felonies that accuse him of Conspiring to distribute methamphetamine, heroin, cocaine, and marijuana; Conspiring to violate the federal RICO Act; and Aiding and abetting the possession with intent to distribute of heroin and methamphetamine.

After the jury, split 6-6, failed to reach a verdict on racketeering and drug distribution charges, the judge declared a mistrial in 2022. Prosecutors vowed to retry Chavez.

Coded Notes

Christina Alanis, an employee at the maximum-security Pelican Bay State Prison, who described how Chavez tried to bring a note inside the prison in 2014 but was stopped by a guard. He acted as if he was going to put the note in a locker, Alanis said, but then put it back in his pocket and told the guards he didn’t trust them. They ended up shredding the note, the employee testified, and she thought it “seemed very peculiar as to what was so important on that piece of paper.”

“Never before had I had somebody be so adamant to want to get rid of a piece of paper,” Alanis said.

“In your 11 years working at Pelican Bay, did you ever see anyone else try to engage in the same type of behavior that Defendant Chavez did?“ asked Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregg Marmaro.

“No, I did not. It seemed very suspicious,” Alanis answered.

Blanco emphasized in her cross-examination that Alanis has “no idea what was on that piece of paper.”

A security specialist at ADX Florence testified that the Los Angeles lawyer’s already suspicious visits with Mexican Mafia inmates took on a more criminal appearance after three notes with “gang-related writing” were discovered in a visiting room toilet he’d used.

“The Mexican Mafia did not want Sureños cooperating against them, informing on their criminal activities. So Chavez used his skill set as an attorney to find out who was cooperating …to hunt down Sureños who the Mexican Mafia thought to be government cooperators. Like a Sureño named ‘Danger,’” US Attorney Gregory Bernstein said.

Murder of Frank Munoz

In the superseding indictment returned last week, prosecutors implicated Chavez in the homicide of DMM-6, short for “Deceased Mexican Mafia Member 6.” Details within the indictment and testimony at Chavez’s trial make clear the victim is Frank Munoz, a Mexican Mafia member nicknamed “Little Man.”

Chavez’s attorney, Meghan Blanco, said she would ask a judge to dismiss the new indictment, which she called “a crazy, last-minute move on the government’s part.”

Blanco said after prosecutors failed to get a guilty verdict with witnesses “whose information is clearly false,” they recruited new informants who were “worse liars than the first batch.” Chavez denies having any role in the conspiracy to kill Munoz and would push for a trial this summer, she said.

Released from federal prison in 2013 after serving 23 years for bank robbery, Munoz returned to his old neighborhood on the west side of Wilmington to find it claimed by Mexican Mafia members held in the state prison system, a witness testified at Chavez’s trial.

“Sleepy and Tonito were old members,” the witness told the jury, referring to Gabriel “Sleepy” Huerta and Emiliano “Tonito” Lopez, who were both serving life terms for murder. “They’ve been controlling Wilmington for over a decade.”

With Munoz trying to collect money in the harbor area, the witness said, Huerta and Lopez sent him a message through Chavez: “Slow your roll.”

Gabriel “Sleepy” Huerta controls the Eastside Wilmington area.

Huerta, a reputed member of the Mexican Mafia’s three-man governing “commission,” was charged late last year with overseeing the Eastside Wilmas gang. The 64-year-old, who has been imprisoned since 1984, has pleaded not guilty to directing drug deals and ordering an assault on the streets of Wilmington. Lopez was stabbed to death at Calipatria State Prison in 2016.

Munoz had modest ambitions for a Mexican Mafia member. Hobbled by knee surgeries that he’d undergone in prison, a witness told detectives in an interview reviewed by The Times, Munoz was content to sell small amounts of methamphetamine and collect a few hundred dollars here and there from gang members working on his behalf.

In an indictment unsealed after his death, federal prosecutors accused Munoz of collecting a “tax” from pushers who sold drugs in motels, bars, and parking lots in Wilmington. In one call cited by prosecutors, Munoz discussed the packaging of six ounces of meth, which he said he would pick up himself.

