Tom Diaz

SHOW DOWN IN LOS ANGELES–THE ALEX SANCHEZ/MS-13 CASE

In Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on August 10, 2009 at 9:49 pm
Alex Sanchez

Alex Sanchez

A document filed today (August 10, 2009) in the federal district court for the Central District of California provides an interesting glimpse into the breathtaking scope of the latest racketeering case against Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), and its alleged Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde,  anti-gang activist Alex Sanchez.

Sanchez is accused of being a secret “Big Homie” (gang parlance for major boss, “shot caller,” whatever.)

Members of the self-styled “anti-gang activist” community are still recovering from the stunning — yes, an overused word, but appropriate in this case — indictment of  Sanchez, executive director of Homies Unidos, a transnational anti-gang organization.

I don’t know how you say “Ghandi” in Spanish, but Sanchez — an acknowledged former MS-13 gang member said to have reformed –  achieved something of Ghandi’s aura as a saintly man of peace and non-violence in his years as hands-down the most well known and broadly supported anti-gang worker in the Western Hemisphere.

It sounded like 50 caliber day at the shooting range on June 24, 2009, the day when the massive indictment against MS-13 was unsealed in federal district court and announced at a fifteen-camera press conference featuring the region’s top gangbusters.  That sound wasn’t gunfire.  It was fainting patrons of gang reformation hitting the floors of scores of salons.

Fairly Civil excerpted relevant sections of the indictment, including the charges against Sanchez,  in an earlier report which can be found here.  In sum, the federal racketeering indictment charges that Sanchez led a double life, was a top leader of the notorious Normandie clique, and was directly involved in a series of telephone conversations that directed the subsequent murder of one Walter Lacinos, a gang member in El Salvador:

(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.

In spite of the fact that scores of Sanchez’s supporters filed letters in support of his release, a federal judge refused to grant bail.  According to docket notes of the bail hearing, Judge Manuel L. Real denied bail but told government lawyers that he wants to “Hear/review the wiretap tapes…and the transcripts thereof” before making a final decision on bail at a hearing scheduled for next week.

Whatever happens, Judge Real is on the spot.  His decision either way is gonna knock some socks off.

In the meantime, one of Sanchez’s most fervent supporters, old-line radical activist Tom Hayden, rushed the following 12 gauge double-aught shotgun defense brief into print in The Nation magazine on June 29, available here:

The indictment of Alex Sanchez, a revered gangbanger-turned-peacemaker, raises new doubts about whether the Los Angeles police department has reformed sufficiently to be released from a federal court order.

It also brings back strong memories in Los Angeles barrios of the Sleepy Lagoon case during war hysteria in 1942, when the LAPD and media helped railroad three young Mexican men into long murder sentences. The verdicts were later overturned and twelve defendants freed from prison. At the time, the lawyer and future Nation editor Carey McWilliams wrote that the case was a “ceremonial lynching.”

….

Alex Sanchez is accused of being heard on wiretapped phone calls on May 6 and 7, 2006, in which several members of MS “conspired” to kill Walter Lacinos, whose street name was Cameron. On May 15, an alleged MS member killed Cameron in La Libertad, El Salvador.

To illustrate the nature of the charge, imagine that the following conversation took place: First party: That dude should be shot. Second party: No question.

In an ordinary criminal trial, it would be difficult to connect these words to an actual deed one week later. There would be evidence, for example, that all kinds of people wanted Cameron dead. He was deported to El Salvador after serving at least fifteen years in California state prisons as a high-ranking gang member. He had enemies as well as friends. But in the conspiracy model, it is easier for the prosecution to “prove” that the wiretapped voices are people who “conspired” in his death.

This example is purely hypothetical. The government has not released the actual content of the tapes, nor a list of its witnesses, nor any of the documents it will be compelled to hand over to the defense at trial.

Alex Sanchez denies the charges.

