Mexican Mafia Member Describes Gang’s Activities


A young man who once toted a book bag and attended classes at Cal State Los Angeles testified in federal court Tuesday that he authorized the executions of as many as 40 people as a rising star in the Mexican Mafia.

Max Torvisco, 24, took the stand as the government’s first witness in the trial of 11 suspected Mexican Mafia members and associates, describing the organization as the “gang of all gangs.”

The defendants are being tried on charges ranging from racketeering to drug trafficking in a high-security courtroom equipped with a metal detector and staffed by an extra complement of guards.


Torvisco told jurors that he personally carried out three murders and participated in numerous shootings and stabbings as a Mexican Mafia member.

Under questioning by Assistant U.S. Atty. Daniel Levin, Torvisco told jurors that he agreed to testify in hopes of receiving a lenient sentence for racketeering and other charges to which he has already pleaded guilty.

In doing so, he said, he is violating the Mexican Mafia’s No. 1 rule: never betray a fellow member.

Other strictly enforced rules, he said, forbid having sex with a fellow member’s wife or girlfriend, any homosexual behavior and any unsanctioned attack on another Mexican Mafia member.

Torvisco, sporting a mustache and dressed in khakis and a madras shirt, said he joined a street gang at age 11, started selling drugs at 13 and was recruited into La Eme, by which the Mexican Mafia is also known, while a student at Cal State L.A.

An “associate” at first, he said he was promoted to full membership in 1998 and rose rapidly through the ranks. He identified two defendants on trial Tuesday as his sponsors.


With little prompting from the prosecutor, Torvisco eagerly described La Eme as a powerful gang that controls drug trafficking within California prisons and taxes street gangs for the right to sell drugs on their turf.

Those who disobey the Mexican Mafia are given a “green light,” he said, a term for punishment that can range from a simple beating to murder.

“Everything the Mexican Mafia does is criminal,” he testified.

Defense attorneys objected frequently to his comments as lacking foundation, but for the most part they were overruled by presiding U.S. District Judge David Carter.

In opening remarks to the jury earlier in the day, one defense lawyer characterized Torvisco as a “sadistic serial killer” who was testifying for the prosecution to save his own neck from capital punishment.

Eight other defendants in this case face charges that carry a possible death penalty. Their trial was put off pending the outcome of an appeal.

Defense attorney Manuel Araujo, who represents alleged Mexican Mafia member Frank Fernandez, scoffed at the government’s claim that the Mexican Mafia is a tightly controlled racketeering enterprise.


To the contrary, Araujo said, the Mexican Mafia is “disorganized crime” with no structure, no cohesiveness and no loyalty among its alleged members.

“The issue,” he said, “is not whether Eme exists but whether Eme is organized crime.”

He described its members as “a collection of thugs” constantly mouthing threats to “bump one another off.”

Fernandez might have trafficked in drugs, he said, but he never seriously plotted to kill anyone and was not part of a racketeering operation.

Also on trial is Sally Peters, the wife of the Mexican Mafia’s reputed godfather, Benjamin Peters, who is serving a life term at Pelican Bay State Prison.

She is accused of carrying messages between her husband and Mexican Mafia members on the outside, including one that allegedly authorized a reprisal slaying.

She is also accused of collecting taxes imposed on drug dealers and possessing illegal drugs.


Her lawyer, George W. Buehler, dismissed those allegations as untrue.

He said she got to know Peters when she volunteered to drive his elderly mother to visit him at the Los Angeles County Jail. As a result of those visits, he said, they fell in love and married.

“She’s not part of the world of the Mexican Mafia,” he told the jury.

In addition to the testimony of Torvisco and other informants, the government is expected to present hours of secretly recorded telephone conversations involving the defendants.

The trial is expected to last four to six months.