The Norteños (Spanish: Northerners), also Norte, are affiliated with Nuestra Familia (Our Family), are a coalition of traditionally Latino gangs in Northern California. A member of these gangs is a Norteño (male) or Norteña (female); based on Spanish usage. Northern Californians who are not gang members, but feel a strong cultural affiliation with others in Northern California, may also refer to themselves as Norteños/Norteñas or simply "Northerners."
The traditional rivals of the Norteños are the Sureños ("Southerners"). The statewide dividing line between Norteños and Sureños has roughly been accepted as the rural community of Delano, California. Norteños may refer to Northern California as Norte, Spanish for "north".
In the late 1960s, Mexican-American (Chicano) inmates of the California state prison system began to separate into two rival groups, Norteños (northerners) and Sureños (southerners), according to the locations of their hometowns (the north-south dividing line is near Delano, California).
Norteños affiliated with Nuestra Familia were prison enemies of the Southern Latinos who comprised La Eme, better known as the Mexican Mafia. While the Mexican Mafia had initially been created to protect Mexicans in prison, there was a perceived level of abuse by members of La Eme towards the imprisoned Latinos from rural farming areas of Northern California. The spark that led to the ongoing war between Norteños and members of the Mexican Mafia involved a situation in which a member of La Eme allegedly stole a pair of shoes from a Northerner. This event put into motion the longest-running gang war in the state of California.
Federal law enforcement agencies, long unable to infiltrate the group, began to step up their investigations in the late 1990s. In 2000 and 2001, 22 members were indicted on racketeering charges, including several who were allegedly serving as high-ranking gang leaders while confined in Pelican Bay. Thirteen of the defendants pleaded guilty; the other cases are still ongoing. Two of the defendants face the death penalty for ordering murders related to the drug trade. The largest of the federal investigations was Operation Black Widow.
In the aftermath of Operation Black Widow, the five highest ranking leaders of the Norteños were transferred to a federal supermax prison in Florence, Colorado. The written constitution of the Norteños stated that the leadership of the gang reside in Pelican Bay State Prison in California; the relocation of the gang's leaders led to the confusion of its soldiers and a power struggle of prospective generals.
Three new generals came to power at Pelican Bay, yet two were demoted, leaving only David "DC" Cervantes as the highest ranking member of the gang in California. Cervantes' rise marked the first time in decades that the Norteños had a single leader at the helm of their criminal organization. The remaining leadership of the organization in Pelican Bay consists of Daniel "Stork" Perez, Anthony "Chuco" Guillen and George "Puppet" Franco. While all Norteño soldiers and captains in California are expected to follow the orders of Cervantes, a small percentage of the gang remains loyal to the former generals and captains imprisoned in Colorado. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has complained that keeping the five remaining gang leaders located in the same prison continues to add to California gang violence, and that they should be scattered throughout different prisons. While the recognized leaders of the Norteños in Pelican Bay ask that members respect the former leaders, they have been effectively stripped of their authority. The former leaders include James "Tibbs" Morado, Joseph "Pinky" Hernandez, Gerald "Cuete" Rubalcaba, Cornelio Tristan, and Tex Marin Hernandez.
Norteño emblems and clothing are based on the color red. A typical Norteño outfit might include a red belt, red shoes, and red shoelaces. They will also favor sports team apparel that shows their affiliation through symbolism such as the Nebraska Cornhuskers football, UNLV, K-Swiss, and San Francisco 49ers.
Norteños also lay claim to images of the Mexican-American labor movement, such as the sombrero, machete, and "Huelga bird", symbols of the United Farm Workers.
Territory: Northern California & Central California
Ethnicity: predominantly Hispanic
Criminal activities: Drug trafficking, assault, auto theft, burglary, homicide, robbery
Allies: Nuestra Familia, Northern Structure, Black Guerilla Family
Rivals: Sureños, Mexican Mafia, Mexikanemi, Aryan Brotherhood, Florencia 13, 18th Street Gang
Watsonville man suspected in 2005 prison-ordered gang hit
By Jennifer Squires
WATSONVILLE -- An alleged prison-gang hit man suspected in the attempted murder of a fellow Norteno gang member four years ago has been arrested by Watsonville police.
Freddie "Danger" Guzman drove the car Sept. 17, 2005 while his accomplice Anthony "Tigre" Rubalcava shot Mark Escobedo in the chest and left him for dead on the side of Highway 152, according to authorities.
But Escobedo, who investigators say was not in good standing with the gang and was marked for murder by Nuestra Familia prison gang leaders, didn't die.
Instead, he helped investigators identify his would-be killers.
Earlier this summer, Rubalcava was arrested, charged and found guilty of gang-motivated attempted murder in Santa Clara County. The 33-year-old was sent to state prison for 55 years to life.
Tuesday, a warrant was issued for Guzman, who was arrested during a traffic stop Wednesday on Arlene Drive, Watsonville police reported. He faces the same sentence, if convicted.
Police said the attempt on Escobedo's life can be traced to Nuestra Familia leaders in prison. Both Rubalcava and Guzman, now 31, served prison sentences before the attack on Escobedo.
Watsonville police Sgt. Saul Gonzalez said the two suspected hit men connected in prison and rose within the Norteno organization. They had marching orders when they were released from prison, Gonzalez said.
One of their instructions, allegedly, was to murder Escobedo.
"It's very hard to trace it back to who actually ordered it," Gonzalez said. "We have a lot of incidents where gang members are assaulted by their own gang for discipline, but some of them can be as minor as being jumped or hit across the face. ... This one seemed like they were trying to kill him."
The three men were not in the same gang subset, but all were players within the Norteno scene in Watsonville and knew each other, according to Gonzalez.
The night Rubalcava and Guzman are thought to have targeted Escobedo, they allegedly told him to drive over Mount Madonna with them to Gilroy to collect money from drug sales. Gonzalez said revenue from narcotics trafficking is taxed by Nortenos and funneled to Nuestra Familia officials in prison.
The trio didn't make it to Gilroy.
Just across the Santa Cruz-Santa Clara county line, Guzman, the driver, pulled off the road, police said. Rubalcava then shot Escobedo in the chest -- he was later convicted of that crime by a jury -- and the two alleged hit men fled.
A passing motorist noticed Escobedo bleeding on the side of the road and called 911, according to investigators, who credit the fast-responding ambulance to Escobedo's survival.
"When they left I think they assumed he was dead," Gonzalez said.
After the shooting, Escobedo, now 29, distanced himself from his gang, police said. Eventually, detectives from Watsonville police and the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office and District Attorney's Office put the pieces together.
Escobedo testified against Rubalcava this summer and said Guzman drove the car, police said.
It's still unclear why led gang leaders might have ordered the hit.
"Sometimes it can just be on a belief, a rumor," Gonzalez said, explaining that many of the city's unsolved beatings, stabbings and shootings are likely tied to gang-ordered punishment. "A lot of the stuff, when victims don't cooperate, it is internal conflict."