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Illegal Drug Trafficking Business Operations in Texas: Federal Investigations into the Texas Mexican Mafia aka La Eme or Mexikanemi

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The Texas Mexican Mafia once again made national news coverage recently with the flagrant prison escape by convicted capital murderer Gonzalo Lopez from a Texas prison bus in Centerville on May 12, 2022.  Lopez, recognized for his affiliation with the Mexican Mafia, was placed on the State of Texas’ 10 Most Wanted Fugitives List where he remained until his fatal capture in Jourdanton, Texas, on June 2, 2022.

From a criminal defense perspective, it is understood that both federal and state law enforcement are zealously dedicated to understanding the inner workings of the Mexican Mafia, with the goal of successful arrests, prosecutions, and sentencings of La Eme members.

Their efforts are complex and coordinated, and well-funded.  They like to win these cases. 

Consider this:  a few weeks ago, the Office of the United States Attorney General for the Southern District of Texas published its news release entitled “Another Texan sentenced for dealing drugs on behalf of Texas “Mexikan” Mafia,” detailing the sentencing of a 29-year-old man to 120- months in a federal prison facility for his “…role as a distributor of narcotics at various drug houses located within Corpus Christi and Robstown.”

This media report came on the heels of another DOJ press release, “‘Captain’ of Mexican Mafia in Laredo convicted, where a guilty plea was entered by Joe Daniel Davila, a 49-year-old man who admitted on the record “… to being a high-level member of the Mexican Mafia for the past 20 years, calling himself a “captain” who was asked to be the top Mexican Mafia member in Laredo.”

Coordinating Federal Agencies Involved in Mexican Mafia Investigations

There are a number of agencies that work toward learning the details of the Mexican Mafia’s endeavors with the goal of arrest and prosecution.  These include the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the Criminal Investigation Division of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS); the United States Marshalls Service; the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the Department of Homeland Security; and perhaps most importantly, the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF).

All of these agencies, along with the Texas Department of Public Safety, were involved in the capture and arrest of Mexican Mafia Captain Joe Daniel Davila, for instance, in a coordinated effort given the code name “Operation Charco Trece.”

What is the OCDETF?

The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) is a federal organization led by Director Adam W. Cohen, an extremely experienced former federal prosecutor and senior policy advisor to the President.

It describes itself as an “independent component” of the Justice Department and the “largest anti-crime task force in the country with over 500 federal prosecutors and 1200 federal agents, at work alongside over 5000 state and local law enforcement officers.  It is a multi-faceted approach to crime-busting with the dedicated goal of convictions and sentencing through the use of prosecutors to lead its efforts.

The OCDETF targets the Texas Mexican Mafia along with “the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States.”

Who is the Texas Mexican Mafia?

From the Justice Department comes the following description of this longstanding Texas business organization:

The Mexikanemi prison gang, also known as the Texas Mexican Mafia (La Eme) or Emi, was formed in the early 1980’s within the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ). The Mexikanemi is highly structured and is estimated to have 2,000 members, most of whom are Mexican nationals or Mexican-American males living in Texas at the time of their incarceration.

Mexikanemi poses a significant drug-trafficking threat to communities in the Southwestern U.S., particularly in Texas. Mexikanemi gang members reportedly traffic multi-kilogram quantities of powdered cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine; multi-ton quantities of marijuana; and thousand-tablet quantities of ecstasy from Mexico into the U.S. for distribution both inside and outside prison.

Mexikanemi gang members obtain narcotics from associates or members of the Jaime Herrera-Herrera, Osiel Cardenas-Guillen, and/or the Vicente Carrillo-Fuentes Mexican DTOs. In addition, Mexikanemi members maintain a relationship with Los Zetas, a Mexican paramilitary/criminal organization employed by the Cardenas-Guillen DTO as its personal security force.

However, the extent of knowledge about the inner workings of the Mexikanemi or Mexican Mafia organization held within the files of the federal investigators is much more intricate than this simple DOJ overview.

And every bit of intel that the OCDETF agents locate can be used to build cases against any number of La Eme members, with the final results not only being placed before the judge in the trial proceeding but being published in the official case records of the federal criminal justice system.

The Texas Mexican Mafia Constitution

For instance, as described in the recent news release regarding the Mexican Mafia sentencing of a drug distributor, federal law enforcement has located and shared in the public record during past federal prosecutions the official constitution of La EmeUS v. Krout, 66 F.3d 1420,1424 fn1 (5th Cir. 1995).

As noted in the Krout opinion, the constitution’s preamble states that: “Being a criminal organization … [w]e shall deal in drugs, contract killings, prostitution, large scale robbery [etc.]”

Common Knowledge: Operations and Background of the Texas Mexican Mafia or Mexikanemi

As explained in other federal precedent coming out of the federal appellate district serving Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, US v. Valles, 484 F.3d 745, 747-750 (5th Cir. 2007), federal prosecutions have revealed and shared the following detailed information about the Texas Mexican Mafia as part of past cases (all italicized content quoting directly from the Valles opinion):

