Tom Diaz

Archive for the ‘RICO indictments’ Category

Alex Sanchez Case Boyles Over — Priest Pours Cold Water on Government Case Against “Secret Shot Caller”

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on October 17, 2009 at 11:00 pm
Alexander (Alex) Sanchez (AKA "Rebelde") Throwing Devils Horns Gang Sign

Alexander (Alex) Sanchez (AKA "Rebelde") Throwing Devils Horns Gang Sign

Are the men in this picture two gangsters, as the federal government claims?

Or are they one gangster and a dedicated anti-gang worker bonding with an ex-homie as part of his work in steering gangsters toward redemption?

Federal Judge Manuel L. Real is scheduled to to slice this baby Monday afternoon, October 19th.  [Update:  Judge Real again denied bail.]

That’s when the judge will hear again the application of the man on the left — Alex Sanchez — for bail.   Sanchez was charged in June with living a double life as a secret “shot caller” while pretending to be an anti-gang worker as executive director of Homies Unidos.

The shock was palpable.

If You Indict Someone Who Rates a 10 On the Mother Teresa Scale, You Better Be Damned Sure You Can Convict

If You Indict Someone Who Rates a 10 On the Mother Teresa Scale, You Better Be Damned Sure You Can Convict

Sanchez is right up there with Mother Teresa in the hagiography of good works.  An unyielding corps of his fans have absolutely insisted that that there is no way Sanchez could have been anything other than the selfless man he presented himself to be.

As an earlier post of Fairly Civil enthusiastically noted (here), the government’s case against Sanchez’s release pending trial rested primarily on what appeared to be a damning series of four wiretap transcripts and the expert opinion of Los Angeles Police Department Detective Frank Flores interpreting the transcripts of those calls.

But a statement filed Wednesday by Father Greg Boyle on behalf of Sanchez raises the bar considerably.  Father Boyle points out a troubling omission from the transcript in the government’s case — namely, the statement of one of the gangster’s that pretty clearly appears to say (in so many words) “butt out, Alex, you are no longer one of us.”

To quote an L.A. news website, WitnessLA: “WTF?”

If you indict Mother Teresa, you better be able to prove her guilt slam dunk style.

(It’s worth noting that the Los Angeles Times appears to be — nay, is — sleeping soundly through this case, as it does so many other gang cases.  That is scandalous either way this case goes, because either an innocent man is being railroaded or he pulled off the greatest scam in the history of do-goodism!)

Excerpt from Father Boyle’s Filing

Here is an excerpt from the gut of Father Boyle’s court filing.  [Declaration of Father Greg Boyle Filed in Support of Defendant Sanchez’s Application for Review of Detention Order, United States v. Alfaro, United States District Court for the Central District of California, Docket No. CR-09-00466-R-22.]

(Note:  Sanchez is called by his gang moniker “Rebelde” in this filing.  Camaro is the late gangster whose murder Sanchez is accused of plotting as a secret shot-caller.)

No doubt, the government will have an answer (not filed as of this posting).  If it does not have a zippy and persuasive reply to the following, you won’t be able to count the ruined careers on all your hands and toes.  [For a reply to this post, and to Father Boyle’s filing, from a retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s gang sergeant, go here.]

12.  I am fluent in Spanish and I have listened to the tapes of the four recorded calls.  I have read and considered the government’s Memorandum of Points and Authorities as well as the Declaration of Detective Flores.  Based upon my experience, history and qualifications as a gang expert, I believe the government’s conclusions and Detective Frank Flores’s opinions are mistaken and are based upon a misinterpretation of the language and meaning of these four calls.  Similarly, the government and Detective Flores have misconstrued Alex Sanchez’s role in these calls, his purpose in participating in these calls and the import of his statements.

13.   Before I discuss my review of each of the calls, it is important to highlight the fact the government and Detective Flores completely omit and ignore one of the most important — if not the most important — sections in these calls:  the clear and unequivocal statements by participants in the calls that Mr. Sanchez is not an active gang member.  This omission, in and of itself, raises concerns in my mind about the balance and fairness of the government’s and Detective Flores’s presentation.  It is unlikely, if not impossible, the government and Detective Flores overlooked this part of the calls.  More likely, they did not make mention of these statement because the recorded statements undermine their conclusions.

14.  Unlike many of the potentially ambiguous statements lifted from the calls by Detective Flores, there is no ambiguity in the statement made by Camaron, during the third call, that Alex Sanchez is not an active member of the MS-13 gang.  Camaron states:

CAMARON:        Listen man!  And-and-and-and I don’t know why you [stutters] come … you know, and you get involved in things, when you are not longer active, man!  You see?  Better yet, what you should do is to be careful with the “United Homies” and not-not to get involved in our things, you see?  [Call breaks] [UI] with us, because you are no longer active, see what I mean?

REBELDE:        If you told him — If you told Boxer that I’m working with the FBI, then you know what, you are getting me involved!

15.  Camaron does not mince words.  He says Mr. Sanchez should have no voice in the conversation because he is not part of the gang.  From Camaron’s perspective, Mr. Sanchez is an outsider and should not get involved in “our things” because he is “no longer active.”  There is no way to reconcile this statement — that Mr. Sanchez is not an active gang member — with the government’s and Detective Flores’s position; in fact, it turns their argument on its head. If Mr. Sanchez is not an active gang member, he is certainly not a “shot caller.”  No one can be a shot caller if they are not an active gang members.  It is that simple.”

Whatever else Fr. Boyle writes in his filing, he puts his pen here right on a camel the government will have to get through the needle:  “You are no longer active.”

Match point.  Serve.  Better be a zinger.

SUNSET BOULEVARD FOR AVENUES GANG — FEDS AND LA CITY ATTORNEY KEEP HAMMERING

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, undercover investigations on September 24, 2009 at 4:42 pm

Gloria Swanson as Faded Silent Movie Queen Norma Desmond (1950)

Joe Gillis (William Holden): You’re Norma Desmond. You used to be in silent pictures. You used to be big.

Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson): I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

The notorious Avenues gang in Los Angeles is finding itself caught in a giant gang compactor.  The screen is not getting smaller.  The gang is.

A federal RICO (racketeering) indictment — handed up Thursday, September 17th and sealed until a massive raid was carried out Tuesday, September 22nd — named 88 members of the gang, which has an estimated 400 members in total.  That’s 22 percent of the gang in this round alone.

Among the crimes alleged in the current indictment is the August 2008 murder of 27-year old Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy Juan Abel Escalante.  Wholly aside from the moral degradation apparent in that tragic and ruthless murder of a father of three, it was a serious mistake by the gang’s genius bar.

The latest in a series of coordinated attacks on this violent criminal entity by federal law enforcement agencies and the City of Los Angeles have demonstrably affected the gang and its overlords, the “big homies” of the Mexican Mafia (EME) prison gang.  Although some of the faces have changed on the side of civil society, the new players are sticking to a well-honed game plan and putting unrelenting pressure of the worst of the gangs.  [The history of how that game plan developed is laid out in my latest book, No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press, 2009).]

“THE TORCH HAS BEEN PASSED”

Unlike Many Contemporary Idealists, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy Clearly Understood the Threat of Organized Crimes and Was A Relentless Gang-Buster

Unlike Many Contemporary Idealists, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy Clearly Understood the Threat of Organized Crimes and Was A Relentless Gang-Buster

In concert with the federal indictment, the new Los Angeles City Attorney, Carmen Trutanich, has also filed 3 new civil abatement actions against the Avenues, under his office’s Project T.O.U.G.H. (Taking Out Urban Gang Headquarters).  These civil lawsuits ask for injunctions against owners of property in notorious use by gangsters, and demand that the properties undergo physical and managerial improvements.  The court is also asked for “stay-away” orders against known gang members named in the lawsuits.  These filings bring to 15 the total of such actions against the gang since an injunction was won in 2002 by former City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo.

On the federal side, Acting United States Attorney George S. Cardona is continuing to use the gang-busting RICO hammer that former USA Thomas O’Brien used to great effect.

Earlier posts of Fairly Civil laid out some of this civil action history in the context of the Drew Street clique (of which more below).  You can read those posts here and here.

