A gang is defined as an organized group of criminals. Gangs can range from common street gangs to more organized groups such as the mafia, cartels, and the yakuza.
Despite the type of gang, though, these groups all have a common theme of obtaining power, respect, money, protection, and a sense of belonging. These factors are the main reason why people join a gang, and celebrities are no exception.
Celebrities are rich and powerful, and ultimately the modern day and legal embodiment of the core themes of a gang. Therefore, it’s no wonder that many of the successful actors we see on our televisions today were either in a gang, or have some form of connection to a gang.
Many of these actors grew up surrounded by gang violence and it was only natural to join, while others were seeking something that was missing in their life.
They represented their gangs by wearing their colors, robbing banks, shooting at rival gang members, and doing time in prison. However, in the end, these actors switched out the life on the streets for a glamorous life in Hollywood.
So, get ready to search the streets for the elites. Here are the 15 Actors You Never Knew Had Ties to Gangs.
15 Sofia Vergara
The Modern Family star, Sofia Vergara was one of six children born to a cattle family in Barranquilla, Colombia. She was scouted at a young age and was in her first television commercial at the age of 17. Through her acting, she was able to get out of a tough and violent community.
In 1994, Univision asked Vergara to host a travel show in Miami and she jumped at the opportunity. She wanted to give her son a better life after becoming fearful of gang-related violence in her hometown.
Her move, however, didn’t help her escape. Her older brother was brutally gunned down in 1998 and her past seemed to follow her to the states.
She became involved with Chris Paciello, a mobster nicknamed “The Binger." He was part of a gang that operated under the Bonnano crime family and was eventually charged with murder. Vergara offered her home as collateral for his bail but after pleading guilty, Paciello was sentenced to six years in jail.
That wasn’t the end of Vergara’s brush with bad boys. She also had a fling with a former Colombian drug lord, Andrés López López.
14 Nick Cannon
Although Nick Canon helps out the community, hosting many charities and educating at-risk youth, he was once more of a trouble maker than a helper.
The Wild ‘n Out star grew up in Bay Vista, a Blood sect in San Diego, California. Because of his surroundings, joining a gang was simply natural.
He told Vlad TV, “I wouldn’t say I joined a gang. It wasn’t like a boys or girls club where you can walk up and sign up… It was a Blood set. But, it wasn’t one of those things... that’s the area that I grew up in.”
According to him, the gang was glorified in the nineties and he was “definitely wearing Dickies and certain colors and the Chucks” to represent his gang affiliation.
However, Cannon realized that the gang life wasn’t for him when he started losing many of his friends and when he himself was shot at. So, when Nickelodeon called him, he left and never looked back.
“Once Nickelodeon called I locked in. I forgot all of that stuff. I was going to be the corniest dude, especially when them corny checks started coming.”
13 Elizabeth Hurley
Best known for her role in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Elizabeth Hurley doesn’t seem like someone that would be associated with the mafia. However, looks can be deceiving.
Hurley was romantically connected to a big name in the Colombo crime family of Dominick “Donnie Shacks” Montemarano. Donnie Shacks served 11 years in prison for racketeering and his role as a capo for the Colombos. He has also been accused of fixing UCLA football games on multiple occasions.
Hurley and Montemarano were spotted holding hands and having dinner together in the late nineties, but their relationship was most likely more business than romance as he is nearly twice her age. Donnie Shacks is also a well-known movie financer, which Hurley could have been using to her advantage.
12 Mark Wahlberg
The youngest of nine siblings, Wahlberg dropped out of school at the age of 14 and joined a gang.
While in the gang, he became addicted to cocaine and got in trouble with the law about 25 times.
When he was 16, he assaulted two Vietnamese men with a stick while shouting racist slurs. As the police arrested him, he told them that they didn’t need to let the men ID him because he’ll simply show the police whose head he split open.
Wahlberg was arrested and charged with attempted murder, which was later reduced to criminal contempt. He plead guilty and was given two years at a correctional facility, of which he only served 45 days.
His time there inspired him to turn his life around. Three of his brother and his sister had been to jail and he knew at some point he would end up there. However, he realized it was the worst place he could’ve imagined and never wanted to go back.
Wahlberg reached out to a priest for guidance and left his gang. His brother Donnie from The New Kids on the Block helped him get a record contract and eventually Wahlberg took up acting.
11 Robert De Niro
Portraying many iconic mobsters, Robert De Niro may have gotten his talent from real life experiences.
As a teenager, the actor became disinterested in school and ultimately joined an Italian street gang. The gang was relatively tame though and therefore he was only involved in some minor trouble.
