“And we have said it, we go to war.”
Alex Sanchez, aka “Rebelde”
Transcript of May 6, 2006 Recorded Conversation, “Government’s Supplemental Submission Re: Intercepted Telephone Conversations of Defendant Alex Sanchez,” Exhibit D, p. 24, filed in United States v. Jose Alfaro, U.S. District Court, Central District, California, Docket No.: CR-09-00466-R.
“When the facts are against you, pound the law. When the law is against you, pound the facts. When both the facts and the law are against you, pound the table.”
Trial lawyer maxim.
The United States dealt a Royal Flush from its deck of evidence against Alex Sanchez the other day at a continued federal bail hearing. The executive director of the transnational anti-gang group “Homies Unidos” has been charged in a sweeping indictment with racketeering, including conspiracy to murder.
The government’s brief on the bail question makes it clear that prosecutors are doling out only the minimum necessary to keep Sanchez locked up. There are more aces in the government’s deck. They will be played before Sanchez’s trial is done.
At a minimum, the latest hand — four wiretap transcripts and the accompanying explanatory affidavit of LAPD Detective Frank Flores, a nationally recognized expert on MS-13 — has shifted the case heavily against the putative “peacemaker.”
Alex Sanchez is now in the position of a man with some explaining to do.
On its face, the record of these calls shows Sanchez to have been a man very much in charge during a series of angry, profanity-laced international conversations among MS-13 gangsters. He repeatedly identified himself as among the gang’s members. He was also so identified by other gangsters during the calls. Sanchez acted like a leader, not least because he treated other gang members with flashes of imperial and sometimes physically expressed anger that would likely get anybody but a shot-caller promptly whacked for showing disrespect.
The blow-back from Sanchez’s credulous supporters has been fierce.
An exercise in agitated table-pounding — what advocates do when the facts and the law are against them — is taking shape in a series of thinly-veiled collateral media attacks on key players and components of the law enforcement and judicial system that brought Sanchez and his alleged homies before the federal bar.
O that once more you knew but what you are!
These fifteen years you have been in a dream,
Or when you waked, so waked as if you slept.
Wm. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew
No one disputes that Alex Sanchez was once a member of MS-13 and is a convicted criminal. According to the government’s “response” to Sanchez’s motion for pretrial release (bail):
Sanchez has a lengthy criminal history, with convictions that demonstrate his propensity to violence, his capacity for deception, and his disregard for the law. Defendant has sustained felony convictions for grand theft, witness intimidation, and felon in possession of a firearm; misdemeanor convictions for DUI, vehicle theft, and vandalism; and juvenile convictions for possession of a firearm by a juvenile felon, assault with a deadly weapon with great bodily injury, and petty theft.
Okay, so nobody’s perfect.
And that was then, this is now — according to the Sanchez hagiography. Supposedly, the admittedly violent gangster turned his back on the past. After his felonious re-entry into the United States following deportation in 1995, Sanchez won asylum with the backing of radical activist and aging enfant terrible, Tom Hayden. He assumed his public role as iconic anti-gang worker and eventually became executive director of Homies Unidos.
That redemption was called called into question when a federal grand jury named Sanchez as one of two dozen defendants in a racketeering (RICO) indictment unsealed on June 24, 2009. The grand jury charged Sanchez with — among other things — being a secret leader (“shot-caller”) of the Normandie Locos, one of the earliest and most virulent “cliques” of the transnational criminal gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).
The shock was palpable. Sanchez has achieved a rank only a hair short of Mother Teresa’s on the sainthood scale, at least in the universe 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 Sanchez.)
Yet, in spite of scores of supporting letters, demonstrations like the one pictured above, and exertions of his counsel, Alex Sanchez remains in the federal lockup. After reviewing the latest evidence and hearing the arguments of both sides, on August 11th U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real continued the earlier decision of U.S. Magistrate Judge Alicia G. Rosenberg denying Sanchez bail and set a new hearing for October 19th.
Alex Sanchez Arrested: Dear FBI, WTF???!
From the blog WitnessLA, “the online source for daily coverage of social justice news.”
Indeed. What is going on here?
Supporters’ Charge: A Conspiracy So Vast
“Today we experienced disappointment,” said Homies Unidos board member Monica Novoa, stepping up to the microphone with a quivering voice after Judge Alicia G. Rosenberg’s decision to deny Sanchez bail. “But we are not defeated. We know this affects all of us because we are all Alex Sanchez.”
“Supporters stand behind activist with alleged ties to MS-13 gang,” Los Angeles Times, July 4, 2009.
What’s going on is clear to Sanchez’s dead-end supporters — a government lynch mob the likes of which have not been seen since the infamous Sleepy Lagoon murder trial of the 1940s has trumped up a scandalously weak case against Sanchez.
Lashing out in a classic example of argument by mere assertion (i.e., without specific factual underpinning), the likes of Hayden have not only dug the Sleepy Lagoon murder out of its moldering grave, but reached back to the notorious LAPD Rampart scandal. And because this case was investigated by a task force led by the FBI, it has also become necessary to go beyond the local cops and darkly infer that somehow that premier federal agency (and all other agencies involved in the task force) has gone into the tank. The conspiracy is so vast that it must now involve not only these law enforcement agencies, but the federal grand jury, Chief of Police William Bratton, the United States Attorney, Thomas O’Brien, federal attorneys from his office and Washington, a federal magistrate and a federal district court judge. Just for starters. Like The Truman Show, this conspiracy involves pretty much everybody but the central actor.
