Tom Diaz

Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

THE FEDS AND GANGS–A GAO REPORT WORTH READING

In Crime, Gangs, Latino gangs, politics, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on July 29, 2009 at 3:53 pm

No Boundaries coverThe United States Government Accountability Office has just published a great report on the role of federal law enforcement in combating gangs.  Like all GAO reports, it’s kinda, sorta wonky, but it captures the 411 on the federal effort.  Fairly Civil highly recommends this read for anyone who cares about the looming transnational gang threat and what we are — and are not — doing about it.

The summary page from the report follows.  The full report is available here.

United States Government Accountability Office

July 2009

GAO-09-708

COMBATING GANGS: Better Coordination and Performance Measurement Would Help Clarify Roles of Federal Agencies and Strengthen Assessment of Efforts Highlights

What GAO Found

Various DOJ and DHS components have taken distinct roles in combating gang crime, and at the headquarters level, DOJ has established several entities to share information on gang-related investigations across agencies. However, some of these entities have not differentiated roles and responsibilities. For example, two entities have overlapping responsibilities for coordinating the federal response to the same gang threat. Prior GAO work found that overlap among programs can waste funds and limit effectiveness, and that agencies should work together to define and agree on their respective roles and facilitate information sharing. At the field division level, federal agencies have established strategies to help coordinate anti-gang efforts including federally led task forces. Officials GAO interviewed were generally satisfied with the task force structure for leveraging resources and taking advantage of contributions from all participating agencies.

Federal agencies have taken actions to measure the results of their gang enforcement efforts, but these efforts have been hindered by three factors. Among other measures, one agency tracks the number of investigations that disrupted or shut down criminal gangs, while another agency tracks its gang-related convictions. However, agencies’ efforts to measure results of federal actions to combat gang crime have been hampered by lack of a shared definition of “gang” among agencies, underreporting of information by United States Attorneys Offices (USAOs), and the lack of department-wide DOJ performance measures for anti-gang efforts. Definitions of “gang” vary in terms of number of members, time or type of offenses, and other characteristics. According to DOJ officials, lack of a shared definition of “gang” complicates data collection and evaluation efforts across federal agencies, but does not adversely affect law enforcement activity. DOJ officials stated that USAOs have underreported gang-related cases and work, in part because attorneys historically have not viewed data collection as a priority. In the absence of periodic monitoring of USAO’s gang-related case information, DOJ cannot be certain that USAOs have accurately recorded gang-related data. Further, DOJ lacks performance measures that would help agencies to assess progress made over time on anti-gang efforts and provide decision makers with key data to facilitate resource allocation.

DOJ administers several grant programs to assist communities to address gang problems; however, initiatives funded through some of these programs have had mixed results. A series of grant programs funded from the 1980s to 2009 to test a comprehensive community-wide model are nearing completion. Evaluations found little evidence that these programs reduced youth gang crime. DOJ does not plan to fund future grants testing this model; rather, DOJ plans to provide technical assistance to communities implementing anti-gang programs without federal funding. DOJ also awarded grants to 12 communities during fiscal years 2006 to 2008 under another anti-gang initiative. The first evaluations of this initiative are due in late 2009, and no additional grants will be funded pending the evaluation results.

Mural with gang 2

SPEECH ON GANG VIOLENCE TO CALIFORNIA GANG INVESTIGATORS ASSOCIATION CONFERENCE 2009

In Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on July 24, 2009 at 2:32 pm

Here is a pdf file of my keynote speech (as written) to the California Gang Investigators Association National Gang Violence Conference  (co-sponsored by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) on July 21, 2009.  The talk focused on Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the 18th Street gang, as does my book, No Boundaries:  Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press 2009).

You can order the book from the Michigan Press, or from Amazon.com or other internet bookseller.  No Boundaries is also in book stores (e.g., Borders, Barnes & Noble, at least in Washington, DC).

The actual delivery of the speech varied a bit from this text.  CSPAN-Books TV taped the address.  The broadcast is now scheduled for Sunday, August 2 at 5 P.M. Eastern time.

CGIA SPEECH FINAL

Here is an illustration of the pith helmet that I showed during my talk:

White Pith Helmet of Type Worn by British Soldiers in 19th Century

White Pith Helmet of Type Worn by British Soldiers in 19th Century

And here is a print illustrating the Battle of Rorke’s Drift, which I also talked about.

