Barrio Azteca

Barrio Azteca is one of the most violent prison gangs in the United States. The gang is highly structured and has an estimated membership of 2,000. Most members are Mexican national or Mexican American males. Barrio Azteca is most active in the southwestern region, primarily in federal, state, and local corrections facilities in Texas and outside prison in southwestern Texas and southeastern New Mexico. The gang’s main source of income is derived from smuggling heroin, powdered cocaine, and marijuana from Mexico into the United States for distribution both inside and outside prisons. Gang members often transport illicit drugs across the U.S.–Mexico border for DTOs. Barrio Azteca members also are involved in alien smuggling, arson, assault, auto theft, burglary, extortion, intimidation, kidnapping, robbery, and weapons violations.

The Barrio Azteca was founded in 1986 by gangsters Benito “Benny” Acosta, Alberto “Indio” Estrada, Benjamín “T-Top” Olivarez, Manuel "Tolon" Cardoza, Manuel “El Grande” Fernandez, Raúl “Rabillo” Fierro and José “Gitano” Ledesma. The gang succeeded in attracting thousands of violent offenders who hated the Mexikanemi and Texas Syndicate. The Barrio Azteca’s primary goal was to dominate the prison system and gain control of it’s lucrative drug trade. Members of this ruthless prison gang are all Hispanic and most from El Paso, west Texas and northern Mexico. The gang has grown to become one of the nations most dangerous prison gangs and is currently on the FBI and DEA’s #1 threat list.

Following their emergence into the prison gang scene, both the Texas Syndicate and Mexican Mafia refused to recognize the Aztec’s and declared war with the gang. The out numbered Azteca’s struggle to battle their numerous enemies but some how managed to prevail by murdering several members of the Texas Syndicate in prisons and jails all over the state of Texas. Barrio Azteca earned the respect of the Texas Syndicate and Mexican Mafia and a peace treaty was signed on July of 1997. The Azteca’s have multiplied and now out number the Texas Syndicate. The highly organized prison gang currently operates in both state and federal prisons all over the United States and Mexico.

Symbols: 915, EPT, 21, BA, Azteca theme tattoos
Territory: El Paso TX, Ciudad Juarez, Midland TX, Odessa TX, Las Cruces New Mexico, and small chapters across the United States and northern Mexican state of Chihuahua.
Alliances: Juarez Cartel
Members: 2,000
Ethnicity: Hispanic

In 1987, Barrio Azteca members murder a Raza Unida prospect. The Raza Unida do not retaliate and validate the attack after it is discovered that that the victim was a former associate of the Barrio Azteca. (Gang Intelligence 101)

In 1988, the Mexikanemi instigates a war with the Barrio Azteca at the Cofield unit. A major state wide battle between the two prison gangs claims the lives of 2 inmates. (Gang Intelligence 101)

In 1993, the Barrio Azteca brutally beat and murder a Texas Syndicate member in the El Paso County jail causing the Texas Syndicate to alliance it’s self with the Mexikanemi. Both the Texas Syndicate and Mexikanemi team up against the Barrio Azteca. (El Paso Times)

In 1994, Barrio Azteca members murder a Texas Syndicate member at the Wallace unit in Colorado City, Texas. (Associated Press)

In 1995, the Barrio Azteca stop the growth of an up and coming prison gang called the West Texas Carnales. (Gang Intelligence 101)

On April 1996, Barrio Azteca members murder a former Mexican Mafia member by strangling him to death in the El Paso County jail. (El Paso Times)

On June of 1997 the Mexikanemi and Texas Syndicate settle a truce and sign a peace agreement called the “Manifesto”. The gangs agree to revise the manifesto each year on May 5th. (Gang Intelligence 101)

In 1998, members of the PRM (Partido Revolucionario Mexicano) assist the Tijuana, Mexico based Border Brother’s gang in a riot against the Azteca’s in a federal penitentiary. Tension erupts and both gangs attempt to settle the dispute.

In 1999, members of the PRM (Partido Revolucionario Mexicano) attack a member of the Barrio Azteca at the Terrell unit in Livingston, Texas. The Azteca’s retaliate by murdering a 3 PRM rival and injuring several in prisons state wide. (Gang Intelligence 101)

In 2000, a PRM member is murdered by Azteca’s at the Cereso prison in Juarez. (Associated Press)

On late 2000, Azteca captain Alberto Indio Estrada is released from prison after spending 17 years locked up. He deserts the gang and steals funds belonging to the organization. Manuel El Grande Fernandez replaces Estrada as leader. (Gang Intelligence 101)

In 2001, both the Tango Blast and Barrio Azteca engage in a gang fight in a gymnasium at the Torrez state prison in Hondo, Texas. Both gangs settle a truce soon after. (Associated Press)

On January of 2002, members of the Barrio Azteca brutally stab a Tango Blast member while the victim is using the restroom at the Robertson state prison in Abilene, Texas. A gang war between the two gangs erupts state wide soon after. (Associated Press)