The purveyors of this conspiratorial view have been aided by an oddly passive “main stream media” in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times, for example, has virtually ignored the numerous details of the allegations against Sanchez, in spite of a crush of documentary material easily available in the Sanchez docket at the Federal Court house. One would think that — given the depredations of MS-13 and the rock star admiration of Sanchez — the home town newspaper would be all over this story like ink on print.
One would be wrong. Since the original story of Sanchez’s bail denial in June, the Los Angeles Times has restricted its coverage to:
- a fulminating op-ed attack on Chief William Bratton written by Tom Hayden (“Bratton’s exit opens the door to questions of conflict of interest,” August 13, 2009), and
- a curiously timed news-like attack on Judge Manuel L. Real (“Critics want to bench Judge Manuel L. Real: He is 85 and has sat on the U.S. District Court bench in L.A. since 1966,” August 16, 2009.) In addition to being in the age range of several sitting Justices of the United States Supreme Court, Judge Real is apparently a man who brooks no foolishness, having once shut down a lawyer by stating, “This isn’t Burger King. We don’t do it your way here.”
It might be understandable if someone in authority simply quoted Rep. Barney Frank in response to these darkly paranoid rumblings, to wit, “On what planet do you spend most of your time?” (Please understand, this question of defense by impugning assertions is a different question than Sanchez’s factual guilt or innocence of the charges. That’s why we have criminal trials, not opinion polls or kumbaya love-ins to resolve these cases.)
In fact, the government has taken the high road. It argues that Sanchez’s deception of his acolytes makes the matter especially insidious:
Those who support defendant cannot be faulted for doing so with the fervor they have shown; defendant has operated in support of Mara Salvatrucha all along, without their knowledge, while accepting their support. This makes him the worst possible danger to the community — a person in a position of trust who has abused that trust, and whose loyalty to MS-13 will assure that he continues to do so.
The Government’s Case
Unlike the poetic scribblings of Sanchez’s supporters on placards, conveniently timed newspaper “thumb-suckers,” and the pages of The Nation magazine, the federal government has to produce actual evidence to support its arguments.
I doubt that many of Alex “Rebelde” Sanchez’s supporters have actually read the 93 pages of transcripts of the four international wiretaps involving him that were filed with the court. No doubt his lawyers and inner circle would prefer that they not be too widely circulated. The substance of these conversations (beyond a stunning command of profanity) is a lengthy argument among the leaders of the Normandie Locos clique about the grounds to murder a gang member named Walter Lacinos — who actually turned up dead in El Salvador shortly after these discussions reached their obvious conclusion.
I have indeed read them and — taking care to assert once again that Sanchez is entitled to a presumption of innocence at law — am compelled to these several points:
- The dog that does not bark. Sanchez does not talk or act like a “peacemaker” during these calls. Whatever innocent interpretation his lawyers will no doubt attempt to hang on his words, what is strikingly absent is any attempt by Sanchez at reconciliation, at discouraging the “homeboys” from continuing along the path of discussions that quite obviously can only end in a decision to “green light” Lacinos (authorize his murder). There is no turning of the other cheek here.
- The “What is the meaning of ‘is’?” problem. What benign interpretation of Sanchez’s statement “We go to war” is anything short of laughable in the context of these calls? The conversations are full of angry, profane, violent talk about assassins and hit men allegedly sent by Lacinos to whack Sanchez and his home boys. Sanchez and others repeatedly express their need and willingness to defend themselves against Lacinos, and indeed, toward the terrible end of these talks, it is apparent that their purpose is to take the fight to him in El Salvador.
- The other sleeping dog. At no point in any of these extended phone calls does Sanchez distance himself from characterizations by others of his being there as part of the “clique,” i.e., as a gangster. On the contrary, at several points he describes himself as part of the clique. Wouldn’t one reasonably expect (to use the folksy example by assertion that Hayden likes) Sanchez to speak up and say something like, “Well, now, hold on, guys, you know I have left the gang life. I am now trying to discourage you men from acting like a bunch of foul-mouthed murderous thugs! Can we all get along?”
- The command presence. In marked contrast to the silence of the sleeping dogs, Sanchez’s firm and purposeful voice weaves through these calls like that of an experienced commander. Time and again, when others wander off to gather wool in anecdotal recollection or befuddled irrelevancies, Sanchez forces the conversation back to the subject at hand, resolutely pushing forward his agenda against Lacinos. The others repeatedly defer to him, even when he snatches things from their hands and yells at them.
The expert affidavit of LAPD Det. Frank Flores ties the transcripts of these conversations together into a coherent picture of an extended corporate decision-making meeting, the purpose and end result of which was murder.
More to Come
As noted at the top, the government makes clear that it has a good deal more evidence to present when appropriate in its case-in-chief.
It would be astonishing if it did not. One does not indict Mother Teresa — or Alexander Sanchez — without a lot of confidence that one can prove one’s case.
In this instance, it is certain that the government has the cooperation of erstwhile MS-13 insiders — flipped “rats” and others. According to its pleading, “the government will also present the testimony of multiple witnesses, not all of whom are cooperating witnesses testifying in hopes of a reduced sentence. These witnesses will testify to their personal knowledge of Sanchez’s ongoing participation in the affairs of MS-13.”
Perhaps Sanchez has a good answer to this mounting evidence. If so, he better start explaining.
The good plea bargains tend to dry up fast.