Another excellent source on the history of the Avenues gang and its relationship to the Mexican Mafia can be found in Tony Rafael’s book, The Mexican Mafia.  Rafael (a non de plume) is reported to have a “green light” on him because of his research.  Here is what the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report wrote about him in 2006:

Whenever Tony Rafael leaves home, he carries a .45-caliber handgun nestled in a holster just below his armpit. A Cold Steel Recon-1 knife is stashed elsewhere on his person. Concealed weapons permits are hard to come by in Los Angeles County, but Rafael is a special case.

Okay, to each his own.  Other good sources are Chris Blatchford’s engaging profile of former (“flipped”) EME member Rene Enriquez, The Black Hand, and Mundo Mendoza’s Mexican Mafia: From Altar Boy to Hitman, available only in Word format on a CD-ROM.

But several things distinguish Rafael’s book in the context of this case.

First, as the SPLC Intelligence Report describes, Rafael was all over the EME-policy driven anti-Black murders by the Avenues gang and some other Latino gangs — at a time when the Los Angeles Times and other “main stream media” simply refused to admit that such things as local “ethnic cleansing” were happening and simply would not report on them (until federal indictments put the elephant on the news conference table).

Second, Rafael puts a well-informed finger right on the astoundingly obtuse Los Angeles media coverage in general about the Mexican Mafia and its suzerainty over Southern California Latino gangs, a dominance that is being consolidated and extended elsewhere in the United States (see this Fairly Civil post for an example).

In Yogi Berra’s inimitable words, “This is like deja vu all over again.”  In two lead stories in the Los Angeles Times on the law enforcement action, here and here, the Mexican Mafia was mentioned in one sentence! Moreover, the paper appears oblivious to the significance of the RICO law as a gang-fighting tool, instead focusing its coverage on “style section” type gangster and cop profiles, like a film noir script.  The federal investigative effort was key in this case — primarily from agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration working on the Los Angeles High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) task force, using Title III wiretaps among other sophisticated tools.

Given the media grey-out in Los Angeles, of all places, about the nature of gangsters and organized crime, it is no wonder that many probably well-intentioned activists still insist on seeing the gang problem only as the “disorganized crime” of marginalized youth.  (Of course, some less-than-well-intentioned are in the mix, and Fairly Civil will not need smelling salts if and when the public corruption indictments start coming down).

Of course, intervention, prevention, and spiritual redemption all have their place.

But nothing stops a violent criminal conspiracy like a RICO indictment.

Speaking of which, here are relevant and extremely informative excerpts from United States v. Aguirre, the case at hand.

The first section not only describes the history of the Avenues, but articulates the relationship between the Avenues and the Mexican Mafia, and the impact of the hammering the Drew Street clique took:

BACKGROUND OF THE AVENUES STREET GANG

2. The Avenues gang is a multi-generational street gang that was formed in the 1940s and claims the area roughly between Colorado Boulevard to the north, the 3200 Block of Griffin Street to the east, San Fernando Road to the south, and Drew Street to the west as its “territory” in Northeast Los Angeles. The Avenues gang has been divided into a number of smaller groups, or “cliques,” based on geography and associations in the neighborhood controlled by the gang. The original Avenues cliques were the Cypress Avenues, the Avenues Assassins, Avenues 43rds, and most recently the Drew Street clique. After its formation was formally authorized by the Mexican Mafia in August 2007, the Drew Street clique became the most active and violent clique within the Avenues gang and produced the most significant revenues for the Mexican Mafia from narcotics trafficking, robbery, the extortion of local business owners, “staged” car accidents, identity theft, and other crimes. Revenues in the form of “taxed” proceeds from the crimes of the organization were collected by Avenues leaders and paid to Mexican Mafia leaders who directed, and continue to direct, the activities of the Avenues gang from within the California State Prison system, in particular the California State Prison at Pelican Bay, California. In June 2008, the federal investigation and prosecution of the Drew Street clique of the Avenues gang dismantled the Drew Street clique and removed its leadership, in particular Francisco “Pancho” Real, Maria “Chata” Leon, and the Real/Leon family. After the federal indictment, Mexican Mafia leaders have attempted to re-organize and re-establish the  Avenues presence in Northeast Los Angeles by ending the “clique” divisions within the gang and naming new leaders of the Avenues gang, specifically defendants VELASQUEZ, RODRIGUEZ, and, later, SOLIS. Mexican Mafia leaders meet with Avenues gang leaders at California State Prison facilities and speak by telephone in order to instruct and direct the crimes of the Avenues gang, and to coordinate the collection of illegal proceeds from gang activity.

Following sections illuminate gang “culture,” including the key role of “tagging,” which some probably well-intentioned people prefer to see as the creative expressions of frustrated youngsters:

3. Avenues gang members generally identify one another through the use of hand gestures, or gang “signs.” They typically display the letter “A” for Avenues or the interlocking “L-A” for “Los Avenidas.” Members refer to one another as “skulls” and frequently wear the “Skull Camp” or “Skull Wear” brand clothing to identify themselves as members and associates of the Avenues gang. The clothing depicts images of human skulls in various forms, such as a human skull depicted as part of the logo for the Oakland Raiders football team and, oftentimes, the depiction of a human skull wearing a fedora hat, with a bullet hole in the side of the skull. Gang members also frequently wear baseball caps for teams such as the Oakland Athletics, Atlanta Braves, and Los Angeles Dodgers, whose team insignia includes an “A” or “L-A,” for Avenues and Los Avenidas. Gang tattoos, gang names, and slogans are also used to identify members and territory controlled by the gang.

4. The Avenues gang also uses spray-painted “tagging” to demonstrate its control of its neighborhoods to rival gang members and the local community. Gang “tagging” frequently appears on street signs, walls, buildings, and portions of the 110 Freeway, Interstate 5, and Highway 2 in the areas controlled by the gang. Members will also often use the number 13 in various forms (i.e., 13, X3, or XIII) to demonstrate loyalty to the Mexican Mafia (“m” being the 13th letter in the alphabet) and to signal that the gang has “sureno” (Southern California) loyalty. The letters “NELA” are used to identify Northeast Los Angeles gang members, and the number 187 is frequently used by the gang to take “credit” for a murder that has been committed by the gang. “Tagging” is used in this way to issue challenges to rival gang members and to communicate among Avenues gang members. More importantly, it is a public demonstration of the authority of the gang, because it not only identifies territory claimed by the Avenues gang to rival gang members, but also serves as a warning or means to terrorize members of the public and law-abiding residents of the neighborhoods with threats that the neighborhood is under the control of the Avenues gang.

Of course, the most innocent victims are the ordinary people who live in gang-infested neighborhoods.  It’s odd that “activists” often seem less concerned about these boringly “straight” people than the thugs who terrorize them:

5. Persons living in the neighborhoods controlled and “tagged” by the Avenues gang have had to live with the knowledge that they may be subject to violent retaliation, even death, if they try to remove or clean the gang’s marks from their buildings and homes or try to remove pairs of sneakers that are frequently thrown across telephone and power lines as a display of gang control of the neighborhood. Those actions would be seen as defying the gang’s authority and its control over the neighborhoods it has claimed. The gang’s tactics, which include wearing “Skull Camp” clothing, shaved heads, display of weapons, tattoos, “tagging,” and even posting items on websites, are designed to intimidate and terrorize the residents of the neighborhoods controlled by the Avenues gang. In addition, residents in the neighborhood have been attacked by Avenues gang members for maintaining security systems and cameras in the neighborhoods.

Confronting and murdering law enforcement personnel is not just an expression of “la vida loca.”  It is a violent manifestation of the gangs’ imperative to control territory, gauzily recalled by gangster advocates as barrio-love.

6. As part of the gang’s control over neighborhoods, Avenues gang members direct violent attacks against law enforcement officers and brag about those attacks in Internet communications. In particular, Avenues gang members and leaders post antagonistic attacks directed at law enforcement on Internet websites, such as “Fuck the police,” and mottos, including “Avenidas don’t get chased by the cops. We chase them.” As to the general public, Avenues gang members warn, “Avenidas don’t just hurt people. We kill them.” Threats of violence against law enforcement have been repeatedly demonstrated in armed attacks by Avenues gang members on law enforcement officers, including a February 21, 2008 attack in which Avenues gang members opened fire on Los Angeles Police Department (“LAPD”) officers with handguns and an assault rifle, and an August 2, 2008 attack in which Avenues gang members murdered Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Juan Escalante in front of his home in Cypress Park.

