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Joe Morgan: The Croatian Godfather of the Mexican Mafia!

The story of Joe “Pegleg” Morgan (upper right corner) is a fascinating tale of how a white man could reach to the top of the most feared Hispanic prison gang in the USA. For severaldecades, Morgan was one of the leading figures in the so-called Mexican Mafia, and he was asloved by his friends as he was feared by his enemies. Check out the story here!

Joseph Morgan was born in the San Pedro District of Los Angeles, California in 1929. Joe was raised by his Croatian mother in a predominantly Hispanic neighbourhood, and it didn’t take long before he got involved in the street gangs of East LA. When he was 17, Morgan wasconvicted of murder after he killed the husband of his older girlfriend with a tire iron . While in custody, he took on the identification papers of his cellmate and escaped, but he was soon captured. Joe was sentenced to 9 years in jail, and he became the youngest inmate ever at the San Quentin State Prison. Morgan was a tall and tough kid, who developed a goodrelationship with the latino convicts, because of his background in the street gang El Hoyo Soto Marvilla.

Joe was released on parole in 1955, but would go back to state prison the next year, after he hadrobbed a bank with a machine gun for almost $20,000. At the same time, a couple of young inmates at a youth facility in California decided to form a prison gang to protect themselves from other criminals, and this group would later be known as the Mexican Mafia (Even though they are named the Mexican Mafia, and have close connetions the drug cartels andorganized crime in Mexico, it is important to remember that we are talking about a United States prison gang). Growing up in East Los Angeles, and with a background from hispanic street gangs, Morgan would end up mentoring the young leaders of the group when they were later transferred to San Quentin. The Mexican Mafia, or La Eme (The letter M in spanish) soon got a reputation for being one of the most dangerous and most violent prison gangs in theentire country. As the power of the Eme grew, so did the power of Joe Morgan, and even though he was not hispanic, he became one of the godfathers of the Mexican Mafia.

Another picture of Joe Morgan and the leaders of the Eme (Upper Left corner)

“Papa Joe”, as he was called, is described as very intelligent, and a shrewd businessman. He had a calming presence on the often young and hot-blooded members. “Pegleg” (a nicknamehe got because of his artificial leg, but it was rarely said to his face) was also the mastermindbehind their most lucrative business; the drug trade. Due to his connections with the drug cartels, he was able to import pure heroin and cocaine from Mexico, and then supply it to the whole West Coast. “La Eme” became one of the first prison gangs to take their businessoutside of jail. Dealers in the area now had to choose between paying a “tax” on the profit to the gang, or a bullet in the head. There were few who said no. In a couple of years, Joe and the rest of the “brothers” (carnales) organized a drug racket that brought in hundreds ofthousands of dollars every month, making the organization even more powerful.

Because of Morgan’s race, he also had a connection with the Italian-American mob, and he would later be the man behind the alliance between La Eme and the Aryan Brotherhood. Both groups had a common rival in the African-American gang “Black Guerilla Family”, and the Mexican Mafia would often pay the Aryans for hits on “rats” or opposing gang members.Morgan’s best friend and protégé, Rodolfo Cadena wanted to gather all the hispanic gangs into one national crime syndicate, but he was killed by the “Eme’s” biggest rivals Nuestra Familia, after being stabbed over 50 times in 1972. This would begin one of the bloodiest feuds in theamerican prison system, and Eme members still have a “kill on sight” policy for Nuestra Familia members.

The Black Hand is one of the most famous signs of the Eme

In 1976, Joe Morgan was again released on parole. He married his girlfriend Jody, who he would have 2 children with, but he would soon enough find himself in trouble with the law again. After he was indicted with federal narcotics charges, he ran away to Utah, but was arrested there the next year. Even though he pleaded guilty and only received a moderate sentence in 1978, he would never again be a free man. The same year, a former Eme member turned on the gang, and testified against Joe. He pinned Morgan to several murders, both inside of prisonand out on the streets. “Pegleg” was sentenced to life in jail, to be served in the maximum security section of Pelican Bay State Prison. In the years to come Joe continued to a bementor for the Mexican Mafia, and many describe him as the most powerful Eme member ever. He became a legendary icon for many young gangsters, and even prison guards (who claim he was always kind and respectful towards them) say there was “something” about “Papa Joe”. A member who badmouthed the “White Godfather” in 1991 found out just how reveredMorgan was by the other members when he was stabbed 26 times in 1991.

Another sign of the power of the Mexican Mafia and Morgan was the year after, when they ordered their affiliate gangs on the streets to stop with the drive by shootings that had plaguedEast Los Angeles. In the next 6 months, not one drive by incident was reported, in an area that was notorious for its violence and gang related murders. In 1992, the movie American Me brought national fame to the prison gang. The Eme was not satisfied with how they had been portrayed though, and 3 people who had worked on the movie were killed because of it. Morgan himself filed a lawsuit against Universal Studios for basing one of the leading characters on him without Joe’s permission.

The next year though, Morgan was diagnosed with inoperable cancer and transferred toCalifornia State Prison in Corcoran where he died November 9, 1993 at the age of 64. Even to this day, and even though he had no hispanic blood in him, Joseph Morgan is a hero to manylatino gangsters, and they regard “Papa Joe” just as much a Chicano as they themselves are. A more historically correct look on the history of the Mexican Mafia, than the American Me movie, is the book “The Black Hand” by Chris Blatchford from 2008.

Inside the Mexican Mafia

Today the Mexican Mafia has almost 400 full members, with several thousand affiliates andallies. They are among other things involved in murders, drug trafficking, extortion, illegal gambling and prostitution. The Eme demands a tax from every hispanic street gang in Southern California, in exchange for protection when their members go to prison. This caused afeud with the notorious Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang, but even they now use thenumber 13, symbolizing the thirteenth letter in the alphabet in respect of  the Eme! Their most famous allies in addition to MS-13 are the Aryan Brotherhood, Armenian Power and of course all the loosely connected hispanic gang members (mostly in California) called “Sureños”. Their main enemies are Nuestra Familia, Black Guerilla Mafia and “Arizona’s New Mexican Mafia”.