Battle of Rorke's Drift

Battle of Rorke's Drift

DEATH AND TREACHERY IN LOS ANGELES: MARA SALVATRUCHA (MS-13) INDICTMENT IS A PORTENT FOR THE FUTURE

In Corruption, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, Mexico, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on July 14, 2009 at 3:21 pm

MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

Since the early 1980s when they were a fledgling gang, to this very day, MS-13 has been a blight on every street where they exist.  Whether house to house, street to street, or city to city, MS-13 has spread like a cancer.  These indictments, arrests and warrants represent one success in an ongoing effort to rid the community of an element that lacks a single redeeming quality.

Chief William Bratton, Los Angeles Police Department, June 24, 2009

Gangbuster:  LAPD Chief William Bratton

Gangbuster: LAPD Chief William Bratton

A 16-count federal indictment unsealed June 24, 2009 in Los Angeles contained two shocking allegations — a plot to kill a well known cop, and a double life lived by a prominent anti-gang activist.  The pleadings also provided a handy window into the history and unrelenting violence of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.  I wrote at length about the genesis and depredations of this transnational Latino gang in my recently released book, No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement.

As Chief Bratton was careful to note in his statement quoted above, the strike against the gang is “one success” in what will be a long, bitter struggle to excise this cancer.  The case is in fact only the latest in a series of federal RICO (anti-racketeering) cases against street gangs that began with the successful 2002 prosecution of members of the Mexican Mafia and the Columbia Little Cycos, an 18th Street gang clique, detailed in No Boundaries. More cases are certain to unfold, and not just in Los Angeles.  The federal government, working with state and local authorities, has brought enormous resources to bear on these gangs, using “sophisticated techniques” of investigation such as informants, domestic and international wiretaps, and possibly undercover agents. The U.S. Department of Justice is determined that no Latino gang morph into another Mafia.

Gangbuster: U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien, Central District of California

Gangbuster: U.S. Attorney Thomas O'Brien, Central District of California

That said, the indictment is a portent:  it represents the maturity of an intensive joint federal and local effort, not only in Southern California, but all over the United States.   The U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles, Thomas O’Brien, has set his teeth into these gangs, reeling out a string of indictments against several notorious cliques.

The back story of sources, methods, and accumulated evidence here is yet to be revealed.  You can be sure the governments involved did not bring this case lightly, and they will have a truckload of evidence to present, if and when it goes to trial.  But for now, the public is dealing with a skeletal public record:  The 66-page indictment, statements of officials at a press conference, the media’s reports of background interviews, and a number of documents filed by defense counsel. Anyone who has delved into such cases in detail — including defense counsel — knows that this is the tip of an iceberg.  Prosecutors say the case has been open for three years.  Since the  case builds on earlier investigations, that is plenty of time to accumulate a mountain of detail.

Do not be surprised if further indictments spin off from this and related cases, possibly including charges based on federal public corruption statutes.  One aspect only hinted at in public is that the investigation is being aided by a person or persons — i.e., a well-placed “rat,””informant,””cooperating witness,””asset,” etc. — with long-term and intimate knowledge of MS-13 players and activities.

MS-13 and The Mexican Mafia (La Eme)–Joined at the Hip in Southern California

The indictment in this case (U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Docket No. CR09-00466), and a long filing by defense counsel seeking the anti-gang activist’s release on bail are well worth reading.  They each lay out the long, painful history of Mara Salvatrucha’s ascent into the grisly transnational criminal consortium it has become.

Here are selected paragraph’s from the indictment.  They describe a key relationship  between MS-13 and the dominant prison gang in California, the Mexican Mafia (also known as La Eme):

14.  In Los Angeles, each clique contributes a portion of its profits towards a tax paid by MS-13 to the Mexican Mafia.  Like all gangs associated with the Mexican Mafia, MS-13 is required to pay a specified sum of money on a regular basis to a member of the Mexican Mafia.  Members of the Mexican Mafia are commonly referred to as “big homies,” “tios” (Spanish for “uncles”), “carnals” [sic] (Spanish slang for “brothers”), and/or “senors” ( a Spanish title of respect for a man).  In return for the tax payments, the Mexican Mafia provides protection to all MS-13 members incarcerated in county, state, and federal prisons and jails in California.  Failure to pay the tax will result in a “green light” being placed on MS-13, that is, a general order from the Mexican Mafia to assault or kill any incarcerated MS-13 member in any facility controlled by the Mexican Mafia.  Also in return for these tax payments, the Mexican Mafia ensures that no other gang operates in MS-13′s territory or otherwise interferes with the criminal activities of MS-13.

15.  Since the mid-1990s, when MS-13 became associated with the Mexican Mafia, a single powerful MS-13 member in Los Angeles has been appointed to act as MS-13′s representative to the Mexican Mafia (“the EME representative”).  The EME representative works as a “soldier” for the Mexican Mafia and is responsible for, among other things, ensuring that MS-13 pays its tax; setting policies to manage and discipline MS-13 members and associates; organizing and conducting meetings among MS-13 shot callers on a regular basis; resolving disputes between MS-13 cliques and members; organizing MS-13 cliques to generate money through, among other things, narcotics trafficking; and providing support to, and requesting assistance from, MS-13 leaders in El Salvador.