Here follows reference to the gang’s campaign against Africa-Americans, the subject Tony Rafael convincingly demonstrates in his book was … um … whited-out by the news media in Los Angeles:

7. The organization is also hostile to the presence ofAfrican-Americans in Avenues gang territory. Neighborhoods controlled by the Avenues gang are frequently “tagged” with racist threats directed against African-Americans that are intended to intimidate African-Americans and prevent African-Americans from living in the neighborhood. Avenues gang members also confront African Americans with threats of violence and murder in order to intimidate and prevent African-Americans from residing in or entering neighborhoods controlled by the Avenues gang.

Oh, yeah, did we mention drug-trafficking?  This is the core of the organized criminal enterprises that gangs have morphed into since the sepia-toned days gang “advocates” are stuck in. Most gangsters today are workers inthe drug sweat shops, while the “big homies,” “shot callers,” and drug lords” live lives of filthy wealth.

8. The Avenues gang is continually engaged in the distribution of cocaine base in the form of cocaine, crack cocaine (“crack cocaine”), methamphetamine, heroin and other narcotic drugs. In particular, Avenues gang leaders obtain narcotic drugs and control the distribution of narcotic drugs by providing “street-level” distribution amounts (typically a few grams of crack cocaine at a time) to numerous gang members and associates in the area controlled by the gang. Avenues gang leaders, in turn, collect extortion payments, referred to as “taxes” or “rent,” from drug traffickers in the neighborhood. Avenues gang members also extort payment from persons who live and maintain businesses in the area controlled by the gang under threat of physical violence, including the threat that individuals who do not adhere to the gang’s demands will be “green-lighted” by the Mexican Mafia, that is, they will be targeted for murder. The authority to collect “taxes” represents an elevated position within the gang, one that is authorized by the Mexican Mafia leaders as a “shot-caller.” The “shot-caller” who has authority to collect “taxes” may then delegate the responsibility for collections to other gang members under his authority.

What makes this all work?  Guns.  The militarization of the U.S. civilian firearms market in the 1980s (assault weapons) and the rise of high-capacity semi-automatic pistols was the wind under the wings of the criminally consolidating gangster empires.

9. Avenues gang members maintain a ready supply of firearms, including handguns, shotguns, automatic assault rifles, and machineguns, in order to enforce the authority of the gang. Such weapons typically are stolen or unregistered, so that their use cannot be readily connected to the gang member who either used the weapon or maintained it. Weapons often are discarded or destroyed after having been used to commit acts of violence on behalf of the organization. Therefore, gang leaders frequently need to maintain a source of supply for additional unregistered or non-traceable firearms. The Avenues gang also controls the activities of its members and enforces its authority and internal discipline by killing, attempting to kill, conspiring to kill, assaulting, and threatening its own members or others who would present a threat to the enterprise. Avenues gang members and associates typically continue to plan and execute crimes even after arrests and during periods of incarceration, by telephone calls from inside detention facilities, prison notes (known as “kites”) and meetings among inmates within an institution, where they coordinate offenses to be carried out within the institutions and upon their release from custody.

More on gang “culture” — youth programs, activities for women, and neighborhood “work”:

10. Leaders of the Avenues gang recruit and initiate juveniles to join the gang and direct them to commit acts of violence and drug-trafficking crimes on behalf of the gang. New members frequently are recruited through their participation in a younger “tagging” unit or from a different sect of the larger organization. New members ordinarily are then “jumped in” to the gang. This initiation process ordinarily requires that the new member is physically beaten by senior, established members of the gang and must demonstrate his resilience during the beating. The new member is then expected to put in “work” for the gang, which includes the distribution of narcotics, “hunting” rival gang members,  posting up” in the neighborhood (acting as a “look-out”to alert members to the presence of law enforcement), and “tagging” in the neighborhood.

11. Females are commonly disparaged and addressed derisively in the gang. However, female members and associates play a vital role in the operation of the Avenues gang and its relationship with the Mexican Mafia. Female associates are frequently active in narcotics trafficking, weapons distribution, the maintenance of cellular telephones, and the collection and transfer of “tax” payments and narcotics proceeds. Female associates are frequently relied on to smuggle narcotics into the state penitentiaries and provide cellular telephones to gang members in and out of custody. Female associates also play an integral role in directing and maintaining communications within the organization, in particular, communications with incarcerated gang members and leaders of the organization, as well as the distribution of collected drug proceeds and “taxed” payments from the neighborhood.

12. Avenues gang members enforce the authority of the gang to commit its crimes by directing acts of violence and retaliation against non-compliant drug-traffickers and rival gang members, as well as non-compliant members. Gang members frequently destroy surveillance cameras installed in the neighborhood pursuant to court orders and to protect the neighborhood from the crimes of the Avenues gang. Avenues gang members also commonly threaten witnesses whom they suspect might testify or provide information to law enforcement about the crimes committed by the gang, or other public officers, such as school teachers or fire department officers who might come into conflict with the goal of the Avenues gang to control and terrorize the neighborhoods in Northeast Los Angeles.

Here is a tutorial on the relationships between EME and the Avenues:

MEXICAN MAFIA AUTHORITY FOR THE AVENUES

13. The Avenues gang is loyal and committed to the “Mexican Mafia,” also known as “La Eme.” The Mexican Mafia is a prison gang that was organized within the California State Prison system in order to control and direct the activities of Southern California street gangs. “Made” members of the Mexican Mafia have assumed authority for different regions in Southern California. Typically, a “made” member is an inmate within the California State Prison system and exercises his control and direction over the region from within the state prison facility where he is housed. The Mexican Mafia leaders issue directions and orders, including orders to kill rival gang members, members of law enforcement, and members of the public, which are referred to as “green-lights.” Those orders are to be executed by Avenues gang members and are understood by Avenues gang members as opportunities to gain elevated status within the organization or potentially become a “made” member of the organization.

14. The Mexican Mafia has established rules to govern acts of violence committed by local street gang members, including Avenues gang members. The Mexican Mafia thus requires Avenues gang members to adhere to protocols for the conduct of violent attacks, narcotics trafficking, and murders, including the issuance of “green light” authorizations for murder. Failure to adhere to Mexican Mafia rules can lead to the issuance of a “green light,” directing an attack on the offending member, or the requirement that money be paid. “Green lights” are also frequently issued in retaliation for a perceived “disrespect” to a Mexican Mafia leader, to punish the unauthorized collection of “tax” payments in a neighborhood controlled by the Avenues gang, or to sanction individuals who traffic in narcotics without the gang’s authorization or without paying the required tax to the Avenues and Mexican Mafia.

15. Mexican Mafia and Avenues gang members and associates regularly exploit prison visits, telephone calls, policies concerning letter-communications with attorneys, and prison monetary accounts in order to generate income from narcotics trafficking and other crimes of the enterprise, so as to promote the criminal enterprise and direct the operation of the Avenues gang from within the California State Prison system. Mexican Mafia leaders also require weekly payments from prisoners incarcerated in the Los Angeles County Jail system.

16. Avenues gang leaders extort money from local drug traffickers, members of other gangs, prostitutes, residents, and persons who maintain businesses in the area controlled by the gang. A portion of the “taxes” collected by the Avenues gang leaders is then paid to the Mexican Mafia leadership incarcerated within the California State Prison system. Avenues gang members also raise funds for the organization by conducting armed home invasion robberies, in which they target individuals believed to maintain large sums of cash or valuables in their homes.

LEADERSHIP OF THE MEXICAN MAFIA

17. Currently three Avenues gang members are also validated Mexican Mafia members. They are Mexican Mafia Member #1, Mexican Mafia Member #3, and Alex “Pee Wee” Aguirre, and they have authority over Northeast Los Angeles, which is the territory controlled by the Avenues gang. The Mexican Mafia members use Mexican Mafia leaders and associates, including defendants RUDY AGUIRRE, JR., RICHIE AGUIRRE, RUDY AGUIRRE, SR., and P. CORDERO, to communicate orders and authorizations to Avenues gang leaders and members, and to receive information about the activities of the Avenues gang.

LASD Deputy Juan Abel Escalante, Father of Three, Allegedly Murderd by Avenues Gangsters

LASD Deputy Juan Abel Escalante, Father of Three, Allegedly Murderd by Avenues Gangsters

“SNITCH” MANAGEMENT — LOOKING AT INFORMANTS THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, PART ONE

In Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, Mexico, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on September 18, 2009 at 9:18 pm

neighborhoodwatchgrafitti

Confidential informants are like the black hole of the criminal justice system.

