SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – California Gov. Jerry Brown again blocked parole Thursday for a former leader of the Mexican Mafia prison gang who now helps law enforcement, discounting claims that the double murderer intended to enter the federal witness protection program.
The governor similarly rejected parole for Rene "Boxer" Enriquez last year after concluding he is at risk of being killed if he is freed. His release also would endanger those around him who might be caught in the crossfire, the governor said in his latest decision.
"He remains an active target for the Mexican Mafia and there are many who would go to great lengths to attack Mr. Enriquez because of his high-profile status as a gang dropout," Brown wrote.
Enriquez said earlier this year that he would enter the federal witness protection program if he is released. But Brown said there is no evidence he has actually been accepted into a state or federal program or that other steps would be taken to conceal his identity or location.
Enriquez, who turns 54 next week, has been in prison since 1993 serving a sentence of 20 years to life for two murders, multiple assaults and drug trafficking conspiracy.
He drew attention last year when the Los Angeles Police Department cleared a downtown building so he could speak to law enforcement and business leaders about the secretive prison gang that has grown into a transnational criminal enterprise.
Enriquez testified at his February parole hearing that he quit the gang in 2002 when he realized members were killing children and innocent relatives of gang members who fell into disfavor.
"I was becoming this unsavory rat, this informant, this turncoat, this stoolie," he said, noting that it "was like committing suicide ... renouncing everything" when he turned his back on his former colleagues.
He later published a tell-all book, "The Black Hand," using a nickname for the gang also known by its Spanish language initial, La Eme.
Brown praised Enriquez's cooperation with law enforcement but said Enriquez continues to blame the gang for his own choices.
"He personally molded and shaped the Mexican Mafia's expectations of its members and expanded the gang's reach outside the prison," Brown wrote. "Mr. Enriquez made a career of sophisticated gang warfare."
He not only smuggled large amounts of drugs into prison but pioneered a way to control a vast network of drug dealers and gang members outside the prison walls, Brown wrote.
"The governor's wrong, and we're going to keep fighting until we get Rene home," said Enriquez's attorney, Michael Beckman.
Enriquez has been cooperating with authorities for 14 years, earning more than 60 letters of support from the FBI, local law enforcement officials, and state and federal prosecutors. But the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office opposed his parole request, and relatives of his victims testified that his cooperation cannot take away their pain.
The government has made extraordinary efforts to protect him, once booking him into custody with a false name under the pretext that he was arrested for possessing a swordfish without a license.
Enriquez joined the Mexican Mafia while serving his first adult prison sentence for a series of robberies. After his release, he killed two gang associates for violations like stealing drugs and money. He and another man also stabbed Mexican Mafia leader Salvador "Mon" Buenrostro 26 times with inmate-made weapons in a 1991 gangland dispute, though Buenrostro survived.
"The Mexican Mafia, it's a violent entity. It feeds on violence. It necessitates violence in order to bolster its reputation," Enriquez said in February, noting that he embraced the violent lifestyle and "enjoyed the sense of power."
Eventually, he said, law enforcement officials "gave me a new chance at life, and I readily embraced it."