Officials voice growing concern that millions of dollars in state, federal and local funds for social programs are being diverted throughout California into the hands of Chicano-run Mafia-style organizations.
Their concern was sparked by the Feb. 17 murder near the Sacramento Metrpolitan Airport of a South Pasadena woman. Ellen Anne Delia had been shot, gangland style, three times in the back of the head.
Later, it became known that Delia, the estrangled wife of the operator of a halfway house in Los Angeles, was on her way here to tell officials what she knew about the misapplication of federal and state funds and fraud in social programs in the barrios. A briefcase of documents, which she said supported what she knew, was missing when her body was found.
No one knows just what she had to tell. Her husband - himself a suspect in her murder - later reportedly told health department officials and legislators that she had possessed canceled checks from the operators of drug rehabilitation programs to gang figures.
The stakes are high. California's poor receive more than a tenth of the health and welfare dollars spent in the United States. Drug rehabilitation programs currently appear to be the focus of inter-gang action. About $40 million annually, counting federal grants from the National Institute of Drug Abuse and the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, is spent in California.
The possible loss of such sums spurred Health and Welfare Secretary Mario Obledo to request on Friday that federal officials as well as Los Angeles authorities join a state task force probing the loss of funds to mob action.
For months, reports have circulated in the barrios that, for instance, the operators of some prepaid health plan programs funded by the state were being forced to pay a "head" tax to the mob on each patient they saw.
Other sources in East Los Angeles say that halfway houses, which are meant to provide treatment for drug addicts and ease the transition from prison to normal life, were being strong-armed into paying "ghost counselors" salaries, amounting to as much as $1,000 a month per counselor, that went into the pockets of Chicano mobsters.
In additiona, methadone reportedly is being siphoned from drug treatment programs and sold on the street.
"It's bound to be going on wherever there are programs like this, in all the cities," said a law enforcement official who asked not to be identified. "That's where the money is."
The gangs themselves were formed in California's prisons as self-protection units. They began to spill out of the prisons in 1972.
The two main gangs are "Nuestra Familia" (Our Family), which is composed mainly of rural Chicanos from California's Central Valley, and "EME" pronounced "emmeh," as in the Spanish pronunication of the letter "M." Composed of urban Chicanos from East Los Angeles, EME is also called the Mexican Mafia, or sometimes "Emily's Brothers."
As long as three years ago officials were warning that the organizations were moving to the streets, but there was no real concern until recently, when they apparently began a gangdrug traffic and funds for social programs.
As blacks have in major Eastern cities, Chicanos have begun to attempt to wrest control of organized crime from the older Italian Mafia in California. One informant, only recently out of prison, said the Italian Mafia had passed the word in the state's institution that Nuestra Familia and EME could fight it out for control and "to the victor belong the spoils."
The war has been bloody. In 1975, according to Charles E. Casey, head of the Organized Crime and Intelligence Branch of the California Department of Justice, 20 murders were traceable to inter-gang rivalry; 16 of those occurred in prisons. But in 1976, there were 75 such murders and all but 14 occurred on the streets.
That has led to a climate of fear in East Los Angeles, where one barrio figure refused to talk to reporters at all, saying, "If it got out, it could me killed. I have been threatened and my family has been threatened and if it got out I would have to leave here or they would kill me."
Other long-time observers in East Los Angeles report that the leaders of community programs appear to be intimidated and are not talking about the situation.
In Los Angeles Thursday, Police Commander Ray Ruddell said "at least five and possibly more" murders are linked to Get Going, the halfway house operated by Mrs. Delia and her husband, Michael. Later, police officials said the figure could go as high as 10. The halfway house, situation just a few blocks south of the Los Angeles City Hall and state buildings, has become the focus of the turf war between two factions of EME.
Michael Delia reportedly is on the side of EME, although he also has ties to the older Sicilian Mafia in East Los Angeles. He was taken into custody with six other Chicano Mafia figures on Thursday, then was released on $7,500 bail, charged with possession of a .38 caliber pistol and two "balloons" of heroin.
At a press conference that day, officers said the six had been linked to a series of crimes between Jan. 15 and Feb. 18 throughout California. The officers would not publicy speculate on what crimes they were linked to, but it is known they included the Delia murder and at least two other murders which could have been "hits" for Sicilian Mafia figures.
So far, the escalating violence this year alone has included eight inter-gang murders in Fresno, four in San Jose, an unknown number in San Francisco, plus 10 or more in East Los Angeles. Other deaths have occurred in small towns such as Indio, Manteca and Ventura.
"EME is kicking Nuestra Familia all over California," one barrio figure said. "How long the war will go on is anyone's guess, but it appears at this point that EME is going to win it."