Ellen Yashefsky, Benjamin Cardozo Law School, quoted in Aubrey Fox, “Delving the Murky World of Police Informants,” Gotham Gazette, February 20, 2008.

It is rarely possible to guess accurately from what corner the informer will emerge.  For this reason, a delicate relationship, little understood by the public, exists between law enforcement officials and individual members of the underworld.  These men we hunt down are always possible allies who may come over to our side for some consideration of sentence, for some promise to protect their wife or family.  My attitude has been to use any means available to cut narcotic violations to a minimum, and where criminals or addicts will cooperate with us to that end I will deal with them…Whether he comes voluntarily or because he is shown that it is his best way out, whether it is a one-time deal or a source of inside information that may continue for months, the informer provides the solution for ninety-five percent not only of narcotic offenses but of all types of crime.

Harry J. Anslinger and Will Orsler, The Murderers (New York: Avon Books, 1961), pp. 121-122.

Informants are more than mere witnesses to crime and are less than law enforcement officers.

John Madinger, Confidential Informant: Law Enforcement’s Most Valuable Tool (Washington, DC: CRC Press, 2000), p. 12.

“No informant, no case.”

That aphorism has become almost universally accepted among investigators of racketeering and drug crimes.  But some doubt it.

Harry J. Anslinger believed in the value of informants, as the quote above demonstrates.

Harry J. Anslinger

Harry J. Anslinger

Anslinger — the other J. Edgar Hoover — was the first Commissioner of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Narcotics.  Although the rap is variously pinned on Richard Nixon or Ronald Reagan, Anslinger was the original architect of the American war on drugs.  Some of his prose on the evils of marijuana is … entertaining … to say the least.  (“Google” him if you are interested.  This is a more or less family-friendly blog.)

Every street cop, federal agent, and prosecutor battling the toxic corrosion of the illegal drug trade–and its local retailers, street gangs–also knows the value of the informant.

‘’The big secret of detective work is that you’ve got to get somebody else to tell you what happened,’’ NYPD Lt. John Cornicello told The New York Times in 2006.

However, some federal investigators suggest that the brutal discipline, cellular structure, and tightly held core of Mexican drug trafficking organizations has diminished the value of “flipping” lower level criminals and — through them — working the investigation up to the bosses.  These people suggest that the interception of communications — wiretaps and other techniques — has become more important in the law enforcement tool box of “sophisticated techniques of investigation.”

Here is the central problem of informants against the Mexican DTOS, according to this view:  Lower level members of the Mexican drug trafficking organizations in the United States (i.e., your quiet Latino neighbor in Cleveland, Atlanta, or Conshohocken, whose well-trimmed lawn and unexceptional home is a stash house, packed with dope for redistribution to local gangs and thence up the nose of America’s addicts) typically clam up tightly when busted.  After all, they have family members who can be easily whacked or tortured back in Mexico.  Moreover, they generally are isolated in specialized cells, and know little to nothing about the rest of the organization.  Flipping them is difficult and usually yields little useful information, some seasoned agents say.

Be that as it may, court records and news reports teach that the use of informants is still central to the investigation of many criminal enterprises, including transnational gangs.  And although communications intercepts may be the key to making cases against the Mexican DTOS, informants here and in Mexico are still important.

Fairly Civil will wander through this world of informants over a series of posts, beginning with this one.  These posts will examine the value of informants in actual criminal cases, and some of the issues that critics consistently raise.

The Long History of Informants

Modern civil libertarians and the criminal defense bar tend to criticize the use of informants as an insidious and relatively new creature of the war on drugs.

In fact, informants have been used since at least Biblical times.  The transactional equation (“you give me information, I give you special treatment”) is the same now as it was then:

The House of Joseph, for their part, advanced against Bethel, and the Lord was with them.  While the House of Joseph were scouting at Bethel … their patrols saw a man leaving the town.  They said to him, “Just show us how to get into the town, and we will treat you kindly.”  He showed them how to get into the town; they put the town to the sword, but they let the man and his relatives go free.

Judges (Shofetim) 1: 22-26, Tanakh (Philadelphia:  The Jewish Publication Society, 1985).

Recent court filings — e.g., a corruption case involving a senior ICE official, federal racketeering (RICO) cases against MS-13 in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and the pursuit of an injunction by police officers in St. Louis — illustrate the vast range of differences in the uses and abuses of snitch management within the American law enforcement system.

Given the utility of informants — and the fair assumption that most law enforcement officers and prosecutors want to use informants to fight crime and put criminals in jail — the use of informants raises three classes of interesting issues:

  • Keeping informants alive.
  • Managing informants and their information to ensure that they are reliably transmitting valid information and not wrongfully implicating innocent persons.
  • Law enforcement policy management issues about the impact of informants on the administration of justice, particularly in communities where they are heavily used.

This post will focus on the problem of keeping informants alive.

Keeping Informants Alive

If you decide to embark on a life of crime, there’s one very important thing that you should know, and that thing is everyone is a potential informant against you — your wife, your mother, your brother, your lawyer, anyone you’ve ever worked for or worked with and anyone who has ever worked for you.

Chris Mather, Crime School: Money Laundering (Buffalo, NY: Firefly Books, 2004), p. 101.

Gangsters know the value of the informant — an endangered species also known in the underworld as the “rat,” the “stool pigeon,” and the “snitch,” among other epithets.   The thought that one’s homey or carnal may be cooperating with law enforcement is a tiny live wire wound through the brains of the “shot callers” and “big homeys” of every  Latino gang.  That little wire carries a buzzing current of paranoia and suspicion.  “One may smile, and smile, and be a villain,” Prince Hamlet observed upon learning of his own mother’s duplicity.

Not infrequently, paranoia overcomes reality.  Gangsters innocent of cooperation have nevertheless suffered the misfortune of being whacked without proof, much less probable cause.  Call it intuition gone awry.

Some who suffer unjust accusation from their fellow gangsters are driven into the  arms of law enforcement.  [I write about several such cases in No Boundaries:  Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press 2009).]

To give the devil his due, however, it is also true that gang leaders often seek what they call “paperwork” — some kind of official evidence — corroborating that a suspected homey has in fact “flipped” before giving a “green light” to have him (or her, as in the case, e.g., of notorious MS-13 informant Brenda Paz) murdered.

“They usually try and get paperwork on people that they say that they’re snitching or they said something to incriminate somebody,” a member of the Columbia Lil’ Cycos clique of the 18th Street gang explained in testimony during a federal racketeering trial described in No Boundaries. “And once they get the paperwork, they place a green light on the person.”

One of the better places to find such evidence is in the files of the “discovery” material that our system of justice requires be given to persons accused of crime.  Gangsters and their lawyers comb through this material in search of the identity of informants.

“The homeboys know the legal system better than most lawyers,” FBI Special Agent Carl Sandford told we when I was researching No Boundaries. “They use the rules of discovery and evidence in criminal cases to get ‘paperwork’ concerning who the rats are.”

In fact, the murder conspiracy in which Los Angeles anti-gang activist Alex Sanchez is accused of participating as a secret MS-13 shot-caller revolves about the accusation of one gangster — Walter Lacinos —  that another was a rat.  Lacinos provided “paperwork” to document his accusation.  But, according to transcripts of a government wiretap in the case, MS-13 shot-callers submitted the paperwork [apparently some kind of court document] to the Mexican Mafia for the gangster version of forensic analysis.  The decision came down that Lacinos’s “paperwork”  was fake (it included at least one forged page).  This led to considerable intra-gang ill will and Lacinos was eventually whacked in El Salvador.

A Working Example:  United States v. Cerna

A current example of how this cat and mouse game of sussing out informants might work is provided in the ongoing RICO case brought against a number of MS-13 gangsters in San Francisco, United States v. Cerna.

The trial court recently ruled on a number of pre-trial motions.  The following excerpt describes one of the defendant’s attempts to find out the names of certain informants:

[One of the defendants] argues that defendants have a need for disclosure because the informants were participants in ‘critical events’ at issue in this case.  He lists several ways in which the informants are referenced in discovery or the indictment. Informants 1211 and 1218 provided law enforcement with information about MS-13’s operations, leaders and members. Informants 1211 and 1218 attended MS-13 meetings with defendants which support the RICO conspiracy counts against them. Informant 1211 told the authorities about meetings with [certain] defendants … where various crimes were discussed. Informant 1218 attended meetings with [certain] defendants … [and] also discussed the buying and selling of narcotics with [another] defendant and provided authorities with information about a violent crime allegedly committed by [other] defendants…[etc., etc.]

