Joe Morgan — of the Mexican Mafia

Article by Seth Ferranti

Morgan came to the conclusion that a lot of La Eme members, when they hit the streets, were obsessed with settling old scores instead of benefitting the organization as a whole. He envisioned the gang getting into more profitable endeavors. He knew murder had its place, but he wanted to use violence to further La Eme’s ends instead of securing personal revenge. As early as 1973, California newspapers were identifying Morgan as the leader of the Mexican Mafia. He couldn’t stay out of prison, though. He was always going back on parole violations.

Then in 1975, out on parole, he was indicted on federal narcotics charges and fled to Utah. He remained on the loose until July of 1977 when he was captured, and a charge of trafficking firearms joined the drug charges and fugitive warrants. A year later, he was sent back to prison for being a felon in possession of a firearm and heroin possession.


“Morgan and other top La Eme members were part of a new generation of drug lords that didn’t answer to the Italian Mafia,” says Niko Vorobyov. “They made their own connects, getting heroin straight from the source. Before, the main smack track to the States ran through the Italians, who got it from French refineries and the Middle East. But as that route started drying up, it was time to look south of the border. Poppy’s been grown in the hills of Sinaloa in Mexico since the nineteenth century. And the connections that Morgan put together in prison allowed La Eme and their street affiliates to start moving Mexican black-tar heroin in the seventies.”

Morgan had ample heroin connections. He was known as a guy who could get weight. In time, a childhood friend hiding out in Mexico, Harry Gamboa Buckley, raised in the streets of Maravilla, introduced Morgan to Jesus “Chuy” Araujo, head of the Araujo drug cartel.

Shortly after Araujo became Morgan’s main supplier of heroin, Morgan let everyone in Southern California’s criminal underworld know that if they were in the dope business, they had to sell Mexican Mafia dope. Refuse to do so and you were hit. As in murdered.

“Morgan considered the gang’s financial condition the most important aspect, but other brothers didn’t share his opinion,” says Scott Burnstein. “With made members in every major southern city in California, Morgan knew that La Eme was sitting on a gold mine. Morgan envisioned La Eme being like the Italian Mafia.”

Morgan advocated for a situation where he and other Mexican Mafia leaders functioned as Carlo Gambino or Lucky Luciano types, calling the shots while the soldiers did the dirty work, and counting the money all the way to the bank.

In the late 1970s, gang hit man Mundo Mendoza, having embraced Christianity, became a government informant. Morgan had no idea that one of his trusted confidants was actively working against him, playing ball with law enforcement. Mendoza testified that Morgan was responsible for ordering multiple murders both inside prison and out on the street. He implicated Morgan in the murder of Robert Mrazek, a La Eme associate, who was shot to death in 1977. Prosecutors presented evidence that Mrazek’s wife Helen asked Joe Morgan to kill her husband. According to a 1993 Los Angeles Times article, the La Eme kingpin first asked Mendoza to do the hit (the paper called Mrazek a “suspected Seal Beach drug dealer”). Mendoza claimed Morgan supplied him with a photo of Mrazek, his house key, and a .45-caliber pistol stuffed in a brown paper bag.

Ultimately, the execution was handled by La Eme member Arthur Guzman, who, along with Morgan and Mrazek’s wife, were all sentenced to life in state prison.

The year was 1978. Joe Morgan would never see the streets again.


“I was housed on the same tier with Morgan at Folsom during the mid-1980s,” an individual known as Serious Steve tells Penthouse. “What immediately struck me was how the guards treated him with a civility and deference I had not encountered before in prison. Morgan had him some presence. He was a strongly built person a head taller than most of the other carnales and was cat-quick on the handball court. He was fluent in like four languages and could speak intelligently on most any subject. A charismatic, charming individual. And very intense, to say the least. When Joe Morgan spoke, everyone listened. I never heard anyone refer to him as Pegleg.”