On June 2002, the Tango Blast retaliates against the Barrio Azteca by severely beating 4 of its members in the John B. Connally state prison in Kenedy, Texas. (Gang Intelligence 101)

In 2003, the Barrio Azteca and Juarez drug cartel form an alliance and together both gangs vow to eliminate every PRM member in northern Mexico. (Gang Intelligence 101)

On July 2003, The Barrio Azteca declares war on the New Mexico Syndicate over a drug and territory dispute in southern New Mexico. (Gang Intelligence 101)

In 2004, the Sinaloa drug cartel and Juarez cartel form alliances and create a federation between the two. The Barrio Azteca is included and carries out executions for the Federation. (Associated Press)

In early 2005, Barrio Azteca members brutally murder a member of the rival Border Brothers gang in Mexico’s Cereso prison. (Associated Press)

In February 2005, the Azteca’s pay Cereso guards to supply the gang with hammers and shields. The Azteca then break down a wall that separates the Azteca majority with the PRM minority. 6 members of the PRM are brutally murdered by Azteca’s. (Associated Press)

On August 2005, Barrio Azteca member Chato Flores is kidnapped and murdered by fellow Azteca members for stealing millions of dollars from the Juarez cartel. Associated Press)

On January 2005, officials of the city of El Paso enforce an injunction on the Barrio Azteca in an effort to stop narcotics dealing on the streets. (El Paso Times)

On June 2006, 29-year-old ex Barrio Azteca member David Fonseca Jr. is brutally murdered in a parking lot by members of the prison gang. (El Paso Times)

On 2006, the Azteca’s experience a power struggle between leaders and 8 members of the gang are murdered by fellow members. (Gang Intelligence 101)

On October 2006, Phyllis Woodall, the owner of the strip club Naked Harem, is arrested and charged with operating a prostitution ring with the Barrio Azteca. Woodall is sentenced to 16 years in prison. (El Paso Times)

In 2007, Federal Public Defender Sandy Valles, 58, is arrested after FBI agents discover phone recordings of alleged gang leaders in prison conducting criminal transactions with Sandy Valles New. (El Paso Times)

On May 2007, Johnny "Conejo" Michelletti, a former Azteca gang member, reveals crucial gang intelligence to the FBI. The information is used to indict several of the gang’s leaders. As a result, dozens of ranking members of the Barrio Azteca are arrested and charged under RICO (The Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) and sentenced to federal prison. Ranking members indicted and convicted are gang captains Carlos Perea, Manuel Cardoza, Benjamin Alvarez, Francisco Herrera, Eugene Mona and Arturo Enriquez. (El Paso Times)

On April 17, 2008, Barrio Azteca leader David "Chicho" Meraz, 49, is found slain in Juárez. Meraz who was the gangs Juarez Capo was murdered by fellow Azteca members. (Associated Press)

On March, 4, 2009, dozens of members of the Barrio Azteca murder 20 PRM prison gang rivals at the Cereso State prison in Chihuahua, Mexico. (Associated Press)

On May 18, 2009, 15 Barrio Azteca members are arrested by the FBI for cocaine dealing, including Azteca gang captain Gualberto "Bird". (El Paso Times)

On September 03, 2009, 18 Barrio Azteca members gunned down in Juarez rehab. (Associated Press)


The Barrio Azteca is one of the most violent prison gangs operating within the U.S. Most members are Mexican nationals or Mexican-Americans. They're known for their extensive tattoos.