  • The official name of the organization is “Mexikanemi,” which is translated from Spanish as “free-Mexicans.”
  • The name “La Eme” is a phonetic reference to “Mexikanemi.”
  • The organization began in the mid-1980s when founder Heriberto Huerta, obtained permission from the California Mexican Mafia to create the Texas Mexican Mafia from his federal prison cell.
  • From its roots within federal and state prisons, the Texas Mexican Mafia has grown to have business operations throughout the State of Texas, including major metropolitan areas like Dallas, El Paso, Houston, Midland, Odessa, San Antonio.
  • The Texas Mexican Mafia is ruled by its written constitution, which was written in the 1980s. The constitution defines the purpose of the group as “whatever aspect or criminal interest for the benefit of advancement of Mexikanemi” and it is willing to “traffic in drugs, contract murders, prostitution, major robberies, gambling, arms and anything else [it] can imagine.”
  • The business model is based upon a hierarchical military structure. There is a president and vice-president at the highest level, followed by a tier of generals, then captains, lieutenants, sergeants, and soldiers.  The TMM’s ranks are delineated between members in prison and those “on the street.”
  • There is a defined equality within this structure, with the constitution stating that all members have “the obligation of serving and obeying all the rules equally just like any other soldier or brother because all [TMM members] are soldiers and all [TMM members] are Mexican and all [TMM members] are equal.” Furthermore, “…[a]ny member of the Mexikanemi, and it does not matter if it is the president, vice president, general, lieutenants or sergeants or soldiers, that violate the rules of the Mexikanemi must suffer the consequences.” Explains the federal court opinion: [t]hese consequences usually constitute death and always do so in the case of disloyalty or treason.
  • Business operations of the Texas Mexican Mafia over the past few decades are known to include drug trafficking (g., heroin and cocaine from Mexico) and extortion through the collection of “the dime” or “el daime” from rival drug dealers as a street tax.

The growth of the Texas Mexican Mafia has also brought recognition and study among researchers who publish their findings.  According to the University of Pittsburgh’s Ridgway Center for International Security Studies, for instance, it is reported that:

  • While the Mexikanemi was begun by Heriberto Huerta as a means of uniting both Mexican nationals and Mexican Americans against the challenges of prison gangs like the Texas Syndicate, the organization grew very fast and by the early 2000s, it “…had become a powerful criminal force in Texas allied with numerous Mexican drug trafficking organizations” including known cartels such as the Sinaloa, Juarez, Gulf, and Los Zetas.
  • Communications between members inside prison and on the streets is usually done by female members of the gang.
  • All members must be either Mexican nationals or Mexican Americans.
  • All members are responsible for recruiting new members to the organization.
  • Narcotics trafficking is its primary source of income.
  • The National Drug Intelligence Center identifies the Mexikanemi as the most powerful and influential gang operating in south Texas.
  • La Eme’s known distribution route for its drug trafficking organizations is through Laredo to San Antonio as its distribution center.

Criminal Defense of Texas Mexican Mafia Allegations and Charges in Federal Court

The extensive experience and detailed prosecutorial files make the criminal defense strategies complicated and intense in any case where La Eme involvement is alleged at any level, and for any purpose.


For instance, the past exposure of the Texas Mexican Mafia constitution makes it easy for a federal AUSA to include allegations of a criminal enterprise being involved in violation of 18 U.S.C. §1961(4).

This allows federal RICO charges to be added to other federal criminal charges, such as illegal drug manufacturing and/or distribution (i.e., drug trafficking); extortion; illegal weapons sales; kidnapping; and more.

For more, read: What Are Racketeering Charges?  Organized Crime, Gangs And Cartels, And Overcharging Rico and Racketeering In Texas: Criminal Defense Against Rico Charges.

Prison vs On the Street

Another example of the complexity of these matters can involve the crossover between prison incarceration and on-the-street defendants.  There are special due process arguments that may be applicable when someone is charged with a federal crime while already serving time behind bars.  See, e.g., Sowa, Justin L. “Gods behind bars: Prison gangs, due process, and the first amendment.” Brook. L. Rev. 77 (2011): 1593.

Complexity of the Criminal Defense

From a criminal defense perspective, the longer the list of charges included in a federal indictment, the more intense the prosecutor wants to pursue the case to trial and the more complex the defense will need to be to lessen charges, negotiate counts, or fight the charges.

Each and every facet of the legal arguments advanced by the prosecution will have to be researched for challenges that can be brought before the judge.  Evidence must be carefully considered, as well, not only for how it fits within the federal case (or the defense to it), but also insofar as to how it was collected.

There may be procedural arguments to be made, such as due process violations involving illegal search or seizure by overzealous agents that can result in exclusion of the evidence itself and possibly an alteration or dropping of charges.

For more here, read:

Sentencing Guidelines

Additionally, criminal defense considerations in any matter where Texas Mexican Mafia affiliations are involved have to include the potential impact of the United States Sentencing Guidelines (“USSG”).  These are formal sentencing requirements that must be considered by the federal judge in any federal criminal matter.

In prior articles, we explain how the USSG operate as a kind of a point system that builds an individual sentence, tallying base points, “enhancements,” and “mitigating factors.”  For more, including a discussion that takes the reader through the Sentencing Manual calculation process, read:

In Texas Mexican Mafia cases, there will need to be a thorough assessment of both the federal prosecutor’s case as well as an independent defense investigation and determination of the strengths and weaknesses of the case should it go to trial.  Working together, the defense attorney and the accused must determine what is in the best interests of the client and the optimal course of action to take.

In some situations, going to a full jury trial may be wise.  In other circumstances, working out a plea negotiation where there may be a lessening of the potential time of incarceration may be advisable.  Here, having an experienced criminal defense attorney with a prosecutorial background can be invaluable.

For more, read:

Today, members of the Texas Mexican Mafia have been, and remain, in the sights of federal law enforcement and prosecutors at the highest level, particularly when matters of drug trafficking in Texas are involved. Having a vigilant criminal defense counsel when facing federal investigation or charges is important.


For more information, check out our web resources, read Michael Lowe’s Case Results, and read his in-depth article,” Pre-Arrest Criminal Investigations.”


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