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10 April 1929
|Died||8 November 1993 (aged 64)|
Corcoran, California, U.S.
|Criminal status||charged and convicted, penalty served|
|Criminal charge||Murder, Drugs|
|Penalty||life with the possibility of parole|
Joseph Morgan (born Joseph Megjugorac; April 10, 1929 – November 8, 1993) was the first non-Hispanic member of the Mexican Mafia. He received the nickname "Pegleg" by authorities because of his prosthetic leg.
The youngest of four siblings, Morgan was born on April 10, 1929 in San Pedro, California to Croatian immigrants Clara (née Radisich) and Grgo Megjugorac, a truck driver. Shortly after his birth his father naturalized as a U.S. citizen, anglicizing the family name to Morgan. Morgan grew up in a primarily Mexican-American neighborhood. Later, he was raised by his mother in a Hispanic neighborhood in Boyle Heights. In the late 1930s, he joined the Ford MaraVilla street gang, one of the oldest documented gangs in Los Angeles.
In 1946, Morgan beat to death the husband of his 32-year-old girlfriend and buried the body in a shallow grave. While awaiting trial, he escaped using the identification papers of a fellow inmate awaiting transfer to a forestry camp. He was recaptured and sentenced to nine years at San Quentin State Prison. He was only 17 at the time.
Morgan was well respected within the ranks of the Mexican Mafia and became a high-ranking member. His connections with cocaine and heroin suppliers in Mexico helped pave the foundation for the Mexican Mafia's narcotics distribution throughout California. Due to his ethnicity, Morgan was able to persuade the Aryan Brotherhood to forge a loose alliance with La Eme, due to having the Black Guerilla Family as a mutual rival.
Allegedly, Morgan made diplomatic relations with the Los Angeles Mafia through Michael Rizzitello, whom he and Rodolfo Cadena met during the nine year sentence of the reputed mobster in Chino for a string of armed robberies during the 1970s.
Morgan committed the first prison gang street execution in Los Angeles in 1971.
On October 27, 1993, he was diagnosed with inoperable liver cancer while serving a life sentence at California State Prison, Corcoran. His wife requested that he be released on compassionate release, but he died on November 9, before the process began. "When I visited him about six months ago, he appeared to be losing some weight and his color didn't look good, but Joe is a very private person and he didn't complain", said his attorney, Shirley MacDonald, after his death.
In 1992, the film American Me was released, which was based on the history of the Mexican Mafia. A principal supporting character is "J.D." (played by William Forsythe), a non-Mexican member who has an artificial leg. Edward James Olmos (the movie's writer/director/star) attempted to visit Morgan in hopes that he would gain his approval for the movie. Morgan refused to see him, and filed a lawsuit against Olmos and Universal Studios alleging inaccuracies in the film. It has been alleged that at least two people were killed on account of Mexican Mafia displeasure with the script, including former Mexican Mafia members and affiliates who had served as advisers during the making of the movie. (p. 115-120)
At the time of Morgan's death, his wife filed a $500,000 lawsuit against Edward James Olmos and the filmmakers, claiming the film did not request her permission for basing one of the characters on Morgan.
- Katz, Jesse (November 10, 1993). "Reputed Mexican Mafia Leader Dies in Prison at 64". latimes.com. Retrieved January 13, 2013.
- Blatchford, Chris (2008). The Black Hand. ISBN 978-0-06-125729-2.