Samuel Villalba, a longtime member of the Mexican Mafia who had fallen out favor with the prison gang, was shot to death over the weekend in Long Beach, according to the police and law enforcement sources.
Officers responded about 8 p.m. Sunday to a homeless encampment near the 91 Freeway, where they found Villalba, 64, shot multiple times in the chest, the Long Beach Police Department said in a statement. At least two men were spotted running from the scene.
The police said the motive for the attack remained undetermined, but detectives were investigating it as gang-related.
Villalba, originally from the Artesia street gang, was classified as a Mexican Mafia member by state prison authorities in 1984, according to law enforcement records.
The Mexican Mafia is an organization of about 140 men, all but a handful of whom are incarcerated, that controls most Latino street gangs in Southern California. Mexican Mafia members levy “taxes,” or cuts of the proceeds of drug sales and other criminal rackets, from territories under their control; in exchange, they protect Latino gang members in the prison and jail systems.
Villalba was among 22 Mexican Mafia members and associates charged in a landmark racketeering case in 1994. An indictment implicated Villalba in the murder of Charles “Charlie Brown” Manriquez, a reputed Mexican Mafia member who briefly advised the director of the 1992 film “American Me.” Senior members of the Mexican Mafia were rumored to have been angered by the film, which depicted the organization’s rise — particularly by a scene that depicted a founding member being sodomized in juvenile hall.
Manriquez was shot to death on March 25, 1992 at the Ramona Gardens housing project in Boyle Heights. Ana Lizarraga, a paid consultant on the film, was gunned down by masked men two months after Manriquez’s slaying.
After being indicted, Villalba remained a fugitive for five months before he was arrested at a motel in Buena Park in 1995. He pleaded guilty to conspiring to commit racketeering and was sentenced to 14 years and eight months in prison, court records show.
Behind bars, Villalba got into a dispute with a senior Mexican Mafia member, and that effectively cast him out of the organization’s graces, according to law enforcement officials who weren’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and requested anonymity.
Villalba assaulted James “Rube” Soto, a respected and aging member of the Mexican Mafia who is now in his late 80s, an official said. In doing so, he violated a cardinal rule of the organization that forbids members from raising hands against one another. Inmates associated with the Mexican Mafia beat Villalba in retribution, and he left prison with a perennial target on his head, the officials said.
Villalba was sent back to prison in 2014 and 2016 for violating the terms of his supervised release, according to court records. He was last released from the federal prison system in January 2017, the records show. Long Beach police said Villalba had been living at the encampment where he was found dead.
Ramon “Mundo” Mendoza, a former member of the Mexican Mafia, said Villalba made a fatal mistake in returning to a neighborhood within the organization’s reach. “Sooner or later, someone’s going to report back: ‘Hey, guess who I saw?’” Mendoza said in an interview. “The guy is an open target. It’s what you’d call an open contract, a lifetime contract.”
For a Mexican Mafia member, ordering a dropout’s death is “like buying a soda pop,” he said. “It’s nothing to tell a Sureño” — the term for Latino street gang members loyal to the Mexican Mafia — “you’ve got the green light, the go-ahead. Take him out.”
Still, Mendoza said it was “extremely rare” for a dropout, as former members of the Mexican Mafia are called, to be killed. He could think of only one other: Anthony “Dido” Moreno in 1995. In a small El Monte apartment, gunmen shot to death not just Moreno, who had dropped out of the Mexican Mafia in 1983; they also killed, execution-style, his friend, Gus Aguirre; his sister, Maria Moreno; and Maria Moreno’s 5-year-old daughter and 6-month-old son.