16.  In addition to the tax paid to the Mexican Mafia, MS-13 utilizes the profits obtained through its illegal activities by sending money to MS-13 members in prison in El Salvador, purchasing weapons and narcotics, paying attorney’s fees for gang members who have been charged with committing crimes, contributing to funeral costs for gang members who have been killed, and putting money on [sic] the prison accounts of MS-13 members incarcerated in the United States.

I wrote in No Boundaries about a little known but extraordinarily powerful and complex man, who likely was the first “EME representative,” Nelson Comandari.  The U.S. media completely missed the boat on Comandari, and his full story is yet to be told, but I have a good part of it in the book.

The Plot to Whack a Cop

Los Angeles Police Department Detective Frank Flores is a nationally-recognized expert on MS-13.  No Boundaries tells Flores’s life story as an example of the conundrum of gang recruitment. Why are the gangs irresistible to a minority of Latino youth, while other kids from the same barrio climb out of adversity to become part of the great American dream? Flores grew up in Boyle Heights, a gang-infested neighborhood, the child of a single parent. His uncles belonged to White Fence, one of the oldest gangs in L.A.

Yet all Frank Flores can remember ever wanting to be was to be an LAPD cop, even though as a child he had on occasion felt the LAPD’s famous “muscle.”

I first interviewed Flores in March 2007, and talked to him or communicated by email several times since. I had no idea that just months before I met him he had been the target of an assassination plot by MS-13. I learned of the scheme only when it became public after the indictment was unsealed. The government charges that in December 2006 “shot-callers” (leaders) of the gang’s Hollywood “clique” set in motion a plan to whack Flores, designating a hit-man and even providing a handgun to do the job.

Here, for the record, are the allegations in the indictment, which give the bare outlines of the plot:

(138) On or about December 21, 2006, defendants LOPEZ and MELGAR had a phone conversation with each other and with other MS-13 members during which LOPEZ, MELGAR, and others discussed a plot to kill LAPD Detective Frank Flores.

(139) On or about December 23, 2006, defendants LOPEZ and MELGAR had a phone conversation during which they discussed a plot to kill LAPD Detective Frank Flores.

(140) In or about late December 2006, defendants CUENTAS and MELGAR ordered another MS-13 member to follow through with defendant LOPEZ’S orders to kill LAPD Detective Frank Flores.

(141)  In or about late December 2006, defendants MORALES and SALAZAR showed another MS-13 member a handgun that the MS-13 member was ordered to use to kill LAPD Detective Frank Flores.

The plot to murder Frank Flores was derailed. But the story epitomizes the stakes in the ongoing struggle against Latino gangs like MS-13.

The Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the Latino Gang World?

Alex Sanchez--Subject of a Grossly Mistake Charge or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the Gang World?

Alex Sanchez--Subject of a Grossly Mistaken Charge or the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde of the Gang World?

The indictment contains another shock that has rocked circles concerned with gangs like a 7th magnitude earthquake.

Among 24 defendants is Alexander (Alex) Sanchez, probably the most well-known anti-gang activist in the Latino gang world. Federal officials claim Sanchez, executive director of Homies Unidos – a group dedicated to saving kids from the gang life— led a double life. They allege that he has been a secret shot-caller posing as an anti-gang activist. The indictment charges that Sanchez conspired in May 2006 to murder an MS-13 member (who was executed weeks later in El Salvador). Here are relevant excerpts:

(108) “On or about May 6 and 7, 2006, defendants CENDEJAS, FUENTES, PINEDA, and SANCHEZ had a series of phone conversations with each other and with other members of MS-13, during which they conspired to kill Walter Lacinos, aka “Cameron.”

(109) On or about May 15, 2006, an MS-13 member shot and killed Walter Lacinos, aka “Cameron,” in La Libertad, El Salvador.

Scores of prominent figures have filed letters with the court attesting to Sanchez’s character and good works. All are convinced that Sanchez could not have faked his anti-gang efforts while operating as a shot-caller.

But he is held without bond at this writing.

“Tom Diaz has worn out some shoe leather—much like a good detective—in gathering facts, not myths or urban legend. “

—Chris Swecker, Former Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division.

“Few people know more about the subject than Tom Diaz and no single book tells the whole story better than No Boundaries. If you really want to know what organized crime in America looks like today, then read this alarming book.”

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com


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