Sheriff: Inmate gangs calling the shots

When gang members are locked up, they still try to orchestrate crimes

Tracy Lehr, KEYT NewsChannel 3 Reporter, tracy@keyt.com
POSTED: 05:25 PM PST Feb 07, 2013    UPDATED: 09:14 PM PST Feb 07, 2013 
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VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. -

If you think gang members serving time in jail or prison have lost their power, think again.  Ventura County's Assistant Sheriff Gary Pentis said inmates continue to orchestrate crimes. 

With more than 80 gangs represented in Ventura County Jail, preventing gang members from calling the shots is a priority.

Officials said they have a variety of ways to communicate.  Only postcards are allowed in Ventura County Jail,  but gang members have gotten creative.  They write in code and sometimes send postcards to each other.  They called the postcards between inmate gang members "color boomerangs." They are not supposed to have access to cellphones, but they have been smuggled into prisons.  

Inmates are allowed to use traditional phones.  Last year, wiretaps showed how the Mexican Mafia used its power and influence  from inside prison walls in Mexico to force rival street gangs in California to commit crimes for their benefit.  With that information, detectives prevented a homicide, and interrupted a robbery at a Ventura County pharmacy.  Gangs are trying to keep their criminal enterprise in power, and investigators said that takes money. 

Heroin and prescription drugs are believed to be their biggest money-makers.