Parole recommended for former California Mexican Mafia chief

AP News
Posted: Feb 05, 2016 6:17 PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Acting amid extra tight security, parole commissioners on Friday again recommended the release of a former leader of the Mexican Mafia prison gang who now helps law enforcement, Board of Parole Hearings spokesman Luis Patino said.

Rene "Boxer" Enriquez has been in prison since 1993 on a 20 years-to life sentence for two murders, multiple assaults and conspiracy to traffic in controlled substances.

It's the second time that parole officials decided that he can safely be released. However, Gov. Jerry Brown last year rejected parole for the 53-year-old Enriquez and has about five months in which he can block it again.

"Hopefully this time the governor will let him go home," Enriquez's attorney, Michael Beckman, said after the hearing. "We're glad the commissioners did the right thing. I hope the governor will too."

Brown last year rejected Enriquez's parole in part because of concerns that he would be targeted for retaliation by other gang members if he is released. That could endanger not only Enriquez but his family, parole agents and the community, Brown said.

That was reflected in Friday's hearing. Prison officials kept the timing and location of the hearing secret, citing unspecified safety concerns for Enriquez and prison employees.

"The Board of Parole Hearings feels these precautions are necessary in this unique case," Patino said in an email.

Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Steve Sowders said three survivors testified against his parole by video conference and were allowed to use only their first names in another unusual step.

"They're concerned about their safety," he said. "This is because of the case involves the Mexican Mafia."

Enriquez drew attention last year when the Los Angeles Police Department used an invalid court order, spent $22,000 and cleared a downtown Los Angeles building so Enriquez could speak to an exclusive gathering of law enforcement and business leaders.

He has talked in recent years to various groups of officers and provided valuable information on the transnational criminal enterprise to which he once belonged, Los Angeles Police Deputy Chief Michael Downing said afterward.

Enriquez testified at his last parole hearing that he was being paid a stipend of $200 a week to give lectures to California law enforcement officials and teach an online course on major prison gangs.

Sowders said there were more than 60 letters from law enforcement agencies supporting Enriquez's parole. He acknowledged that Enriquez has provided "great and valuable assistance."

However, he argued Enriquez has failed to fully accept or explain how he rose to become a leader of the infamous prison gang. That's among the reasons Brown gave in denying his parole last year.

The government went to extraordinary lengths to protect him once he began cooperating in 2005, Enriquez testified at his last hearing, including booking him into custody under a false name for possession of a swordfish without a license at one point.

Enriquez wrote a book about his gangland experiences, "The Black Hand," using a nickname for the gang also known by its Spanish language initial, La Eme.