SAN ANTONIO – When Herb Huerta was sentenced to life in prison in 1993 on charges of racketeering narcotics and selling heroin, it might have been seen as a major blow in the operations of the Texas Mexican Mafia.
Huerta, 62, was sent to the most secure federal prison in America - the ADMAX in Florence, Colorado.
Officials and court documents have said he continues to run the gang.
"He's basically locked down 23 hours a day -- virtually away from any human being -- but he is still able to control the organization. That says something to his power and control and how good he set up the organization," said Gabe Morales, an expert on the Texas Mexican Mafia. "There has been some in the past, some challenges to his power. Some youngsters have come up and said, 'Hey, we don't like the way you're doing things,' you know, 'You're old, you're a has-been,' and he has, several times, maintained control and power and put out hits and killed a lot of those people."
Huerta is the founder and president for life of the Texas Mexican Mafia. Since the mid-1980s, the gang has stood by its constitution which states members will engage in crimes ranging from drug dealing to assassinations of members and associates.
Standing by Huerta is the lifetime vice president, Benito Alonzo. At 79, Alonzo sits in a Texas prison serving a life sentence for trying to smuggle a weapon into prison back in the 1970s.
Authorities have suspected Huerta and Alonzo of ordering punishment (including murder) of people who have violated the gang's constitution, but neither has ever been charged with murder.
"(Huerta) is very careful. He's done time longer than a lot of convicts in America. He's very good at what he does. He would not remain in power if he was not good," Morales said. "Benito Alonzo, same thing. Sometimes just the look in their eyes, they're giving the illicit approval and they can say, 'I didn't approve anything. You don't have anything. You can't prove it.' People will hear about it if they're messing up, doing something wrong -- they're going to hear about it from him. So if he doesn't say anything, he's basically giving his approval that it's okay."
KSAT-12 looked at eight federal cases involving the Texas Mexican Mafia between 1998 and 2014.
- 98 members were convicted for crimes that include assaulting and robbing members for not paying "the dime" - a street tax for selling drugs and murder.
- Members were sentenced to 28 prisons across the United States.
- Some started serving life sentences when they were in their early 20s.
- One person was convicted for racketeering in federal court and was later tried and convicted in state court of capital murder. He was executed in 2007.
- One member died in prison.
- 15 have been released after serving their sentences.
- The Federal Bureau of Prisons has no information on seven of the convicted members.
Membership is not a secret behind prison walls.
"They're asked (if they are members in a gang) when they're processed in classification if they have any enemies that they can't be housed with. That's taken into account and checked. They will have facility separation, unit separation so that they cannot get to each other. A lot of times that's personal more than gang-related," Morales said. "Believe it or not, even though they're rivals on the streets, I've seen Crips and Bloods who would kill each other on the streets and are cell mates and good friends on the inside. The politics change when you get locked up a little bit, the dynamics. The common enemy is the system, the officers and a lot of times, it becomes the enemy of my enemy is my friend-type of philosophy."
While behind bars, members are often given jobs by the prison. The Texas Mexican Mafia will also assign inmates a second job.
"Crime doesn't stop when they go to prison or jail. They just continue that, so the drug dealer is going to be a drug dealer inside. Somebody who was burglarizing houses is going to be the cell thief on the inside. Somebody who is committing assaults maybe a hitman on the outside, that's the one who's going to be stabbing somebody on the inside walls of our prisons in America," Morales said.