After a jailed member of the Northside Longo gang told the authorities that Munoz was trying to stake a claim in Long Beach, Munoz was caught on a recorded line ordering the man’s beating and a $500 fine.

“All I wanted was someone that will smack this motherf— upside the head a couple of times just to let him know to keep his f— mouth shut,” Munoz told an inmate in the Los Angeles County jail, according to court records.

“Consider it done,” the inmate said. Sheriff’s deputies moved the target into protective custody before he was harmed.

By then, Munoz found himself in the middle of a bitter feud playing out on prison yards and the streets of Los Angeles between Mexican Mafia members who served time in the federal and state prison systems.

After getting out of federal prison in 2014, Dominick “Solo” Gonzales began collecting money from gangs and dealers in the San Fernando Valley (San Fer), angering Mexican Mafia members in the California system whose grip over the area had gone unchallenged for years, witnesses testified at a federal racketeering trial.

Gonzales was making up for lost time. He’d served 15 years and felt the Mexican Mafia members in the California system had disrespected his stepfather, Frank “Sapo” Fernandez, by cutting him out of the San Fernando Valley rackets after he was sent to federal prison for life in 2000.

Gonzales also clashed with Pete “Malo” Cordero, the nephew of a Mexican Mafia member. After Cordero was gunned down in late 2015, Gonzales was blamed. Mexican Mafia members held a 30-man conference call, dialing in from various state prisons on contraband cellphones, a witness testified. The consensus: Gonzales had to go.

The task fell to Cordero’s best friend, Jose “Cartune” Loza, according to evidence presented at Loza’s trial in 2019. After setting up a meeting with Gonzales at El Jalisco Cafe in Bassett in the San Gabriel Valley, Loza asked Munoz to accompany him, a witness testified. Munoz refused, citing his bad knees.

Loza shot Gonzales to death at the restaurant and is now serving a sentence of life plus 30 years in federal prison. After Gonzales’ death, Munoz was placed on “the lista” — the Mexican Mafia’s hit list, according to witnesses who testified against Loza and Chavez.

Chavez represented Raul “Cool Cat” Rocha, who in 2016 was petitioning to overturn a 25-years-to-life sentence for his third strike — stealing a pair of pants in 1995. While being held in Los Angeles County jail, Rocha testified that another inmate, Robert “Dopey” Hinojos, asked that he bring a note inquiring about Gonzales and Munoz to the legal visiting room. Rocha testified that Chavez confirmed both men were marked for death before swallowing the note.

Chavez denied passing word of any hit list, telling the jury: “I did not, and would not, ever harm someone.”

Around 4 p.m. on Oct. 1, 2016, Munoz was standing outside his fiancee’s home in Hawaiian Gardens when a gunman shot him 13 times, according to a coroner’s report. The indictment says only that “UICC 58” — unindicted co-conspirator 58 — killed Munoz with the help of two other people.

Robert "Dopey" Hinojos

Hinojos, a reputed Mexican Mafia member from Paramount’s Brown Nation gang, is now serving two life sentences after being convicted of killing a man in Paramount and conspiring to murder an inmate at Centinela State Prison.

During Hinojos’ trial for the Paramount murder, prosecutors played a tape that was secretly recorded inside a cell block that Hinojos shared with another Mexican Mafia member, Daniel “Danny Boy” Pina.

Explaining that prosecutors had to have “inside knowledge about something” to charge him, Pina whispered to Hinojos: “The good thing is finally you are gonna be able to find out what exactly them bastards have.”

“Hopefully there is no, no, no — uh, the thing with Little Man,” Hinojos said, a reference to Munoz’s nickname.

Pina shushed him. “Don’t say anything about that to anybody,” he said.

Mongols MC Extortion

Accusations have been made that the Mexican Mafia was extorting the Mongols motorcycle club for $100,000 for their protection inside of California prison systems. Incarcerated Mongol members had been kept in protective custody since a Mongol member had killed a Mexican Mafia member years earlier concerning extortion attempts to tax the motorcycle club that recruited from Sureño gangs.