“Omnibus Order Re Stage Two Motions,” United States v. Cerna, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Docket No. CR 08-0730 WHA, filed September 16, 2009.

The court ruled that the defendant had shown enough to require the government to come into a closed conference in the court’s chamber [in camera] — without the defendants or their lawyers — as described in this part of the ruling:

An in camera hearing is therefore justified. The hearing will be held ex parte, with only judicial staff, prosecutors and witnesses present, in order to protect the identity of the informants. A defendant for whom the threshold showing has been made as to a particular informant … may submit written questions regarding that informant to the Court and opposing counsel three days before the hearing.

The Court orders an in camera evidentiary hearing to determine whether to allow disclosure of the confidential informants’ identities. The government is ORDERED to produce at the hearing one or more witnesses with knowledge of the relevant informant’s identity and role in the investigations of this action.

This all sounds tidy, secure, and appropriately solicitous of the informants’ well-being.

Gangsters and cartels have their own ways of doing things, however.  For example, corrupting law enforcement officials who can provide them with the names of informants by accessing law enforcement databases.

The Case of Richard Padilla Cramer

Allegedly Corrupt Law Enforcement Officer -- Not A Mexican, But a Senior U.S. DEA Agent

Allegedly Corrupt Law Enforcement Officer -- Not A Mexican, But a Senior U.S. DEA Agent

The affidavit in support of a criminal complaint in the case of United States v. Cramer alleges that a recently retired senior ICE agent stationed in Guadalajara, Mexico was selling lists of informants to Mexican drug traffickers while he was an ICE agent.  It is charged that Cramer also became a major investor in several large shipments of cocaine.  In fact, he was supposedly urged by his DTO pals to retire so as to become an investor in dope.

According to court documents, erstwhile-Agent Cramer was exposed when a  DTO operative [“CS–2″] “flipped”:

After being arrested, CS-2 provided the law enforcement officers with copies of printouts of the results of database run in several law enforcement databases, including four DEA database queries, two criminal history queries, one ICE database query, and two State of California law enforcement database queries … CS-2 also stated that these law enforcement inquiries were from a U.S. Federal Agent stationed in Mexico named “Richard.”  CS-2 also stated that the DTO utilizes Richard to make inquiries into members of the DTO to confirm that they (the members of the DTO) are not working as informants for various law enforcement agencies.  Richard was later identified through this investigation as Richard Padilla CRAMER, a former ICE agent stationed in Mexico until his retirement in or about December 2006 or January 2007 … It was later learned that CRAMER utilized his law enforcement position to persuade DEA agents to run DEA database queries under the guise of an active drug investigation.  Further investigation with DEA agents who were stationed in Mexico revealed that CRAMER was stationed in Guadalajara, Mexico and was known to ask to have database checks run on various subjects … CRAMER was responsible for advising the DTO how U.S. Law Enforcement works with warrants and record checks as well as how DEA conducts investigations to include “flipping subjects” and making records checks.

Affidavit in support of Criminal Complaint in United States v. Cramer, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, Docket No: 09-3178-White, filed August 28, 2009.

This would be a shocking case if it were not for the fact that it is only the latest in a string of cases in which square-jawed minions of law and order on “our side” of the border have been shown to be just as rotten as all those contemptible “corrupt officials” on the other side.

It reminds one of the lyrics of the old cowboy music song by Jim Ed Brown: “I was looking back to see if you were looking back to see if I was looking back to see if you were looking back at me.”

The difference, of course, is that an outed informant is a dead man walking.  And not for long.

THE MEXICAN MAFIA — NATIONAL AND TRANSNATIONAL POWER, PART TWO

In Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Guns, Latino gangs, Mexico, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on August 30, 2009 at 9:28 pm
Cartels and Drug Routes Depicted in 2008 by Stratfor, Private Intelligence Service

Cartels and Drug Routes Depicted in 2008 by Stratfor, Private Intelligence Service

This three part series posting excerpts from federal court cases on the Mexican Mafia (“Eme” or “La Eme”) continues with a look at the powerful prison gang’s trans-border connections.  (The first posting, here, provided an overview of Eme’s organization and its operations).

U.S. government reports about drugs and gangs often discuss the links among U.S. prison and street gangs, drug trafficking, and the Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs), or cartels.

But these reports are more often than not maddening in their generality.  They lack what some call fine detail or “granularity.”  Empty calories come to mind.

A recent federal RICO case brought against members of the Mexican Mafia in San Diego provides some interesting detail to fill in some of the blanks, at least in one major racketeering case.

First, the generalities.

The Mexican Side — The Drug Trafficking Organizations

Probably every sentient being in the United States gets it by now that the Mexican DTOs are the wholesale source of most illicit drugs trafficked in the United States.  To set the stage, however, here is an excerpt describing the nature and role of the DTOs from the National Drug Threat Assessment 2009, published by National Drug Intelligence Center (December 2008).  The excerpt touches on the relationships between U.S. gangs and the DTOs, but only in the most general way:

Mexican DTOs are the greatest drug trafficking threat to the United States; they control most of the U.S. drug market and have established varied transportation routes, advanced communications capabilities, and strong affiliations with gangs in the United States. Mexican DTOs control a greater portion of drug production, transportation, and distribution than any other criminal group or DTO. Their extensive drug trafficking activities in the United States generate billions of dollars in illicit proceeds annually. Law enforcement reporting indicates that Mexican DTOs maintain drug distribution networks or supply drugs to distributors in at least 230 U.S. cities. Mexican drug traffickers transport multiton quantities of drugs from Mexico into the United States annually using overland, maritime, and air conveyances. The use of varied conveyances enables Mexican drug traffickers to consistently deliver illicit drugs from Mexico to warehouse locations in the United States for subsequent distribution.

Mexico- and U.S.-based Mexican drug traffickers employ advanced communication technology and techniques to coordinate their illicit drug trafficking activities. Law enforcement reporting indicates that several Mexican DTOs maintain cross-border communication centers in Mexico near the U.S.-Mexico border to facilitate coordinated cross-border smuggling operations. These centers are staffed by DTO members who use an array of communication methods, such as Voice over Internet Protocol, satellite technology (broadband satellite instant messaging), encrypted messaging, cell phone technology, two-way radios, scanner devices, and text messaging, to communicate with members. In some cases DTO members use high-frequency radios with encryption and rolling codes to communicate during cross-border operations.

Mexican DTOs continue to strengthen their relationships with U.S-based street gangs, prison gangs, and OMGs for the purpose of expanding their influence over domestic drug distribution. Although gangs do not appear to be part of any formal Mexican DTO structure, several Mexican DTOs use U.S.-based gangs to smuggle and distribute drugs, collect drug proceeds, and act as enforcers. Mexican DTOs’ use of gang members for these illegal activities insulates DTO cell members from law enforcement detection. Members of most Mexican Cartels–Sinaloa, Gulf, Juárez, and Tijuana –maintain working relationships with many street gangs and OMGs.

The U.S. Side — The Prison and Street Gangs

The National Gang Threat Assessment 2009 (National Gang Intelligence Center, January 2009) discusses — again in a general way with a few lame “examples” — the interfaces of U.S.-side gangs with the Mexican DTOs and other criminal organizations:

Gang Relationships With DTOs and Other Criminal Organizations

Some larger gangs have developed regular working relationships with DTOs and other criminal organizations in Mexico, Central America, and Canada to develop sources of supply for wholesale quantities of illicit drugs and to facilitate other criminal activities. According to law enforcement information, gang members provide Mexican DTOs with support, such as smuggling, transportation, and security. Specific examples include:

Some prison gangs are capable of directly controlling or infuencing the smuggling of multihundred kilograms of cocaine and methamphetamine weekly into the United States.

Cross-Border Gang Activity

U.S.-based gang members are increasingly involved in cross-border criminal activities, particularly in areas of Texas and California along the U.S.-Mexico border. Much of this activity involves the trafficking of drugs and illegal aliens from Mexico into the United States and considerably adds to gang revenues. Further, gangs are increasingly smuggling weapons from the United States into Mexico as payment for drugs or to sell for a significant profit. Examples of such cross border activities include:

Street and prison gang members have established networks that work closely with Mexican DTOs in trafficking cocaine and marijuana from Mexico into the United States for distribution.

Some Mexican DTOs contract with gangs in the Southwest Region to smuggle weapons from the United States to Mexico, according to open source information.