U.S. Drug War: Contract Killers for Mexican Cartels

CIUDAD JUAREZ, MEXICO (By William Booth, Washington Post) April 4, 2010 ― A cross-border drug gang born in the prison cells of Texas has evolved into a sophisticated paramilitary killing machine U.S. and Mexican officials suspect is responsible for thousands of assassinations here, including the recent ambush and slaying of three people linked to the U.S. consulate. The heavily tattooed Barrio Azteca gang members have long operated across the border in El Paso, dealing drugs and stealing cars. But in Ciudad Juarez, the organization now specializes in contract killing for the Juarez drug cartel. According to U.S. law enforcement officers, it may have been involved in as many as half of the 2,660 killings in the city in the past year. Officials on both sides of the border have watched as the Aztecas honed their ability to locate targets, stalk them and finally strike in brazen ambushes involving multiple chase cars, coded radio communications, coordinated blocking maneuvers and disciplined firepower by masked gunmen in body armor. Afterward, the assassins vanish, back to safe houses in the Juarez barrios or across the bridge to El Paso. "Within their business of killing, they have surveillance people, intel people and shooters. They have a degree of specialization," said David Cuthbertson, special agent in charge of the FBI's El Paso division. "They work day in and day out, with a list of people to kill, and they get proficient at it." The special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in El Paso, Joseph Arabit, said, "Our intelligence indicates they kill frequently for a hundred dollars." The mayor of Juarez, José Reyes Ferriz, said the city is honeycombed with safe houses, armories and garages with stolen cars for the assassins' use. The mayor received a death threat recently in a note left beside a pig's head in the city. Arabit said investigators have no evidence to suggest the Barrio Azteca gang includes former military personnel or police. It is, however, working for the Juarez cartel, which includes La Linea, an enforcement element composed in part of former Juarez police officers, according to Mexican officials. "There has to be some form of training going on," said an anti-gang detective with the El Paso sheriff's department, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the nature of his work. "I don't know who, and I don't know where. But how else would you explain how they operate?" On March 13, Lesley Enriquez Redelfs, 35, who worked for the U.S. Consulate in Juarez, and her husband, Arthur Redelfs, 34, a deputy in the El Paso sheriff's department and a detention officer at the county jail, were returning home to El Paso from a children's party sponsored by the U.S. consul in Juarez. As their white sport-utility vehicle neared the international bridge that sunny Saturday afternoon, they were attacked by gunmen in at least two chase cars. When police arrived, they found the couple dead in their vehicle and their infant daughter wailing in her car seat. The intersection was littered with casings from AK-47 assault rifles and 9mm guns. Ten minutes before the Redelfs were killed, Jorge Alberto Ceniceros Salcido, 37, a supervisor at a Juarez assembly plant whose wife, Hilda Antillon Jimenez, also works for the U.S. Consulate, was attacked and slain in similar style. He had just left the same party and was also driving a white SUV, with his children in the car. According to intelligence gathered in Juarez and El Paso, U.S. investigators were quick to suspect the Barrio Azteca gang in connection with what President Obama has called the "brutal murders." What was unclear, they said, was the motive. U.S. diplomats and agents have declined to describe the killings as a targeted confrontation with the U.S. government, which had been pushing to place U.S. drug intelligence officers in a Juarez police headquarters to more quickly pass along leads. Five days after the consulate killings, the DEA unleashed in El Paso a multiagency "gang sweep" called Operation Knockdown to gather intelligence from Barrio Azteca members. Over four days, officers questioned 363 people, including about 200 gang members or their associates, and made 26 felony arrests. Soon after, the Department of Homeland Security issued a warning the Barrio Azteca gang had given "a green light" to the retaliatory killing of U.S. law enforcement officers. Authorities were especially interested in Eduardo Ravelo, a captain of the Barrio Azteca enterprise allegedly responsible for operations in Juarez. In October, the FBI had placed Ravelo and his mug shot on its 10-most-wanted list, though they warned Ravelo may have had plastic surgery and altered his fingerprints. Ravelo is still at large. DEA agents say 27 Barrio Azteca members were detained as they tried to cross from El Paso to Juarez during Operation Knockdown, evidence of gang members' fluid movement between the two countries. This week, authorities announced Mexican soldiers, using information from the FBI and other sources, had arrested Ricardo Valles de la Rosa, an Azteca sergeant, in Juarez. Valles's confession was obtained at a military base where he was allegedly beaten, according to his attorney, a public defender. He has not been charged in the consulate killings, though he is charged with killing rival gang members, including members of an enterprise known as the Artistic Assassins, or "Double A's," who operate as contract killers for the Sinaloa cartel. Sinaloa is vying for control of billion dollar drug-trafficking routes through the Juarez-El Paso corridor. In his statements, Valles said he was told through a chain of letters and phone calls from Barrio Azteca leaders in the El Paso county jail and their associates gang leaders wanted Redelfs, the El Paso sheriff's deputy, killed because of his treatment of Azteca members in jail and his alleged threats against them. Valles said he tracked down Redelfs at the children's party and then handed off the hit to others. He said the killing of the factory supervisor was a mistake because he was driving a white SUV similar to Redelfs's. El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles said in a statement Valles was a career criminal and denied Redelfs had mistreated inmates. Wiles stressed the motives remain unknown. Fred Burton, a former State Department special agent and now a security adviser for the Texas government, said he is suspicious of attempts to underplay the killings. "These were targeted hits done by sophisticated operators," he said. "But it is not politically expedient for either side to say criminal organizations were behind this. That is a nightmare scenario for them." Mexican officials say Valles, 45, was born in Juarez but grew up in El Paso, where he lived for 30 years. Nicknamed "Chino," he was a member of the Los Fatherless street gang in El Paso. In 1995, he was convicted of distributing drugs and spent 12 years in eight U.S. federal prisons, where he met an Azteca gang leader. After his release, he was deported to Mexico and began working with the Aztecas in Juarez. The theory the carnage in Juarez is being stoked by rival gangs of contract killers -- the Barrio Aztecas and the Artistic Assassins -- each working for rival drug cartels makes sense to many observers. The gangs are a binational phenomenon whose members exploit the mistrust between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement, said Howard Campbell, a professor at the University of Texas in El Paso and an expert on the drug trade. "They use the border to their advantage," Campbell said.

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