Chavez is accused of helping facilitate an extortion scheme by the Mexican Mafia against the Mongols motorcycle club. But former Mongols President "Lil Dave" Santillian testified “he has no idea who Chavez is” and that there was no extortion attempt, despite federal agents’ attempts to drum one up.

Gang member turned witness Luis Garcia testified that he and Chavez were discussing a plan to demand a $100,000 payment from the Mongols in exchange for a promise their members would be safe returning to general population yards in prisons and jails. On the recording, Garcia said, “We had asked them for” — he paused — “big ones.” During the pause, he testified, he wrote “100,000” on a piece of paper and held it to the glass for Chavez to see.

The men discussed how other Mexican Mafia members might be wary of the deal, believing the Mongols didn’t screen recruits to weed out informants and undercover agents.

But “once they see this,” Chavez said — Garcia testified the lawyer rubbed his fingers together in a money gesture — “then you can please the others.” Garcia said he understood Chavez to mean that once they had the Mongols’ money in hand, most Mexican Mafia members would support the deal.

Chavez told Garcia that he was going to Pelican Bay in two months to talk to “the heaviest ones,” and “hopefully by that time there’ll be...” Here, Garcia said, Chavez again rubbed his fingers together.

Garcia testified that he passed Chavez a phone number for the Mongols’ president, David “Little Dave” Santillan, in hopes Chavez, Ruiz, and Santillan could work out a deal.

Chavez’s attorney called Santillan as a witness. The Mongols’ onetime leader, who has been kicked out of the club after being falsely branded an ATF informant, denied knowing anything about a shakedown by the Mexican Mafia. “We have no agreements with that organization at all,” he testified.

Did he ever speak to anyone about such a deal? “Never,” Santillan said. “We don’t pay.”

On the recording, the conversation turned to a gang member nicknamed Lucky, who Chavez said was the government’s “No. 1 witness” in a Mexican Mafia case. Later, Chavez said he was “95% sure” that Lucky “was a done deal.” “Done deal. OK? And you know who told me? This guy told me.” Garcia testified that Chavez wrote down the names of two Mexican Mafia members.

It was clear, Garcia testified, that Chavez was saying Lucky would be killed. Chavez denied this. He told the jury he meant the gang member was entering protective custody. It’s unclear what happened to Lucky.

At another point in the recording, Garcia offered Chavez money, but the lawyer refused. “Listen, save it…,” he said. “Right now we are cool.” Garcia testified that Chavez even rebuffed reimbursement for travel expenses, saying, “I’m not doing this for the money.” On the witness stand, Chavez acknowledged discussing “a lot of illegal things” with Garcia but insisted he had “zero intention” of doing them.

He claimed that when he refused in an unrecorded conversation to go along with the Mongol's shakedown, Garcia replied that Chavez “was now a witness against him.”

“ And he said, ‘You know what happens to witnesses,’” Chavez recalled. Asked why, if he felt frightened by Garcia, he returned to jail to continue the conversation a few weeks later, Chavez burst into tears and stammered: “He threatened my daughter.”

Prosecutors immediately objected. After a heated back-and-forth, U.S. District Judge George H. Wu told the jury it could not consider Chavez’s testimony about the alleged threat.

One afternoon in 2014, Chavez told the jury, he was sitting in his Ontario office when Ruiz stopped in and mentioned he was having lunch next door at a Mexican restaurant owned by Chavez’s family. Ruiz had gotten out of prison six days earlier after Chavez won his resentencing petition.