De Niro’s role in the gang pales in comparison to some of the mobsters he portrayed in the movies, and it’s clearly evident from his street name.
On the streets, De Niro was known as “Bobby Milk ". It wasn't a name that struck fear into anyone, but he received it because he was very thin and had a pale complexion that people described as milk.
De Niro was not only associated with a gang as a teenager, but he has also been connected by some to the Gambino crime family.
Ice-T, born Tracy Marrow, lost both of his parents as a child. In the seventh grade, he moved to Los Angeles with his aunt and, although he lived in a middle-class neighborhood, decided to attend Crenshaw High School – one of the roughest high schools in the country. Here, he ran into LA’s toughest gangs.
In high school, Ice-T idolized Iceberg Slim and even tried pimping. He recalls his high school career saying, “my life was kind of crazy at the time; I was out there breaking the law."
He however decided to turn his life around. Ice-T and some friends from his neighborhood started their own gang. They were outnumbered by the other gangs at school but convinced everyone they had more members and gang members ultimately left them alone.
The musician and actor admits that he still couldn’t escape his past and got into a lot of trouble with the law, particularly for stealing; however, he started making better decisions and looking for a way out.
"It's stuff that you never get rid of," he says, "when you come from that environment, that violent background." Even at fancy parties today, he is constantly preparing for a violent outburst.
9 Gianni Russo
The Godfather star had his starts in the mafia both on and off the screen. As a child, Gianni Russo suffered from polio. He survived, but the disease left him with a “gimp arm." According to Russo, this led him to sell ballpoint pens on Fifth Avenue.
Every day, the Genovese family mob boss, Frank Costello walked by and gave Russo a buck or two. However, one day, Costello gave Russo a hundred dollars and told him to meet him at the loby of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel the next day.
Russo told Vanity Fair that “from that day on, I was with him every day."
He became Costello’s errand boy and had close connections to Carlo Gambino and John Gotti. Russo even claims to have killed three men in self-defense and beaten 23 federal indictments without ever spending a night in jail.
8 Daniel and Luis Moncada
Born in Honduras and raised near Hollywood, Daniel and Luis Moncada lived in crime-filled neighborhoods. They didn’t believe they would make it to the age of 21, which is evident by the expletive tattoo on Luis’ eyes. He wanted it to be a message to the world when he died.
Luis was eventually arrested for driving a stolen vehicle. While in prison, he met a parole officer that he eventually married and changed his life. After being released, the brothers moved away from their rough neighborhood and Luis got a job as a security guard on the set of El Padrino.
The director ended up casting Luis after spotting his tattoos and from then on, he became the poster boy for gang members and drug cartels. He went on to play in Californication and The Fast and the Furious.
Eventually, Luis auditioned for Breaking Bad and the creators asked his brother Daniel to audition as well. According to the show’s creator, “they exuded a certain authenticity. They don’t have to glare at you to scare you.”
7 James Caan
Another actor from The Godfather, James Caan has connections to the youngest of the five families that rule organized crime in New York City – the Colombo crime family.
Caan was a good friend of Andrew “Andy Mush” Russo, a prevailing member of the crime family. The crime boss was seized in an FBI raid and Caan offered to put up anything of personal value for bail and be present in the court if needed.
Caan called Russo “as good a friend as any person could ask for” and the literal godfather to his son. The bail was ultimately denied by the judge saying Russo was a danger to the community.
James Caan is also close to Russo’s son, Joseph “Jo-Jo” Russo and wrote a letter to Brooklyn’s District Attorney thanking him for looking into a corrupt FBI agent that imprisoned Jo-Jo.
6 La La Anthony
Known for her role in Power and Think Like a Man, La La Anthony is married to Carmelo Anthony, an alleged gang member.
Infamous NBA player Carmelo Anthony grew up in Baltimore, Maryland in areas filled with gangs, drug, and violence.
He was even featured in a DVD called Stop Snitchin’ which promoted a campaign in Maryland to convince residents to stop snitching, or providing information to police about gang crime. In the video, he is seen alongside drug dealers and gang members.
Melo has also received heat for a potential gang sign he flashed during the Olympics. After a 3-pointer, Anthony celebrated with a three-to-the-head gun gesture that implies three shots to the head. Although Anthony denies the gesture is gun-related, it has sparked gang-related rumors.
5 Richard Cabral
Richard Cabral’s life is a true gangster to Hollywood story that deserves its own movie. Cabral was born and raised by a single mother in East Los Angeles. His father left early on and Cabral found himself looking for something to replace him. His answer was a gang.
