The fascinating history of the Sureño Mongol, Ruben Cavazos

Street cops should have an understanding of gang history — rest assured, members of the gangs you interact with have a very good understanding of that history, and it can affect their actions


Whether you work a full-time gang unit in your department, or you patrol an area impacted by gang activities, you probably focus a large portion of your energy on the here and now — criminal interdiction and investigation of the immediate past and future. It can be helpful, however, to have an understanding of the historical record of certain gangs and gang members — rest assured, members of the gangs you interact with have a very good understanding of that history, and it can affect their actions. 

One of the many fascinating chapters in ‘the big book of gang history’ is the story of Ruben Cavazos. While many Sureño gang members have gained public attention throughout the country, the case of Ruben Cavazos was different than most. He wasn’t a serial killer, he didn’t move up the ranks of the Sureño umbrella to status with the Mexican Mafia. 

Instead, Cavazos drew attention to himself and his gang affiliation by trying to merge the drastically different worlds of Los Angeles area Sureño gangs and American Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs.

An Idiosyncratic Person
Cavazos was born in the Highland Park community of Los Angeles and at an early age became a member of the Avenues gang. Prone to violence as a teenager, it wasn’t long before he found himself in and out of jail. Even so, he ultimately became a licensed radiologist earning a living by doing X-Rays at Los Angeles area hospitals. 

Despite having a career and a family, Cavazos didn’t abandon his gang ties — he did just the opposite. While never denying his Sureño roots, Cavazos also chose to prospect for and eventually gain membership into the Mongols; an Outlaw Motorcycle Gang with its roots in East Los Angeles. 

By most accounts, Cavazos was never happy with mere membership in the Mongols and had his eyes on the presidency from almost the moment he first wore their black and white patch. Cavazos — whose radiology profession earned him the club nickname “Doc” — was known for challenging both the existing leadership of the Mongols as well as the very essence of the club. Sometimes he did so through behind-the-scenes politicking and maneuvering and other times through outright and open criticism of club leaders and past practices.

In his autobiography Honor Few, Fear None: The Life and Times of a Mongol, Cavazos described attending a club event when he was a relatively new member and being disappointed if not disgusted with what he saw. What he found at the club gathering were a small handful of old, docile, or drunken men who seemed as far from Outlaw Bikers as they could be. After this, he a difficult and often-confrontational rise through the ranks of the Mongols, eventually unseating the previous president and becoming the gang’s much recognized international president.

In Cavazos’ opinion, the club was losing — or had already lost — this reputation and now appeared to be weak and vulnerable -- not the reputation he wanted for the Mongols. Just like the Sureño gang to which he claimed membership, the Avenues, he wanted the Mongols to be both respected and feared regardless of whether or not they were outnumbered by their rivals. 

This mirrored the popular gang motto “Pocos pero locos!” — “Few, but crazy!” 

Prior to Cavazos’ reign, La Eme were allies with the Mongols on the street and in prison. When in prison, members of the Mongols could walk jail housing units and prison yards with few problems. In his book Under and Alone, former ATF Agent William “Billy” Queen talked about how “they’d (Mongols) made efforts to recruit from the Chicano criminal culture of East L.A., which had become a feared force within the California prison system, and forged a dangerous alliance with La Eme, or the Mexican Mafia.”

But, there were a few incidents between younger Mongol and Sureño members that would soon put this alliance at risk. In addition, the leadership decision Cavazos made to aggressively and effectively merge his Sureño roots with his Outlaw Motorcycle gang present proved to put the two criminal cultures on a collision course. 

An Impending Conflict
Since most Outlaw Motorcycle gangs prospect only a few people at a time, there was rarely drastic change in the membership. To speed up the process and increase the visibility of his club in Southern California, Cavazos began granting membership to large numbers of Sureños — many of whom neither owned nor rode motorcycles. Cavazos’ actions, though expanding the influence of the Mongols, caused dissension among the majority of the long-time members. 

Apart from internal conflict, he also brought about the unwanted attention of La Eme, who now felt the pseudo-merger entitled them to receive tax money. Despite having a clear understanding of the responsibilities that Sureño affiliation carried, Cavazos disagreed with Eme’s position — and did so less than respectfully. Even with the long-standing bonds between the Mongols and Eme, Cavazos’ decision to declare the Mongols as tax-free became a catalyst to violence. 

In January of 2004, members of the Mongols met with members of the Bassett Grande Gang in Arcadia, California to purchase methamphetamine and attend a party. During the party, a Bassett Grande member recognized one of the Mongols as a Sureño who was still on Eme’s green-light list. A confrontation took place between Bassett Grande — who had a duty to act on Eme’s green light — and the Mongols who were expected to stand their ground. As a result, one Mongol was killed and others were seriously injured. 

About a week later, a Mongol member in the City of Rosemead discovered a meth lab being run out of a motel room by members of the Sureños Sangra gang. He confronted the gang members about their lab, at which time the Sangra — aware that Los Angeles County Sheriff Department were in the area — dismantled their lab and left. 

The Mongol, however, followed them into the parking lot and continued the confrontation, which ultimately ended when he was shot and killed. The fleeing suspect was captured by LASD and a large quantity of meth was seized. Two months later, Eme shot callers demanded $20,000 from the Mongols for the financial loss and disrespect they had suffered, and added that refusal would result in attacks on Mongol members both in and out of custody. 

One month later, the Mongols announced that they had no intention of paying and were prepared for war.

An Inevitable Arrest
The older members of the Mongols were no strangers to the politics of co-existing with other criminal organizations and realized that Cavazos’ actions had put the club at odds with La Eme — a battle they neither wanted nor had chosen. Furthermore, their suspicion that Cavazos had embezzled money from the club led them not only to vote Cavazos out of office, but out of the club completely. 

Although he had lost his office, his power, and his club membership, Cavazos had not yet reached bottom.

On October 21, 2008, federal authorities arrested 38 members of the Mongols Motorcycle Club in a sweep known as Operation Black Rain. Among the arrestees was recently dethroned Mongols president Ruben “Doc” Cavazos, who was taken into custody at his West Covina home. 

Cavazos ultimately pled guilty to a single count of racketeering and was sentenced to more than 20 years in Federal prison. Under their new leadership, the Mongols have allegedly come to an agreement with La Eme that will prevent retaliation against the club for the disrespect shown to them by Cavazos. 

After rising from the ranks of the Avenues to the presidency of the Mongols and landing in Federal Prison, Cavazos — the man who attempted to merge the cultures of the Mongols and Surenos — must now concern himself with when and if the Black Hand of La Eme will reach out and exact revenge for the perceived disrespect he has shown them.

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