  1. SO these is how el chapo Guzmán been sending out orders to his faction in Sinaloa i new it all along that MF still calling shots like a eme and MF general here it goes for all of You who dint bealive me , i forgive thank You

    1. @2:08 I’m sure chapo can give word to a lawyer that will pass certain messages, but I’m also sure the FED’s can say chapo a terrorist threat amd they had to spy on him and his lawyers

  2. Poor lil chapo is rotting in prison in the dark pouting like a lil girl talking to imaginary friends mr.208pm all while I am still on my quest to smash Emmitta

    1. When you smash her can you post pictures of her!

    2. Nope, a gentleman don't kiss 'n tell. 😘

    3. He's probably making "art" on the walls of his cell with shit that looks like Emma to him. I'd love to see a pic of him now.

    4. Connor todavia ESTA mencho en Redwood City?

    5. Ahí anda Emma.
      Hasta eso no es mamona

    6. A gentleman don’t type emojis

    7. Chapo could do 10 life sentences and you still wouldn't smash Emma 😂

    8. which chapo double is in prison?

  3. Stupid lawyer trusting so many convicts when he knows many are looking for a "Get Out of Jail Card" !!!

    1. The lawyer decided to "keep it real" lol.

  4. Being from So. Cal and having been through the system beginning in 1980 and ending in 1997 I enjoyed reading this article. I don’t recognize the names mentioned but I do recognize the spirit at work. It’s a never ending story. Good job.

    1. You were a jail bird

    2. "You're a fucking genius, who forged your transcripts dickhead?"
      ..The Departed

  5. When u deal with people conspiring against others who is to say ur not the next one conspired against ... But they let their guard down thinking they are bff s .... Criminals are the last people u should trust

  6. Agan cuenta de mafiosos PARAMOUNT esta presente.#cholos #Michigans#chinolas

    1. Paramount me la pela

    2. Mount upp 👌🏼

    3. 5:07 en el momento que mataron al perico esos bueyes los mandaron al backseat en tijuana. Tienen línea pero nada que ver como antes.

  7. All these losers.
    Putting out hits , risking lengthy jail sentences for a couple hundred dollars.

  8. Muñoz serves 23 years in prison, gets out and starts dealing in the streets again and goes back to prison what an idiot. I would rather work as a gardener macking minimum wage and live in a car and be free than to be a millionaire gangster.

    1. 7:19. You don’t understand “blood in, blood out”. Some people keep their word. Not everyone is a rat. Your comments tell me what you would do under pressure.

    2. 8:06 that dragon keeps the majority making petty money and everyone under them. Nada que ver como la LCN en NYC making millions. That petty money ain’t worth the time ese. Rather stay independent making the most giving them some chump change once a month to keep them off my back.

  9. Bueno que se espera uno del ambiente penal
    Así es

  10. Esta más visco que la verga ese dopey

    1. Jajaja. Ese visco metieron la pata al darle 04 al famoso jaguar. Ahí están los resultados vistos en la baja con los carnales y su desmadre. Short sighted vatos

  11. Ocran Leaks aka Mini LIc mentioned that Juancho (el Jefe Virgo Juan Guzman Rocha ) His cousin had more money than El Chapo .
    How is that possibe ?

    1. Chapo couldnt pay his men and had to wait for money to come back reality Chapo was a millionaire not a billionaire sorry kids.

    2. You think that’s El Mini? That Mofo does have all the inside information! And he said Juancho was dealing directly with the twins and saving a lot of his money, which Chapo might have not done.

    3. @7:04 He gives detailed information, maps and quotes that only someone that was there can provide. His physical appearance also resembles Mini Lic.

    4. Thats mini lic for sure he said that the truth would come out when he was in jail .... Lo dijo aquí en border beat.... Remember he sent a letter to borderland beat

  12. You will be dealt with for saying this about his wife.
    What are you stupid?
    You think you’re really anonymous?
    Consider it done

  13. There's a manual for the situation the stupid lawyer got himself into: report it to law enforcement. Vato pendejo.

  14. RICO Act clobbers these scavengers

  15. Just came out that the informant who said he received the note and provided it to the lawyer wasn't even in custody with the informant until 6 weeks after the visit. By then one decedent had been dead for 6 months and the other for 3 weeks. Unless the note fell from the sky to give to the lawyer, the informant is lying.


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