Joe Morgan — of the Mexican Mafia

Article by Seth Ferranti

One of the strategic moves Morgan helped guide was establishing the pact with the Aryan Brotherhood, known as the AB. “He was a liaison,” Valdemar remembers, before adding, “but the AB had a close relationship with all the Mexican Mafia members.”

Elaborating on Morgan’s personality and approach as a La Eme shot caller, Valdemar offers this: “I would say he’s one of those people that commanded your attention. If he was in the military, he would have been a leader. He wasn’t loud. He wasn’t boisterous. He didn’t try to inflict himself on anyone else. He just quietly took command.”

The Mexican Mafia has no official hierarchy. Unlike the sprawling Latin Kings gang, they don’t bestow titles and don’t elect “Coronas” to rule the organization. Mexican Mafia members rise to de facto leadership according to what’s needed at the time and who’s in power. It was law enforcement that labeled Morgan a godfather. But in truth, he was just a loyal member of La Eme who took charge to benefit the gang — and had the help of several equally powerful members who backed him. Morgan was a natural leader, so he took on a leadership role.

He knew his clout. He didn’t need an official title.

“To rise to the pinnacle of La Eme, as a güero no less, he must have been one smart, devious, bad motherfucker,” says Chris Kasparoza. “But also a loyal, charismatic one, with a code of honor. There was a reason why so many alpha-male murderers deferred to him, and even the cops tasked with locking him up were impressed. Morgan could get people to calm down. He was a diplomat in a certain sense.”

“His main allies,” says Al Profit, “were Ramon ‘Mundo’ Mendoza, Robert ‘Robot’ Salas, Alfred ‘Alfie’ Sosa, and Edward ‘Sailor Boy’ Gonzales. With these hard-core brothers, Morgan implemented La Eme’s decrees on the streets, which led to more power inside the prison system. During this part of the 1970s, the Mexican Mafia would become well-known all over California. All the Mexican street gangs paid tribute to La Eme. The organization’s name spread fear. Along with the brotherhood’s growth, of course, is the fact that law enforcement was getting hip to the gang and who their leaders were, in and out of prison.”

As his power grew, Morgan developed enemies and detractors within La Eme.

“Two OGs — Reymundo ‘Bevito’ Alvarez, who murdered a BGF shot caller, and Ernest ‘Kilroy’ Roybal — schemed against this rising soldado,” says Christian Cipollini. “They insisted that no one should be in La Eme who wasn’t Latino. They didn’t like Morgan, but Morgan had too much clout. He was paroled from Folsom in 1971, and when he hit the streets there were dozens of La Eme members on the outside as well. Morgan set about to try and organize the brothers into a cash-producing criminal enterprise.”

This Anglo shot caller wanted to “spread the Eme gospel.” Along with longtime friend Rodolfo Cadena, he launched a strategy of leveraging the organization’s power inside prison to control territory in the wider world.

Says Gangster Report’s Burnstein: “The ‘If you own the inside, you can own the outside’ philosophy grew La Eme to epic heights. Morgan’s contributions to the gang’s expansion were invaluable. Not only did his connections to narcotics suppliers catapult the Mexican Mafia into being instant, major players in the California dope game, his skills as a gangland politician paid dividends in the form of alliances and business relationships with other criminal factions — the Italian Mafia, Aryan Brotherhood, outlaw biker gangs.”

Morgan (top row, right) and other Mexican Mafia members at a funeral, San Francisco, 1976