A Case In Point

This is where specific facts alleged in an actual case help fill in the picture.

The following excerpt from an affidavit filed in support of a criminal complaint in the pending case of United States V. Mauricio Mendez (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, Docket No. 3:09-mj-00473-RBB, filed Feb. 13, 2009) alleges in some detail how the drug trade is actually working on the ground between at least this Mexican Mafia crew and a Mexican DTO:

Beginning in early 2008, a drug trafficking group associated with the Arellano-Felix drug trafficking organization began to interact with, and pay “taxes” to, the Mexican Mafia.  The Arellano-Felix group paid its “taxes” to the Mexican Mafia primarily by providing representatives of the Mexican Mafia with drugs.

In early September 2008, agents recorded a meeting between the leader of the Arellano-Felix group and defendants [Mauricio] Mendez and [Ruben] Gonzalez.  The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the Arellano-Felix group’s aiding another Mexican drug trafficking group associated with the Mexican Mafia.  One of the leaders of the other drug trafficking group was defendant Jorge Lerma-Duenas.  Lerma-Duenas’ group claimed to have a means of smuggling bulk shipments of marijuana and other drugs through the international ports of entry by using commercial trucking from Mexico.  However, Lerma-Duenas’ group claimed that a switch in the drivers of the commercial trucks had interfered with their smuggling scheme.  Mendez stated that he and other gang members intended to travel to Mexico in order to disable the uncooperative driver so that the other, co-opted driver could retake the route — it was Mendez’s stated intent to break both of the uncooperative driver’s legs.  Mendez sought the Arellano-Felix group’s aid in providing additional security for Mendez for the trip to Mexico.  The leader of the Arellano-Felix group agreed to provide security for Mendez but also sought to form a larger relationship with Lerma-Duenas’ drug trafficking group in order to use Lerma-Duenas’ trucking route to smuggle marijuana for the Arellano-Felix group.  Over the next weeks, agents recorded more meetings in which these topics were discussed between the leader of the Arellano-Felix group, Mendez and Lerma-Duenas.  Mendez also brought members of his crew to these meetings…

Cross-border relations apparently are not limited to the business of drugs.  The affidavit also describes a 2008 kidnapping and attempted murder in San Diego that was commissioned from Mexico:

The next series of events arises out of the armed kidnapping and subsequent attempted murder of a male victim by defendant Mendez’s crew.  In a recorded meeting, Mendez admitted that the kidnapping was committed on behalf of individuals in Mexico.  The kidnapping was foiled when the victim succeeded in fleeing his kidnappers.  At the time, one of the kidnappers…attempted to shoot the victim but missed.  Officers recovered a .40 caliber shell casing at the scene of the shooting.

The affidavit and a subsequent indictment detail many other violent criminal acts committed by this Eme crew.  But these paragraphs speak directly to the relationship of at least this crew and the Mexican side of the violent drug trade.

“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

THE MEXICAN MAFIA — NATIONAL AND TRANSNATIONAL POWER, PART ONE

In Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Latino gangs, Mexico, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on August 30, 2009 at 6:50 pm
Aztec Number 13
Aztec Number 13

Rene Enriquez warns that La Eme is “spreading like an incurable cancer.”  While incarcerated at the U.S. Penitentiary in Marion [Illinois], La Eme’s Ralph “Perico” Rocha in 2001 wrote to Rene Enriquez at Pelican Bay [California] — using code words — that he was “trying to get involved in the NAFTA

[/code]

to expand negocios [business] overseas y [and] borders…the family [Eme] is looking to open a few more restaurants [legitimate businesses] in Colorado, Texas, Chicago, etc.”

Chris Blatchford, The Black Hand:  The Bloody Rise and Redemption of “Boxer” Enriquez, A Mexican Mob Killer (New York:  William Morrow, 2008), p. 297.

So, just how scary is the Mexican Mafia?

Bloody scary.

With a core of only about 200 “made” members — but remorseless command over tens of thousands of Latino street gangster “soldiers” through a network of “associates” and “facilitators” —  the Mexican Mafia (“Eme” or “La Eme,” for “M,” the 13th letter of the alphabet) is no longer the “California prison gang” many think.  It has gone federal, national, and transnational.

One good place to start studying this phenomenon is Chris Blatchford’s compelling biography of Rene “Boxer” Enriquez, a surrealistically bloody former killer for the Mexican Mafia prison.   The book at once attracts and repels.

It attracts not only because its bona fides are well attested by people who know — experts Bruce Riordan and Al Valdez endorsed the book, for example and retired LASD Sgt. Richard “Super Val” Valdemar personally recommended it to me — but because it has what literate critics used to call “verisimilitude” ( a word from the Latin that is as out of fashion as that excellent language’s study in today’s world of tweeting and texting teeny tiny thoughts).  There is nothing forced or sparse about the impasto of blood, gore, and paranoid treachery lathered onto Blatchford’s canvas.

Rene "Boxer" Enriquez in His Gangster Days:  Black Hand Tattoo Symbolizes Meixan Mafia, "Arta" Was His Local Gang
Rene “Boxer” Enriquez in His Gangster Days: Black Hand Tattoo Symbolizes Mexican Mafia, “Arta” Was His Local Gang

Yet the very density of The Black Hand’s crimson carnage casts a sort of claustrophobia over the reader.  The matter-of-fact recitation of so many bloody murders and assaults brings to mind the lyric from Jimi Hendrix’s All Along the Watchtower:  “There must be some kind of way out here, said the joker to the thief.”  For the reader, the way out is to close the book for a while and breathe free air.  For the carnales of Eme, there is no exit — save for the few, like Enriquez, who in a life-changing moment of redemptive perception decide to drop out and cooperate with law enforcement.  Such an act, of course, flies directly into the face of the powerful prison gang’s (indeed, all Latino street gang’s) most fervently held rules — “blood in, blood out,” and no cooperating ever with law enforcement.  Such drop-outs and cooperators are marked with death for life.

However chaotic the gory and seemingly endless scrum of murders, counter-murders, assaults, and gratuitous whack jobs recounted in The Black Hand may seem, the story of the rise and redemption of Rene Enriquez  directly pinches the very sensitive nerve that worries U.S. federal law enforcement officials.  After having slept through the years of the American Mafia’s consolidation and growth to power in the early 20th Century, the Department of Justice is determined that no Latino “super mafia” be allowed to rise to power in the United States.

Some observers would argue that the race is a close thing.

“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

In this three part series, Fairly Civil will post material about Eme from federal court documents.  The first part, this post, includes a description of the prison gang’s structure and operations.  The second part (here) posts information about Eme’s apparently growing links with Mexican cartels  The final post will feature a case that illustrates Eme’s reach across the United States to cities geographically far removed from California.

EME’s Structure and Operations

There are, of course, other books and treatises about Eme, but the following material from a criminal complaint filed by an FBI agent in the pending case of United States V. Mauricio Mendez in San Diego is a compact and thorough primer. (U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, Docket No. 3:09-mj-00473-RBB, filed Feb. 13, 2009):

3.  The Mexican Mafia is the largest and most established prison gang in the United States.  The Mexican Mafia was initially formed in the California state penal system and has been in existence for over thirty years.  As of the present date [February 2009], the Mexican Mafia operates both in the California state prison system (as well as in other states) and in the federal Bureau of Prisons.  The Mexican Mafia operates under a hierarchical system with three basic levels – members, associates, and soldiers.  The EME is further governed by a basic set of rules and operating procedures which are enforced through internal discipline, including acts of violence.
4.  The Mexican Mafia conducts and controls illegal activities not only in penal facilities but also on the street.  The Mexican Mafia’s primary illegal activities are drug trafficking, extortion, internal prison discipline, and violent crimes.  Although most Mexican Mafia members are incarcerated, members and their associates control large, violent criminal gangs that operate outside of the federal and state penal systems under the general authority of the Mexican Mafia.  The Mexican Mafia exerts significant control over most Southern California Hispanic street gangs – also known as “Sureño” gangs.
5. Through a variety of means, incarcerated Mexican Mafia members and their associates communicate with their subordinates out of custody, who carry out various criminal activities on behalf of the respective Mexican Mafia member or associate.
6.  A percentage of the profits of these illegal activities outside of the federal and state penal systems is then transferred to the respective Mexican Mafia member or associate, or to other designated individuals, such as family members – these monetary transfers are accomplished in a variety of ways, including the use of money orders.  Money generated from illegal activities (primarily extortion and drug trafficking) taking place inside penal facilities is transferred in the same ways.

