AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - Four men are awaiting trial on murder charges and more than a dozen others have been sent to prison with federal drug convictions in what court documents show is a result of a crackdown by federal, state and local authorities on a gang born in Texas prisons.
FBI Special Agent Stephen Hause told the Austin American-Statesman in a story published Monday that two FBI agents and 17 state and local officers comprise a task force that for two years has been investigating the Mexican Mafia. It's one of the law enforcement group's biggest cases in recent years.
"If you let a group like (the Texas Mexican Mafia) grow and prosper, it's just a matter of time before the violence increases," Hause told the newspaper. "In San Antonio, the Mexican Mafia is strong, and they control neighborhoods. ... There have been a lot of gang-related murders. ... We just hope not to let that happen here."
A federal affidavit shows investigators using taps on gang members' phones caught a break in September 2010 when a conversation revealed plans to move a murder victim's body. The information was passed to authorities in the Austin area who pulled over a pickup truck driven by two suspected gang members.
In the bed of the truck was the body of 35-year-old Walter Capello, of Lockhart. He'd been stabbed 63 times. Authorities believe Capello was killed because gang members believed someone close to him had been working with police.
Four men have been charged with his slaying.
"You are talking about people with skills in the drug trade, who are willing to do violence, acting as one unit," Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Cottingham said. "You want to keep them from getting out of control."
A 63-page affidavit with some details of the investigation was unsealed earlier this month after a federal judge sentenced 16 suspected gang members to prison. Nine of them have received sentences of at least 20 years.
Hause said it's not clear whether the gang's influence will continue to grow. Its ranks on the outside world are dependent on the release of members from Texas prisons, where the gang was formed in the 1980s to provide protection to those who join. Once outside, they deal in drugs, contract killings, prostitution, robbery, gambling and weapons. Its president, Heriberto Huerta, is serving life at a federal prison in Colorado but investigators believe he's still able to give orders.
Authorities say the gang is bankrolled by a tax, known on the street as "the Dime," which it imposes on drug dealers not affiliated with the gang.