He told Indiewire, “You’re trying to find yourself, are getting ready to go to high school and this world teaches you, you must ‘belong’ to something."
So, Cabral joined a gang when he was 13. At the age of 14, he was arrested for the first time for stealing a wallet and by 15, he was dealing meth.
When he was 20, Cabral approached a man in Montebello and asked him what gang he belonged to. When the man said that he didn’t “bang," Cabral shot him and ended up serving 27 months in prison.
Once released, Cabral connected with a gang-intervention program that landed him auditions in Hollywood. He was cast in CSI: Miami and realized, “Wow, I don’t have to clean toilets. I could actually dress up and get paid equivalent to that.”
He then landed bigger roles in Bruno Mars’ “Grenade” music video, End of Watch, and American Crime.
4 Kate del Castillo
Kate del Castillo was in Jane the Virgin, The Book of Life, Grimm, and CSI: Miami. However, she is probably most famous for her connection to drug lord El Chapo.
El Chapo is a Mexican drug lord who headed the criminal organization called Sinaloa Cartel. He was Mexico’s top drug kingpin and has been named by Forbes multiple times as one of the most powerful people in the world.
Del Castillo became interested in him and said “I believe more in El Chapo Guzman than I do in the governments that hide truths from me." She began to tweet to El Chapo and he also became fascinated with her.
El Chapo’s lawyers contacted Del Castillo in 2014 to offer her the rights to his life story for a film. She also received a phone where she could secretly text El Chapo.
In 2015, El Chapo escaped from prison through a tunnel and three months after, asked Del Castillo to meet with him in a hideout in Sinaloa. According to Sean Penn, who also attended the meeting, they shared tequila and talked late into the night.
The meeting helped Mexican authorities find El Chapo’s location and recapture him months later.
3 D.L. Hughley
Actor and a king of comedy, D.L. Hughley grew up in Los Angeles, close to Compton, and was a member of the Bloods for ten years of his life.
He told Vlad TV, “As a young boy you’re looking for acceptance anywhere you get it, and although I’m not proud of what happened, and I’m not proud of my experiences, I learned a lot from them that is invaluable for me."
Hughley joined the Bloods and was ultimately expelled from multiple high schools for fighting.
He recalls some of the men he hung out with and said they were the “clearest, most honest, and bravest” human beings he ever met. Although he later understood that the things they were doing were illegal, he never saw the things they did were immoral.
A major reason why Hughley left the gang life is because one of his cousins from a rival gang was murdered. They wouldn’t even let him go to the funeral because of his gang affiliation.
He then realized he didn’t have it in him to take human life and although his gang members had money and cars, he realized he wanted to see more in life.
2 Steven Seagal
Seagal was a victim of a bid for the Gambino crime family to infiltrate Hollywood and make a profit from movies. He was unknowingly being extorted by his lifelong producer and Gambino family associate, Julius R. Nasso.
However, in 2000, Seagal became Buddhist and decided that he wanted to stop making his infamously violent movies. He discontinued his partnership with Nasso, which didn’t go well with the Gambino family.
During trial, Seagal testified that he met with some alleged members of the mob who demanded that he continue to make movies for them “or else." Seagal had four action films lined up and he was to pay the Gambino family $150,000 for each of these movies.
Eventually, the FBI caught Anthony “Sonny” Ciccone, a member of the Gambino family, on tape admitting to bullying Seagal into millions of dollars and attempting to kill him if he had given the wrong answer. This led to trial and Seagal testified against Ciccone, revealing his ties with the Gambino crime family.
1 Danny Trejo
From Golsom to Soledad and San Quentin, iconic villain, Danny Trejo was a gangbanger that did a lot of time in some of California’s toughest prisons.
Trejo smoked his first joint at just 8 years old, was arrested for the first time for assault and battery at the age of ten, and started heroin when he turned 12.
Trejo’s uncle had him be the getaway driver for his robberies and once he graduated grade school, Trejo went on to harder crimes – robbing liquor stores with grenades, car-to-car shootouts with rivals, and terrorizing the streets of Los Angeles.
He committed at least five armed robberies before he was sent to prison for selling a cocaine for $30,000.
Trejo told the Huffington Post, “I was sitting in the hole, and it’s like I knew, it’s all over. It’s just done, I’m through. I’m 24 years old and I’m through.”
He began praying, joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and after being released from prison started counseling addicts. One day, he went to the set of Runaway Train to help someone deal with a drug addiction. However, when the director saw his real tattoos and persona, he cast Trejo as a convict in the film.
Do you know any other actors that have ties to gangs? Let us know in the comments.