In order to prove their charge that the Mexican Mafia prison gang is a criminal enterprise, federal prosecutors played a secretly recorded videotape Tuesday in which some suspected Mafia members on trial in Los Angeles were seen discussing gang business.
The four-hour tape provided a rare inside look at the prison group that federal authorities say is responsible for controlling local street gangs through murder and intimidation.
Some of the defendants at a March 27, 1994, meeting at a Los Angeles-area hotel were seen mulling over edicts to kill fellow Mafia members and others; talking disparagingly about one reputed Mafia leader and his wife, and considering retaliation after one of them was shot at as a result of a street gang dispute in the San Bernardino County community of Chino.
"Chino has to pay the price," defendant and suspected Mafia member Raymond "Huero Shy" Shryock is heard to say after telling others at the hotel gathering that he was shot at. "These guys have to be dealt with."
Shryock was heard telling others at the meeting that he approved of any action, including murder, that some Chino gang members might take against others. As a result, he boasted on the tape that two rival gang members were killed.
The black-and-white video is expected to be the first of many in the federal case against 13 suspected Mafia members and associates. Federal investigators, aided by Los Angeles police and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, secretly recorded many meetings to build a case to blunt the prison gang's growing influence.
The government's chief witness, former Mafia member Ernest "Chuco" Castro, was at the 1994 meeting and was heard making comments on the tape. But most of the meeting, attended by about eight people, was dominated by two figures: Shryock and suspected Mafia member Daniel "Black Dan" Barela.
They are seen talking at length about the group's dealings.
Highlighting defense arguments that there is no Mexican Mafia, however, the meeting's participants rarely used the term "Mexican Mafia" to describe themselves.
They disdained the term as they were heard complaining that law enforcement agencies belittled measures their group encouraged to reduce gang violence.
"The CDC [California Department of Corrections] put a label [the Mexican Mafia] on us long ago," Shryock said on the tape. "I, for one, am for . . . representing ourselves" publicly in the news media in order to gain favorable publicity, he said.
The participants discussed approaching KNBC-TV news reporter Joe Rico about doing such a story, but it was unclear whether the idea was followed through. Rico could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.
Before the tape was played for the jury, the judge agreed to a motion by CBS Inc. to grant access to videotapes and audio recordings once they are admitted into evidence. Because of security concerns and other considerations, the secret recordings and other evidence in the case have been sealed.
U.S. District Judge Ronald S.W. Lew rejected defense arguments that releasing the tapes would sensationalize the proceedings. CBS attorney Frederick F. Mumm said that the network would agree to alter the faces of the government's cooperating witnesses--including Castro--to protect their identity, and to eliminate references to suspected Mafia member Ambrose "Sporty" Gill, who will be tried separately at a later date.