8.  The highest level of authority in the Mexican Mafia is membership (members may also be known as “Brother” or “Carnal” or “Tío”).  The Mexican Mafia does not have a single individual who runs the entire organization.  Rather, under the rules of the gang, members are considered to have equal authority and power within the organization; there are approximately 200 members of the Mexican Mafia, according to intelligence gathered by state and federal investigators.  New members are elected into the gang through a vote of existing members…
9.  To carry out the illegal activities of the gang, Mexican Mafia members utilize high-level associates (also known within the gang as “camaradas”).  Members invest these high-level associates with authority to oversee Mexican Mafia operations in specific areas, both in penal facilities and on the street.
10.  The delegation of authority to control a specific area on behalf of the Mexican Mafia is known within the gang as giving “the keys” to the individual. Thus, a “key-holder,” (also called a “llavero” or “shot-caller”) is an individual who has been placed in charge of a gang, neighborhood, prison, or prison yard for the purpose of overseeing the Mexican Mafia’s illegal operations.  As an example, an associate can be given “the keys” to run a specific yard in a prison.  These associates are able to order Sureño gang members to carry out illegal activities in the area over which the associates have authority.
11.  The associates are responsible for ensuring that Mexican Mafia operations (including extortion and drug trafficking) run smoothly, that Mexican Mafia rules and authorities are enforced, and that the proceeds of illegal activities are properly distributed.  For example, a “llavero” would be responsible for ensuring that part of the proceeds from the illegal activities in his area of control are sent to the Mexican Mafia member(s) for whom the associate works.
12.  The Mexican Mafia also uses a command system known as the “mesa” – the table.  A “mesa” is a group of “camaradas” and soldiers who are responsible for overseeing different areas under Mexican Mafia control – in essence, a governing council.  For example, in a prison setting, a “mesa” would consist of individuals responsible for overseeing various neighborhoods in a city.
13.  The largest subgroup of the Mexican Mafia are the soldiers – i.e., Sureño gang members.  These soldiers are responsible for carrying out the orders of the Mexican Mafia and for enforcing the authority of the Mexican Mafia, both inside penal facilities and on the street.  As a result, soldiers are tasked with helping collect “taxes” (extortion payments) with drug trafficking activities or with the commission of violence.

MORE EXPLAINING TO DO — IS THROWING A GANG SIGN EVER JUST A JOKE?

In Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on August 25, 2009 at 6:24 pm
Alexander (Alex) Sanchez (AKA "Rebelde") Throwing Devils Horns Gang Sign

Alexander (Alex) Sanchez (AKA "Rebelde"), Left, Throwing Devil's Horns Gang Sign in 1999

The two men in the picture above could be fans of the University of Texas Longhorns.

Like the two men in the picture below — former President George W. Bush and University of Texas strength and conditioning coach Jeff “Mad Dog” Madden —  they could be expressing support for the University of Texas Longhorns football team by flashing the famous “hook ‘em horns” sign.

George_W._Bush_and_Jeff_Mad_Dog_Madden

President George W. Bush and University of Texas Coach Jeff "Mad Dog" Madden Flash "Hook 'Em Horns" Sign

Or not.

DR.JEKYLL_AND_MR.HYDE___31_The man on the left in the photo at the top of this post, Alexander (“Alex”) Sanchez, also known as “Rebelde” according to the government, is accused in a federal racketeering (RICO) indictment of  being a sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde — saintly “anti-gang activist” by day, foul-mouthed, murder-conspiring boss (shot-caller) of the transnational MS-13 gang by night.  (“Rebelde” means “rebellious” when used as an adjective, and “rebel” when used as a noun.)

Here is how a government pleading in the criminal case sums up this aspect of the charges against Sanchez:

Sanchez is alleged to have been an influential leader, known as a shotcaller, of the Normandie clique of Mara Salvatrucha since the mid-1990s. In that role, which he never abandoned despite working at the anti-gang organization Homies Unidos, he profited from the gang’s narcotics trafficking and regular extortion rackets.

But what about the photo of Sanchez at the Golden Gate Bridge?  The following paragraphs come right after the same government pleading’s discussion of the contents of international wiretaps of Sanchez that were described in the last posting of Fairly Civil:

The government has also recovered photographic evidence of Sanchez’s double life during the execution of search warrants in 2001 and 2003.  For example, FBI agents executing a search warrant at the home of Rebecca Quezada, aka “Laughing Girl,” in February 2001 recovered two photographs of Sanchez that provide further physical evidence of Sanchez’s ongoing participation in MS-13 while working at Homies Unidos. (A copy of the two photographs are attached as Exhibit C).

In the first photograph, which was found on a 2000 calendar that featured a poem by Sanchez, Sanchez is depicted in his public role, standing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge with two other men at an anti-gang conference in San Francisco in 1999.  In the second photograph agents recovered [the one posted above], however, Sanchez is standing in the same spot in front of the Golden Gate Bridge in the same clothing with one of the same men on what is clearly the same occasion.  In the second photo, however, Sanchez and the other man are displaying the hand sign for MS-13.  This hand gesture, which is frequently encountered by law enforcement in photographs of and drawing and graffiti by MS-13 members, is universally recognized as the gang sign for MS-13 and is never made in peace.  This photograph, along with numerous other photographs showing Sanchez at parties with leaders of MS-13, are physical evidence that Sanchez has never renounced his membership in MS-13.

Government’s Response to Defendant Alex Sanchez’s Motion for Pretrial Release, U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, Docket No. CR-09-466-MLR.

This photograph of the “anti-gang worker” throwing the MS-13 gang sign long after his supposed “conversion” suggests that Alex Sanchez has more explaining to do.  Is he is is, is was, or is ain’t? (Or, for another version of the same old song, try this link.)

Here, for example, are MS-13 gang members in Central America “throwing” the infamous gang sign, which is known as the devil’s horns:

MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

Here are some other instances of the MS-13 gang sign being recorded in public.  (“Fool’s names and dog’s faces often appear in public places.”)

MS-13 Gangsters "Throwing" Devil's Horn Gang Sign

MS-13 Gangsters "Throwing" Devil's Horn Gang Sign

MS-13 Graffiti Incorporates Devil's Horn and "Crossing Out" of Number 18, Showing Disrespect for Rival 18th Street gang

MS-13 Graffiti Incorporates Devil's Horn and "Crossing Out" of Number 18, Showing Disrespect for Rival 18th Street gang

It’s interesting to note that Sanchez and the other man (who appears to be identified as “Laughing Boy” in an inscription that accompanies the second photo) are flashing the gang sign right in the heart of Norteno country, the Northern California territory over which the prison gang Nuestra Familia claims sovereignty.  Most Latino street gangs in Northern California acknowledge fealty to Nuestra Familia, describe themselves as generically “Nortenos,” and affect the number “14” (for “N,” the 14th letter of the alphabet) — or combinations of numbers totaling 14 — in clothing and graffiti.

Southern California gangs like MS-13 are with few exceptions loyal to EME (Spanish for the letter “M”), the Mexican Mafia.  (The 13 in MS-13 signifies the gang’s public expression of fealty to EME, the 13th letter of the alphabet.)

Nuestra Familia and EME have been at war for decades after a failed attempt at union.  Likewise, Sureno gangs loyal to the Mexican Mafia (EME) are at ceaseless war with Nuestra Familia’s Norteno gangs.

“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

Depending on the planet upon which one spends most of one’s time, one might argue that (a) Sanchez and his friend are not throwing a gang sign but are UT fans like George W. Bush,  (b) are just horsing around, mocking the old life, or (c) the FBI created the picture in a laboratory in Area 51.

But “just goofing around” with their hand sign is not something gangsters are likely to tolerate.  FBI analyst Don Lyddane wrote about the following cautionary incident in an edition of the United States Attorneys’ Bulletin devoted to gang prosecutions:

Several years ago, a young lady attended a dance-concert in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She enjoyed the band so much that she leaped onto the stage to dance with the band. While dancing she gestured in sign language, “I love you,” over and over. She did not realize that her gestures were almost identical to the Latin King hand sign. Several Latin King members who were on the dance floor observed her “I love you” gesture and perceived it as a blatant disrespect to the Latin King and Queen Nation. She surely did not realize that they planned to kill her. Her innocent gestures cost this woman her life. Her murder was subsequently solved as part of a gang conspiracy investigation of the Latin Kings by the FBI Safe Streets Task Force in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Donald Lyddane, Intelligence Analyst, Safe Streets and Gang Unit, FBI Headquarters, “Gangs and Gang Mentality: Acquiring Evidence of the Gang Conspiracy,” in United States Attorneys’ Bulletin, May 2006.

