When the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act of 1970 became Federal Law, its purpose was to close legal loopholes that were used by the worst of the worst; the crime bosses who controlled their criminal empires through the actions of others.
Its intent was to hold the bosses of the Sicilian La Cosa Nostra, the Irish Mob, the Russian Mafiya, and other organized crime families accountable for the orders they gave to others, even though they may never have gotten their own hands dirty.
The RICO Act allowed up to 20 years in prison and substantial fines for any member of an organization that has committed at least two of 35 specific crimes within a 10-year period.
Three Guys from Georgia
But even though every gangster knows that one day they may stand trial for their crimes, it isn’t likely that Freddy Sandoval, Angel Mazariegos, or Luis Nandy expected the same punishment that had been handed down to the late John Gotti. After all, Gotti had been the head of the Gambino Crime Family of New York. They were just gangsters from Georgia.
On October 30, 2007, Sandoval, Mazariegos and Nandy stood silently before a United States Federal Court as they were pronounced guilty of Racketeering. Both Mazariegos and Nandy faced twenty years in prison while Sandoval faced double that amount. None of the three were members of Mara Salvatrucha, 18th Street or the handful of Sureno gangs that had made national news. In fact, the gang to which they belonged didn’t even have a truly original name.
They were known simply as the Surenos, or the Sur 13 Gang.
The Sureno identity emerged from the edicts and practices of La Eme, a group that formed in the late 1950s at the Deuel Vocational Institute in Tracy, California.
Eme offered members protection from existing African American and White Supremacist prison gangs. Eme recruited largely from the Southern California varrios — a distinction that came to define them in the late 1960s when a violent conflict emerged between Eme and gang members from Northern California who adopted the name Nuestra Familia.
By the late 1970s, a rough dividing line was drawn between northern and southern territories, making the City of Bakersfield the northern tip of Sureno territory while the City of Delano became the southernmost territory of the North. The varrios or gangs on each side of the line were expected to follow the edicts of Eme or NF.
Migrations and Next Generations
To show their allegiance to Eme, Sureno gangs adopted the color blue and incorporated the number “13” into their names. Established varrios like Florencia, Tortilla Flats, and Frogtown began marking their territory with the identifiers F 13, CVTF 13, and FTR 13 signifying the birth of the Sureno gang identity.
Terms such as Sureno, Trece and Sur 13 came to be generic representations of a gang’s affiliation with La Eme. While the hundreds of different Sureno gangs fought each other on the street, they unified in jail and prison against the common rivals of Eme.
With migration to other parts of the United States for employment, family, or other reasons, members of rival Sureno varrios found themselves thrown together in small groups living in new, unfamiliar communities. Their common bond of Sureno affiliation — coupled with the perceived need for self-protection — drove many of these groups to organize into new gangs and identify themselves simply as Sur 13.
Although this trend was first noticed by law enforcement in the southwestern United States, it gradually spread across the county. Today, the Sur 13 gang is established from Miami to Seattle, Dallas to Minnesota, and virtually every region of the country. The Atlanta Metropolitan area — home to Angel Mazariegos, Luis Nandy and Freddy Sandoval — was no exception.
Quite the opposite, this second generation Sureno gang had established itself as one of the largest gangs in Atlanta. Following the convictions, U.S. Attorney David Nehmias told reporters:
“The street gang known as Sur-13 was devoted to committing acts of violence, including the murders of innocent persons as well as drive-by shootings and armed robbery.” He went on to say “The indictment broke the leadership structure of Sur 13, and the jury’s verdicts today seal the end of the gang’s reign of terror.”
Even though Nehmias seemed to have an optimistic view of how significant the long-term effect of the convictions would be, his description of the Sur 13 gang was on point. While the majority of Sureno gangs at that time had no formal structure or leadership, the Atlanta area Sur 13 gang was different.
Increasing Levels of Violence
In the mid-1990s, an ambitious gang member named Nicasio Calderon Uribe formed Atlanta’s Sur 13 gang. While a similar dynamic was happening in other parts of the country, Uribe’s gang was a stand-alone entity that was not directly affiliated with Sur 13 gangs in any other states. Uribe went to prison in 1998 and was subsequently deported, but the gang he created lived on without him.
By 1999, the Sur 13 gang was being led by Armando Prudente, who quickly stepped up the level of violence by ordering a drive-by shooting on members of the rival Brown Side Locos gang. At Prudente’s direction, Sur 13 members Roberto Sandoval — the brother of Sur 13 member Freddy Sandoval, Jorge Flores and other gang members drove to neighboring Gwinnett County in search of BSL members.
Armed with semi-automatic weapons, the group patrolled the streets of BSL territory looking for a target. Not long after entering Gwinnett County, Sandoval reportedly spotted a young Hispanic male driving a white Monte Carlo and ordered his driver to pull alongside the vehicle. As they approached the Monte Carlo, Flores took aim and fired two rounds, killing Rogelio Guzman, a Gwinnett County resident who was not affiliated with any gang whatsoever.
By March of 2008, almost a dozen more members of the Atlanta area Sur 13 gang had been convicted under the RICO act as part of the same federal investigation. Among these were thirty-four year old gang leader Armando Prudente and thirty-six year old Sur 13 founder Nicasio Uribe, who were both convicted of Racketeering. Prudente and Jorge Flores were also convicted of Violent Crimes in Support of Racketeering; a charge related to the murder of Rogelio Guzman.
Another Sur 13 member, Israel Cruz, was convicted of Racketeering and murder after evidence was presented that he shot and killed a member of the rival Vatos Locos gang. According to court testimony, in December of 2003 Cruz and other Sur 13 members had been attending a holiday party at a community center where members of Vatos Locos were also present. After a fight broke out, members of both gangs were ushered out of the community center by security personnel, where Cruz reportedly opened fire on a crowd of people that included rival gang members.
At least one of his shots struck and killed Florentino Marcial who, just like Rogelio Guzman before him, was not a gang member at all.
Along with these defendants, the U.S. District Court also convicted Sur 13 gang members Arturo Sanchez, Ricardo Gama, Avila Maldonado, Carlos Martinez, and Rodolfo Perez under the RICO act. With the sole exception of Freddy Sandoval, who was a United States citizen, every defendant was or will be deported upon completion of their prison sentences.
The Atlanta area RICO prosecution of the Sur 13 gang was the result of an extensive, time-consuming, and cooperative effort between members of Federal, State and Local law enforcement agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Atlanta Police Department, DeKalb County Police Department, Gwinnett County Police Department, Fulton County Police Department and other agencies. Both their efforts and their results were significant and successful.
Even so, the Sur 13 gang is still among the largest and most active gangs in the Atlanta area.