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‘Pesos’: La Jollan authors his memoirs of growing up the son of ‘one of the most corrupt guys’ in Mexico

La Jolla resident and author Pietro La Greca Jr.
La Jolla resident Pietro La Greca Jr. has written a book about growing up with his father, who he says ran an extensive money-laundering scheme.
(John Schnack Photography)

Pietro La Greca Jr. gives his account of how his father amassed fortune and power through fraud, government corruption and money laundering.

La Jolla resident Pietro La Greca Jr.'s first book reads like a crime novel about the Mexican mafia set in familiar places such as Scripps Memorial Hospital and Manhattan of La Jolla in the Empress Hotel.

But he says it’s all true.

“Pesos: The Rise and Fall of a Border Family,” released Tuesday, Nov. 1, details La Greca Jr.’s experiences growing up in San Diego and Tijuana as the son of Pietro La Greca, who he says ran a large money-laundering scheme in Mexico.

Through the memoir, written with the aid of author Rebecca Paley, La Greca Jr. recounts his family’s history beginning with his father arriving in the region from his native Italy after an adventure involving a yacht and a married woman.

The elder La Greca, who died in 2014, was an immigrant not fluent in either Spanish or English. Nonetheless, he felt comfortable in Tijuana, where he met La Greca Jr.’s mother, Maria, nicknamed Maya, who was raised there.

The family made their home in San Diego County, first in Bonita and then Coronado. “I’m binational,” said La Greca Jr.

La Greca Jr. now lives in La Jolla with his wife, Michelle, and their young daughter, Gabriella.

Maya’s father owned a renowned customs brokerage company at the San Ysidro/Tijuana border crossing. La Greca Jr. owns the building today.

“Pesos: The Rise and Fall of a Border Family" by Pietro La Greca Jr.
In writing “Pesos: The Rise and Fall of a Border Family,” Pietro La Greca Jr. says he sought to distance himself from his father’s illegal activities.
(Provided by Pietro La Greca Jr.)

To prove himself to his father-in-law, Fernando Gutierrez Moreno, who was prominent in Tijuana, the elder La Greca amassed a large fortune through insurance fraud, government contracts involving corrupt Tijuana politicians and an extensive money-laundering scheme by exchanging dollars to pesos, La Greca Jr. said.

La Greca Sr.’s wealth meant La Greca Jr., an only child, was able to attend the private Francis Parker School in San Diego, live lavishly in one of the largest mansions in Coronado and travel constantly, at one point playing polo with then-Prince Charles in the United Kingdom and with a prince in Malaysia.

“We were spending at a gross level,” La Greca Jr. said.

As much as “Pesos” contains titillating vignettes of abundance, the book also is about “my … whole family dynamic,” in which “my dad is the antagonist and the rest of the family suffers from what he does to us,” La Greca Jr. said.

He underscores that point through his accounts of his father’s illegal dealings and the endless conflict between La Greca Sr. and Gutierrez Moreno.

“They butted heads through everything,” La Greca Jr. said.

Eventually, he said, the La Greca fortune and power unraveled as Mexican cartels began to call in favors.

La Greca Sr. embroiled his father-in-law in his schemes, leading to Gutierrez Moreno’s arrest in Tijuana in May 1985. That sent the La Greca family, including then-teenage La Greca Jr., on the run through the United States as the elder La Greca tried to stay out of jail himself, La Greca Jr. said.

Gutierrez Moreno died years after his release from jail. Maya died in 2006 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Her property and money went to La Greca Jr. His father avoided incarceration but ended up bankrupt and tried unsuccessfully several times to reclaim his wealth, La Greca Jr. said.

La Greca Jr. said he was a high school student when he learned of his father’s criminality, hearing his dad bragging to friends about his schemes without fear of retribution.

La Greca Jr. said he wasn’t aware of the extent of his father’s activities until well into his own adulthood. He earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in business from the University of San Diego and worked as an executive in the financial software services industry for nearly two decades.

When his father tried several times to take ownership of the brokerage building, La Greca Jr. executed a plan using legal tactics to “leave him with nothing overnight.”

That brought a death threat from his father, he said — a voicemail recording that La Greca Jr. has saved to this day.

La Greca Jr. said he wrote “Pesos” in an effort to distance himself from “one of the most corrupt guys [with] ties all over Mexico.”

Though his father died of pneumonia after an accident left him severely injured, La Greca Jr. said he still feels a mission to prove “I’m not him.”

To that end, La Greca Jr. serves on and donates to local nonprofit organizations, is a member of the board of Gillispie School in La Jolla and undertakes other efforts to emulate his mother and leave a legacy she would be proud of.

To purchase “Pesos: The Rise and Fall of a Border Family,” visit amzn.to/3SMnUgT.


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