Actor Named as Alleged Gang Target


Actor Edward James Olmos, whose film “American Me” angered the Mexican Mafia, was allegedly extorted for money and property by prison gang members.

The disclosures are contained in a defense motion filed in a federal racketeering case against reputed Mexican Mafia members. The revelations represent the first time a public document has named the actor as an alleged victim of the group. There have been long-standing suspicions that Olmos was targeted by the prison gang.

The documents identify Olmos as a victim in one extortion count contained in the government’s sweeping indictment. The 33-count indictment accuses Mexican Mafia members of using murder, intimidation and extortion to control drug trafficking among hundreds of Latino street gangs across Southern California. Jury selection is underway in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. The 16 defendants have pleaded not guilty.


Federal prosecutors declined to comment this week on whether Olmos gave the prison gang any money or property or whether he will be called as a witness.

According to sources, however, Olmos appeared last summer before the federal grand jury that issued the indictment. He did not return repeated calls this week to his production company seeking comment.

Concerns about the actor’s safety surfaced shortly after the 1992 release of “American Me,” which he directed and starred in. The harsh tale, with its graphic scenes of a Mexican Mafia leader being sodomized and killed by his own comrades, was widely believed to have upset leaders of the clandestine organization.

Shortly after its release, two consultants on the movie were killed, including longtime Eastside anti-gang activist Ana Lizarraga. Federal authorities have said her murder was ordered, in part, because the prison gang thought “American Me” was disrespectful.

As for Olmos, court records state that he was targeted by reputed Mexican Mafia members in at least two 1994 meetings at which an FBI informant, Ernest “Chuco” Castro, was present.

A leader of the prison gang, Castro, 37, was arrested in late 1993 on weapons charges and agreed to cooperate with authorities. During a two-year period, he arranged meetings at Southland hotel rooms outfitted with cameras and microphones.


In a June 1994 meeting, Castro raised the topic of killing Olmos, according to the defense motion, citing comments recorded during the gathering. Castro then recalled speaking with the reputed godfather of the gang, Joe “Pegleg” Morgan, before his cancer death in prison. Morgan “didn’t want anything to do with that movie,” Castro is quoted as saying.

Castro then explained how Olmos could resolve the matter by issuing a public apology.

Several months later, the defense motion states, another meeting took place, during which Castro again began talking about the actor. “Where do we stand on Olmos?” he asked.

One reputed mafia member said he had worked as a paralegal on a lawsuit filed by the gang’s former godfather, accusing Olmos of basing a character on him without consent. The suit was dismissed.

The member revealed that Morgan’s wife had rejected a $5,000 settlement offer from Olmos. Those in attendance then discussed how Olmos had profited by using some of their comrades as technical advisors, the motion said.

Several minutes later, according to the court document, someone at the meeting declared Olmos “fair game.”

“Yeah,” Castro responded. “He stands fair game. Is everybody in agreement with that?”

“Yeah,” someone stated.

The defense argues in its motion that these videotaped meetings reveal FBI informant Castro to be a provocateur. Because of this “outrageous” government conduct, defense lawyer Yolanda Barrera said, the case should be dismissed.


“I think the evidence will show that [Castro] was instigating, trying to get people to commit crimes,” Barrera said in an interview.

Her client, Raymond “Champ” Mendez, is one of those accused of extorting “Victim Number 1” in the indictment--identified by the defense as Olmos. The alleged extortion--accomplished through “force and fear”--spanned a three-year period, according to the indictment.