The Latino organized crime outfit that I have chosen to target for prosecution is the Nortenos. This is a street level gang that operates out of Salinas, California, and in other surrounding towns. There is evidence that indicates that this organized crime outfit participates in a hierarchy (Jameson, 1974, p. 395) of gang activity within California, which is principally controlled by the Nuestra Familia gang, which has been existent for approximately 40 years. It is significant to note that the vast majority of the Nuestra Familia are incarcerated, and conduct activity from various federal (and some state) prisons. These leaders disseminate orders through mid-level gangs who are referred to as Bros, and which encompass a gang known as Nuestra Raza (Reynolds, 2010). Nortenos tend to act out the direct orders of the Nuestra Raza, and are the "foot soldiers" in a gang war that has been waged for a considerable amount of time.
Like most California street gangs, the Nortenos operate and traffic in illegal narcotics. Hence, one of the principle points of prosecution will be directed at this operation of the organized crime outfit, for the simple fact that much of the other illegal activity that street gangs participate in -- murders, perjury, kidnaping and extortion -- all stem from drug related offenses and tactics. Another principle point of the prosecution for the Nortenos will be aimed at their involvement with incarcerated members, which include operatives of Nuestra Familia and Nuestra Raza, and local Salinas gangs such as Salinas Acosta Plaza, Salinas East Market, and East Las Casitas (Reynolds, 2010). Lastly, this prosecution will also look to incorporate aspects of Ceasefire, particularly those elements of this California based initiative that works with former gang members to assist in decreasing gang violence.
In order to successfully elucidate the strategy that will be employed to prosecute the Nortenos, it is necessary to discuss the way this operation works in relation to its "parent organization," Nuestra Familia. It is extremely rare for gangs that operate at the level of the Nortenos to engage in any sort of missive that involves significant interaction with another gang without the express consent and orders of those operating above them in their hierarchy (Jameson, 1974, p. 395-396). Therefore, targeting the Nortenos will inevitably lead to repercussions that influence the entire Nuestra Familia organization. Furthermore, any potential arrests or convictions can also lead to further arrests and convictions going up this hierarchy through the usage of informants who will in all likelihood be willing to testify against higher level operatives in order to reduce their own potential prison time. Therefore, despite the fact that the Nortenos are not one of the most reputed Latino organized crime outfits, they have intrinsic ties with some of the leaders of this genre of crime families, and can be of substantial usage in the disruption of Latino organized crime.
The principle target of this investigation will revolve about the drug dealing activities of the Nortenos for the simple fact that it is the most lucrative venture for this particular organization. For all of the violence and the terror that accompanies many of the actions of street gangs, the most vital ones are those that directly contribute to their sources of revenue. Without these sources of revenue, the gangs lose membership and focus and can eventually dissipate (usually to be replaced by other gangs). Drug dealing is the most profitable of such activities among California street gangs in the 21st century.
Moreover, there is evidence that indicates that one of the most readily accessible and successful ways to infiltrate and prosecute an organized crime outfit is by focusing on illicit narcotics trafficking (Reynolds, 2010). Traditionally, the RICO Act and its statutes were used to seek indictments against organized crime outfits. RICO mandates, however are much more time consuming and require greater resources on the part of law enforcement agencies. As such, this approach has largely been supplanted in recent years by those that focus on drug trafficking, which the following quotation implies.
…drug-based cases are easier to prove in court than the feds' preferred tool against organized crime: the Rico statutes (Racketeering-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations), passed in 1970 to prosecute the Mafia. Proving a RICO case means showing a racketeering enterprise has a pattern of criminal activity over time. Proving a drug case…is far simpler.
The central strategy used to convict the Nortenos of illicit drug trafficking is referred to as conspiracy. Conspiracy charges are extremely difficult for defendants to beat for the simple fact that prosecutors must simply demonstrate that a group of individuals had the intention to commit a crime. They do not necessarily have to commit that crime to become convicted of conspiracy. The fundamental method for building a case of drug conspiracy against the Nortenos will involve both electronic and physical surveillance. The former has become substantially easier to implement with the passage of the U.S.A. PATRIOT act, which legalized the wiretapping and monitoring of electronic activities (such as the internet) of domestics in the United States. Although the act was designed to limit the efforts and effectiveness of terrorists, it also expanded the definition of this term to include domestic terrorists, such as the organized crime outfits like the Nortenos who have been known to commit murders and put illegal narcotics on the streets for profit. By utilizing live recordings (via video surveillance) and wire taps of conversations between individuals even suspects of affiliation with the Nortenos, let alone those that readily confirm the fact by baring tattoos showing their affiliation with this and other gangs related to the Nortenos, law enforcement agencies can successfully build a case towards conspiracy to distribute illegal drugs.
In essence, surveillance will aid prosecution in two separate ways. The first of these is to gather evidence that there actually is a conspiracy to sell drugs. The latter is to aid in the procuring of informants who can assist the prosecution. The tactics whereby informants can be recruited are fairly straightforward. Authorities must simply arrest or threaten to arrest individuals who have committed lesser crimes than the more lengthy drug dealing offenses. However, these individuals must have inner connections with the Nortenos and make for a plausible purchaser of narcotics. Discerning such individuals will require surveillance measures. Once such individuals are ascertained and arrested for participating in a lesser offense, their own prison time and negative repercussions should be contrasted with the possibility of a reduced sentence if they assist in aiding law enforcement agencies in their conspiracy prosecution.
The most critical component about utilizing such informants for the potential purchasing or selling of narcotics that involves the Nortenos, is to get the evidence of the transaction. The most preferable form of evidence is video, although audio evidence can assist in this process as well. Once there is documented evidence of the transacting of illicit street drugs for monetary purposes, the next step is to then round up all of the individuals involved with the conspiracy and arrest them, at one time. Law enforcement officials have had a great degree of success with such roundups in California in particular. Arrests based on conspiracy charges in the state include Operation Tapout, Operation Knockout, and Operation Crimson Tide (Reynolds, 2010). In all of these operations multiple individuals have been arrested on one principle case.
However, prior to making the arrests, it is prudent to validate the fact that members of the Nortenos are actually part of a gang, so that they can separated from the general prison population while awaiting trial and serving any time if convicted. The Bureau of Narcotics Force demonstrated the effectiveness of this measure by working with the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in California as early as 2010 (Reynolds, 2010). This measure will circumscribe the ability of…