In sum, this case is just about racism.  Hey, any bunch of law-abiding guys could talk about whacking another guy over a couple of telephonic beers.  And, if the guy turns up dead, so?  Never heard of a coincidence?  Besides, I, Tom Hayden, declare that the man is innocent.  What more do you people need?

Fortunately, in the United States the tradition of trial by jury cuts both ways.  Sanchez is entitled to a legal presumption of innocence until proven guilty, no doubt.  But the government is equally entitled to put on its case without race- and ethnicity-baiting charges that a bunch of slavering racist cops cooked the case up.

Which brings us to the document filed in court today.

It’s a stipulation between the government and the defendants supporting an agreement to postpone the trial.  The document lays out a big picture of the range and type of evidence that the government has assembled.

Whatever else it may say, this fascinating document says to me that this investigation is deeply grounded and the case goes way, way beyond Hayden’s ethno-racist screed against the LAPD.

Stipulation Re:  Request for Vacation of Trial Date and Exclusion of Time Pursuant to the Speedy Trial Act. (Filed 08/10/09)

Current Trial Date:  September 1, 2009

Proposed Status Conference:  November 9, 2009 at 1:30 p.m.

This is an extremely complex case.  The indictment charges twenty-four leaders of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, with participating in a racketeering conspiracy covering fifteen years of criminal conduct, including six murders, eight conspiracies to murder, five robberies, witness intimidation, and ongoing narcotics trafficking and extorting.

The government represents that discovery in the case is voluminous.  It consists of:

  • Recordings of thousands of telephone calls (primarily Spanish language) intercepted on twelve wiretaps over the course of seven years;
  • summaries of those intercepted calls;
  • applications and reports to the court during the periods of wiretap interception;
  • over 700 consensually-recorded calls (primarily in Spanish);
  • summaries of those consensually-recorded calls;
  • dozens of call recorded from prisons and jails (primarily in Spanish);
  • transcripts of certain intercepted and/or monitored calls;
  • six LAPD murder books detailing homicide investigations, some of which are multi-volume;
  • FBI reports of dozens of controlled narcotics purchases over a number of years;
  • dozens of LAPD incident and arrest reports between 1995 and 2009;
  • FBI reports of surveillance;
  • FBI reports of witness statements;
  • narcotics laboratory reports;
  • firearms trace reports;
  • criminal histories; and
  • photographs, letters, and other documentary materials recovered during [ sic, probably missing "execution of"] search warrants.

….

The government began producing discovery on July 22, 2009 and continues to do so on a rolling basis.  Thus far, the government has produced and/or made available over 2300 pages of documents, including applications and orders relating to eight wiretaps, LAPD murder books for the murder of Jorge Bernal, aka”Travieso,” Erick Flores, aka “Moreno,” and Ileana Lara, aka “Mousey,” and a murder investigation report from El Salvadoran authorities regarding the murder of Walter Lacinos, aka “Camaron.” [Fairly Civil note: sic, name spelled differently in indictment (“Cameron”) and this motion.] In addition, the government has produced fifteen CDs containing recordings and summaries of calls intercepted on five telephone lines and three DVDs containing videos of witness interviews…

The government estimates that the trial in this case will last approximately 60 days; longer if the government ultimately seeks the death penalty against any of the death-eligible defendants.  Defendants are not yet in a position to estimate how long any defense case would last.

It’s crazy to predict anything.  But there is a pattern to this series of RICO cases against Latino gangs in California.

One, they have all been successful.  The government does not file these things like a blustering screed fired off to The Nation.

Two, they have all involved informants — gang members who have flipped and ratted out their “homies” and “carnales.”  Which means that the government knows a lot more than it puts in its indictments.

So that, three, a few of the defense lawyers take a look up the mountain and start looking for deals.

The glove may not fit, and the jury may acquit.  If that happens, a number of promising government legal careers are going to be blown up.

But win, lose, or draw, it’s going to be a fascinating trial.  I hope to get a seat.

  1. [...] of Latino gang good works:  intervention, prevention, and rehabilitation.  (See earlier posts here and here for more background on the indictments and the charges against [...]

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