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The structure of gang taxes

KEYT NewsChannel 3 teamed up with to go through hundreds of pages in a grand jury transcript into the murder of a Santa Maria gang member.

The killing of Anthony Ibarra last March put the spotlight on the subculture of the gang structure and something called a “gang tax.” The transcript also describes in brutal detail what happens to those who don’t pay up.

Gang experts quoted in the transcript estimate there are 2,000 Sureno gang members in Santa Barbara County (made up of smaller rival gangs), although some say the number is double that amount. Half of them, up to 1,200 — possibly double — live in Santa Maria.

The “tax collector” is a gang member who has jockeyed for a position of power.

In Ibarra’s case, it was allegedly Ramon “Crazy Ray” Maldonado. He and his minions came calling through the streets of Santa Maria not once but several times. Santos “Little Tuffy” Sauceda had fronted Ibarra a $400 personal loan and a supply of meth to sell. It added up to roughly $1,200.

But Ibarra never turned the drug profits over to his gang or paid back the debt.

Testimony in the transcript reveals that in addition to that, Ibarra failed to pay his gang taxes, a severe act disrespect. Word got back to Maldonado.

“If you are asked for it, approached by someone who is a Mexican Mafia affiliate, you have to pay that money right now,” said Deputy District Attorney Hilary Dozer. “Or there is a consequence.”

In Ibarra’s case, the consequence was torture and a beating that killed him. Eleven defendants are now on trial for his murder.

Police say it is a disturbing new trend.

“It’s definitely more violent now, more violence related to taxing and narcotics,” said Santa Maria Police Lt. Kim Graham. “We seem to have a more violent group coming in.”

And this type of brutality is common in the subculture of gang life.

“Failing to live up to your obligation, pay up, enforcement will take place as a group-related activity,” said Dozer, an expert on Santa Barbara County and California gangs.

The gang tax pays for the so-called “honor” of selling drugs. And for protection from the gang. Taxing works from the bottom, or the streets, up to the Mexican Mafia, also known as La Eme, in prison.

Each gang in Santa Barbara County is required to pay a $500 tax — every month — plus extra, depending how much money each gang member brings in.

The grand jury transcript names three contacts between Maldonado and La Eme: Anthony Noska and Raymond Macias, both out of the Santa Barbara area, and above them, a man with ties to Fresno.

Take note of that central valley location.

California’s gangs are geographically split between the south and north; Bakersfield is the dividing line, not far from Fresno.

Latino gangs from the Mexican border up to the central valley are known as “Surenos,” or southerners. Those in Northern California are called “Nortenos,” northerners.

So, in Santa Maria, where you have several rival gangs, once in prison (as is often the fate of criminals and drug dealers), those rivalries are put aside and those inmates unite as Surenos. It is a rule of survival behind bars.

Both Dozer and testimony in the transcript confirm that the Surenos are controlled by the Mexican Mafia, and reputation is everything. The more successful a gang member is on the streets, the better they’re treated in prison. Don’t follow the rules, you will be punished behind bars.

“In prison you would have sanctioned or allowed beat-downs, knifings, killings,” said Dozer. “Those are things that occur frequently.”

And that’s from their own.

“If you get jumped into a gang you are a member. To get out is very difficult,” said Graham. “It is a very risky thing to do.”

La Eme also has enemies: Nuestra Familia, made up of gang members from Northern California. So, the head gangs have allies. In La Eme’s case, it’s the Aryan Brotherhood.

What’s so disturbing is that these gangs are growing in numbers and power — both behind bars and on the streets, according to both Dozer and Graham.

“I don’t think we’re overwhelmed other than the fact that we don’t have enough numbers,” Graham said. “We know what we’re facing but we just don’t have the staffing. The Chief is trying to address that and get more people into our gang unit.”

The suspects’ next court appearance is scheduled for July 18.

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