California parole officials have approved the release of a notorious former Mexican Mafia prison gang leader who has been cooperating with law enforcement for nearly 20 years.
Two consecutive governors previously blocked parole for Rene “Boxer” Enriquez in part based on the argument that he is safer in prison than on the streets, where he may be targeted as a snitch by his old cronies.
“They can’t deny him parole based on, ‘He might be in danger.’ That’s kind of his risk to take,” his attorney, Laura Sheppard, said Tuesday.
Authorities have taken extraordinary steps to protect him over the years, once booking him into custody under a false name on a bogus charge of possessing a swordfish without a license.
In 2015, the Los Angeles Police Department used SWAT officers and a police helicopter to secure a downtown building so Enriquez could speak to a group of police chiefs and business leaders about the gang’s growth and operations. Just last week, prison officials refused to provide his current photograph, citing security concerns.
“With his knowledge of the mafia, it’s his belief that if he stays out of their way … that he’ll be fine,” Sheppard said. “He doesn’t believe they’re going to chase him down like you see in the movies, hunt him throughout the world.”
Yet Enriquez plans to keep cooperating with federal authorities as they are again prosecuting the leadership of the prison-based gang that began in the 1950s in a juvenile jail and has since grown into an international criminal organization.
“It’s how he makes amends,” Sheppard said. “He’s probably prevented more crimes than he was ever involved in.”
He has been in prison since 1993, serving a life sentence for two second-degree murders, multiple assaults and drug trafficking conspiracy.
Enriquez joined the Mexican Mafia — nicknamed the Black Hand or “La Eme,” its Spanish language initial — in 1985 while serving an earlier prison stint for rape and armed robbery, according to parole records. He spent nearly the next two decades building a reputation within the gang through murder, drug-running and terror, both in and out of prison.
Gov. Gavin Newsom turned over the final decision on the fate of Enriquez, now age 60, to a hearing by a 12-member panel of the 21-member parole board.
He cited in part the “unique security threats.” Enriquez has revealed “the inner workings of large-scale gang associations, and informed on individual gang members. He testified for the prosecution in numerous cases,” Newsom wrote.
Officials including a retired assistant director for the California prison system told the parole panel during a hearing Monday that Enriquez is a changed man who will continue contributing to law enforcement’s battle against the gang.
“I’ve seen the worst of the worst and I know that he has definitely changed his world,” said retired San Diego Police detective and gang expert Felix Aguirre.