Rene Enriquez boasts an impressive law enforcement resume.
Author. Expert witness. Government consultant. College lecturer.
But he achieved such respected standing because of his earlier life's work: Killer, drug dealer and Mexican Mafia "shot caller."
Enriquez, 52, was at the center of a public controversy this week when Los Angeles police drew criticism for arranging a meeting in which he gave a lecture to a private group of local business leaders and some law enforcement officials. Records show his close relationship with law enforcement goes well beyond Wednesday's event in downtown Los Angeles and has helped the former member of the Mexican Mafia — sometimes known as "La Eme" — make a bid for freedom.
A state parole board recently decided that Enriquez should be released, despite concerns expressed by a prosecutor, according to records obtained by The Times. Enriquez's fate is now in the hands of Gov. Jerry Brown, who has about three more weeks to decide whether he should be freed.
Enriquez's request for parole included letters by officials from 11 law enforcement agencies who said he had helped with investigations and prosecutions, according to a transcript of his Sept. 25 parole hearing. The letters praised Enriquez's work but only one specifically suggested that the board consider granting him parole.
The letters were written by officials from the district attorney's offices in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties; the California Department of Justice, the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, the U.S. Department of Justice, the FBI, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; and police in Anaheim and Monterey Park.
Enriquez told parole commissioners that he receives $200 a week from work for the FBI and ATF, money he used to help "pay the mortgage and put the kids through school." He said he expects to continue receiving the payments if he is released.
"I know that I have a really good career lined up with law enforcement," he said. "I found purpose in my life. What I do now is much more satisfying than committing crimes. That I could actually give back, to a community that I've impacted so, so wrongly."
But a Los Angeles County prosecutor who spoke at the hearing asked commissioners to consider whether Enriquez was manipulating them. Deputy Dist. Atty. Joseph Shidler told the parole board that Enriquez had "one of the worst criminal histories that I have ever seen."
"The inmate has taken the Eme, the Mexican Mafia, and made a growth industry of it," Shidler said. "He has used [this] to try to buy his ticket out of prison, to support his family, to make money."
Enriquez was raised as one of six children in Cerritos, he told the board, and was jumped into a gang against his will at the age of 12 by his older brother's "homeboys." He started using and selling drugs and was in and out of juvenile lockups for a string of burglaries and other crimes.
In 1979, he was arrested on suspicion of forcible rape and kidnapping, according to the transcript. Enriquez admitted that he was one of several youngsters who committed the sex crime, calling it "truly reprehensible." Soon after he was released from juvenile hall, he was arrested for a string of robberies and sentenced to state prison.
It was then, he said, that he came in contact with the Mexican Mafia, a notorious prison gang. He joined the gang in 1985 and rose through the ranks, ordering hits and tattooing gang symbols on his body, including "the black hand of death" on his chest.
Eight years later, he was sentenced to life in prison for the murders of two people: a Mexican Mafia member who had run afoul of the group for running away from a gunfight; and a drug dealer whom Enriquez accused of stealing drugs from him.
After 17 years in the Mexican Mafia, Enriquez said, he decided to leave the gang. He said he was tired of the politics in the group and was sickened by crimes targeting innocent people, including children. He insisted he has changed his ways.
He said he follows a 12-step program with the help of a laptop. His biggest vice today, he said, is coffee.
"Was I a manipulator in the past? Yes," Enriquez told the board. "Was I a horrific human being in the past? Yes. But I'm not being disingenuous."
His lawyer told the parole board that Enriquez co-authored a book on street gangs, collaborated with the FBI on an informational CD about the Mexican Mafia, testified as an expert witness in gang prosecutions and taught online courses for UC Irvine. By doing so, attorney Michael Beckman said, Enriquez had put his life at risk.
"He's got a death sentence on his head, and his family's too," Beckman told the board.
When the state parole board asked about other hits Enriquez ordered, his attorney stopped him from answering and noted that there was no statute of limitations for murder. He advised his client to invoke his 5th Amendment right to silence.
At the end of the nearly three-hour hearing, the commissioners took about 20 minutes to make their decision. They acknowledged Enriquez's "heinous and atrocious" crimes, but determined that he was remorseful and no longer an "unreasonable risk of danger."
"You are able to be a productive member of society," one commissioner said. "You have made realistic plans for release as well as developed marketable skills you can put to use."