Richard Valdemar knows gangs. He grew up around them in Compton, Calif. He worked with them as a teen center leader. He studied them and worked to stamp them out as a member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
He is an internationally known expert in both traditional and non-traditional gangs. He brought his almost 50 years of experience to a presentation he made recently to the Rim Country Republican Club. He spoke on “The Unholy Trinity — American Street Gangs, Mexican Drug Cartels, and Radical Islamic Terrorists.”
“I saw that phrase in something from Homeland Security and I thought it was right,” Valdemar said in an interview with the Roundup after his Payson speaking engagement.
Because of his teen center work, Valdemar, though only 18, was given a scholarship to attend an international conference in Puerto Rico. Most of the speakers were advocating the success and promises of communism for Central and South America and blaming all the problems on the United States.
“I discovered my teachers in the Los Angeles city school system had been grooming me to become a communist,” Valdemar said.
He added the official translators were giving the non-Spanish speaking attendees sanitized versions of what was being said and what was being said were all lies.
“I wound up defending the United States,” Valdemar said, adding he had a conversion from communist to conservative over the course of the conference.
“Castro had been my hero up until then,” he said. But then he heard what the Castro loyalists and ex-patriot Cubans had to say, and saw things in a different light.
Working at the teen center and knowing the emotional climate in Compton and the surrounding areas, Valdemar said he was predicting the racial unrest that erupted into the Watts Riots in August 1965. In the aftermath, he was called to testify at hearings looking into the cause of the riots.
Valdemar went into the U.S. Army, served in Vietnam and then came home to be stationed at Fort Huachuca, where his job was to retrieve soldiers who had been arrested in Mexico.
Out of the service, he joined the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and during the Moratorium Riots, he was pulled out the academy and sent undercover.
He became a member of the Brown Berets, which he said were the Hispanic equivalent of the Black Panthers at the time. He said the Moratorium Riots were because the Hispanic community felt too many of the young men from their families were being killed in Vietnam.
Once he finished his academy training, he thought he would get a good assignment, but the sheriff’s office continued its tradition of sending new graduates to work in the jails. Valdemar said he resented the assignment, but realizes now it is what every law enforcement agency should do with its rookies.
“You don’t have any weapons and you’re surrounded by gang members, con men, thieves, rapists, murders and the rest of the worst of society. All you have is your brain and the ability to talk,” Valdemar said.
With those two things, he said a rookie learns who and what he will be dealing with on the street. He was assigned to patrol in East L.A. and moved into the gang unit shortly after that. Over the years in the gang unit, Valdemar said he developed a rapport with many of the gang members.
“I think some of them may have even been proud of me, getting out and coming back to the community as a policeman. It was even a gang member who suggested I become a cop.”
In the late 1970s Valdemar was part of a new gang program that was different than traditional suppressive patrols.
He explained that sheriff’s personnel would work with specific gangs, get to know who was who and “surgically” target their removal.
“We took our ground and held it,” he said. The program was one of the most successful gang intervention operations in the country and won numerous awards. Among its results: one year there were no burglaries within the program’s boundaries; another year there were no murders.
However, it is not a template that was followed by many other law enforcement agencies. And eventually, politics was its undoing he said.
“We are having all this success here and the mayor in the next city over says, ‘We pay county taxes, I want that here.’ And so, we were forced to leave the ground we had gained and move and other gangs moved in. It’s the same way we lost in Vietnam; we had to take the same ground again and again. In World War II they took the ground and held it and moved forward.”
Valdemar said only about 10 percent of the population in gang infested communities are actually involved in gangs and that will drop to 5 percent because they either figure out it is not working for them through contact with the police, school becomes more important or there are family issues.
“So actually, 5 percent of that population is responsible for 80 percent of the crime,” he said.
Still gangs control the jail system and when prisoners come out of jail they are usually even more hardened gang members. Valdemar said the primary jail system gangs are the Mexican Mafia, the Nuestra Familia, the Aryan Brotherhood, and the Black Guerrilla Family.
Working undercover again in 1984, he was assigned to follow the gang members when they were released and then arrest them when they committed another crime. Through that process they were able to find out who they knew and discovered links to terrorists of the time.
Valdemar worked with a FBI task force in 1993 that used the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) laws to target the Mexican Mafia. He said they made 22 arrests and had 21 convictions — the 22nd arrest was killed. On through the 1990s RICO laws were also used to go after a number of other gangs, including the 18th Street and MS13. Both of these groups are international, Valdemar said. He said they reach throughout the U.S., Central and South America, Canada and Europe.
He retired to Arizona in 2004.
“California is lost. The real damage of the gangs is the corruption. The drug cartels make $40 billion a year in sales and spend 60 percent of their revenue on bribes. We’re fools if we believe it (the bribes) stop at the border.”
He believes bribes have been paid and there are people working for the cartels in ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), the Border Patrol, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), the police and the military.
Valdemar said money from Middle East terrorist organizations, including Hamas and Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda, is going to drug cartels to smuggle people into the U.S. and to the MS13 gang in Los Angeles for false documents.
“MS13 controls the production of false documents in Los Angeles. They were producing the new California driver’s licenses before they were even released. We are fooling ourselves if we believe a driver’s license and Social Security number are guarantees of someone’s identity.”
Valdemar said the public should not rely on the intelligence from the FBI regarding terrorists coming into the country through Mexico. As early as 1980 the U.S. government had information showing a connection between Middle East terrorist organizations, drug cartels and street gangs, he said.