HOW COULD THIS BE?

Sanchez’s supporters flatly reject the government’s claim that he has been a secret shot-caller.

Funny, CIA Agent Aldrich Ames Didn't Look Like a Russian Mole

Funny, CIA Agent Aldrich Ames Didn't Look Like a Russian Mole

This is to be expected.  Revelations of double lives understandably evoke responses from those who have been gulled along the lines of, “There must be a mistake (or a plot) because this just can’t be true.  I’ve known so-and-so for X-number of years, and I never saw any sign of anything like that.  I know his good works and they show he is a good man — he would never do a bad thing.”

And yet recent history offers numerous examples of persons who led truly shocking double lives, including double agent spies, con men in the financial world, and even other boldly duplicitous “anti-gang workers” in Los Angeles.  They demonstrate that it is indeed possible to fool others, even in cases in which exacting mechanisms to detect precisely such duplicity are in place.

Funny, He Doesn't Look Like a Monster

Funny, He Doesn't Look Like a Monster

Ryan Jenkins. If you can stand “reality TV” and pop crime, take the case of “Reality TV Star” Ryan Jenkins, who was suspected of murdering his ex-wife, Jasmine Fiore. After a few days of flight and an international manhunt, Jenkins apparently committed suicide by hanging himself in a motel closet. Unless he was doing a David Carradine, this is not a sign of innocence. Flight in and of itself is generally evidence of a guilty mind.

But these bits from the UK’s Telegraph sum up the understandable resistance of Jenkins’s parents to the awful implications of the totality of facts — i.e., that their son was a murderous monster:

Fiore’s dismembered body was found 20 miles southeast of Los Angeles on August 15. Her teeth had been pulled out and her fingers cut off, apparently to impede her identification. Investigators identified her by the serial numbers on her breast implants.

Jenkins’ mother, who lives in Vancouver, refused to accept he killed Fiore. Nada Jenkins said in a brief telephone interview Monday that she’s sure the evidence will eventually prove his innocence.

“He was good, he’s kind and we need to clear his name,” she said, weeping.

Okay, perhaps citing the credulity of grieving parents is not fair.  How about cold-eyed intelligence professionals who are precisely and regularly warned to be on the alert for double agents?  Can they be fooled?

Mon00 Spy Nat KRT

Funny, She Didn't Look Like a Double Agent

Ana Belen Montes. You may have never heard of Ana Montes, but her career as a double agent for the intelligence service of Fidel Castro’s Cuba was breathtaking.  Montes rose to the top of the ranks of the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).  When she was finally taken down, Montes was within hours of receiving a full briefing on the U.S. war plans for the attack on Afghanistan after the 9/11 disaster.  It’s not hard to figure out where that information would have gone if it had got into the hands of the Cubans.  Fairly Civil highly recommends True Believer (Annapolis:  Naval Institute Press, 2007) a slim volume by Scott W. Carmichael, the DIA counter-intelligence officer whose keen suspicions finally brought Montes down.

What is striking is that Carmichael had to work feverishly against the assumptions of Montes’s peers and superiors alike, not to mention the FBI’s Washington Field Office.  They at first refused to believe that a long-term, outstanding career employee like Ana Montes, with no ties to Cuba (her family was Puerto Rican), could be such a treacherous spy.  Sound familiar?

Here are a few salient quotes from the work:

Ana Montes … operated for sixteen years with impunity, becoming the U.S. government’s top intelligence analyst on Cuba at the same time she was reporting to the Cuban government.  She not only passed on U.S. secrets to Cuba but also helped influence what we thought we knew about Cuba. (p. viii.)

Ana’s supervisors at the DOJ [her previous employer] offered glowing recommendations…One called her an absolutely outstanding employee.  Another said she was one of the best employees their office ever had.  She was described as diligent, conscientious, highly productive, creative, and professional in her behavior and attitude. (p. 55)

There was also the matter of her security clearance.  Only 15 percent of Americans prosecuted for espionage during the modern era held the highest level of security clearance when they began spying.  That level is Top Secret clearance with access to sensitive compartmented information…That meant she had been screened, vetted, investigated, and judged by competent federal authorities to be a responsible U.S. citizen worthy of the government’s trust…[she] routinely accessed a great deal of sensitive compartmented information throughout her normal workday. (p. 41)

I do wish that spies would paint great big glowing, gooey globs on their foreheads for easy identification.  Green ones, perhaps.  It would certainly make my job much easier.  But spies do not do that.  Ana Montes certainly didn’t.  She simply slipped through the fog, never calling attention to herself for a moment.  And so she got away with espionage for a long time.  (p. 155)

Gosheroonie, Kids, FBI Agent David Hanssen Didn't Look Like a Russian Mole

Gosheroonie, Kids, FBI Agent David Hanssen Didn't Look Like a Russian Mole

The shock was so great for Montes’s loyal co-workers and friends that special counselors were brought in to help them work through the emotional trauma, the psychological wounds inflicted by her deep betrayal.  “Their initial reaction to the news was predictable and universal:  shock and disbelief.” (p. 131)

Of course, Ana Montes is not the only such spy eventually winkled out of the country’s most secret enterprises.  For informed summaries of more such stories, go to this link.  But the point here is that cold-blooded double agents — whose work costs the lives of truly loyal and faithful men and women — can evade even the most sophisticated screening and vetting.   The loyal followers of Alex Sanchez, to put it bluntly, have only a rudimentary “vetting” process to rely on.

There is another point worth learning from the Ana Montes case.   She was able not only to steal secrets but to influence the views of the U.S. government about Cuba.  If Alex Sanchez was truly a secret shot-caller, from his perch as saintlike “anti-gang worker” he too was able to influence a vast community’s views about Latino gangs, MS-13 in particular, and gangsters.

Okay, Maybe Hector Marroquin (In  Black) Did Kinda, Sorta Look Like a Double-Dealing Gangster

Okay, Maybe Hector ("Big Weasel") Marroquin (In Black) Did Kinda, Sorta Look Like a Double-Dealing Gangster

Hector Marroquin. Finally, there is the precedent of the case of Hector Marroquin, in outline an analog of the Sanchez case.  “Big Weasel” Marroquin represented himself as a “reformed” 18th Street gangster, successfully milking the city of “gang intervention and prevention funding.”

Here is a summary from The New York Times, a newspaper of record that actually writes from time to time the details of the peculations (as opposed to the adulation) of Los Angeles’s violent Latino gangsters:

The director of an antigang organization here that sought to reduce gun violence and received $1.5 million from the City of Los Angeles pleaded guilty on Thursday to charges that he sold illegal assault weapons to a federal undercover agent.

Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested the director, Hector Marroquin, in May after video surveillance showed him selling weapons and silencers to an agent and an informant. The weapons included a MAK-90 and a Ewbank, both semiautomatic assault rifles, and a M-11, a smaller assault weapon that is like an Uzi, said Eric Harmon, who prosecuted the case.

“Here is a guy who represented himself to the city as being a former gang member helping others to get out of gangs,” said Gary Hearnsberger, head of the Hardcore Gang Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, “and he is convicted of selling illegal weapons as a side business.”

Mr. Marroquin, 51, pleaded guilty to three counts of possessing and selling assault weapons and was sentenced to eight years in prison. His companion, Sylvia Arellano, 26, was named as an accomplice in the sales and also pleaded guilty. She is to be sentenced on Tuesday to four years in prison.

Rebecca Cathcart, “Director of Antigang Group Sold Illegal Assault Weapons,” The New York Times, January 19, 2008.

This is the cue for an acolyte of Sanchez to exclaim to the Los Angeles Times, “Wait a minute!  I knew Hector Marroquin, and Alex Sanchez is no Hector Marroquin.”

Possibly.

That’s why we have criminal trials.

Here is my very favorite observation on Marroquin, from the authoritative blog “In the Hat,” summing up the effect of “Big Weasel” Marroquin’s post-reformation career (go to the link for more detail about the “Big Weasel”):

Marroquin has basically been shoved down the throats of gang cops by their commanders for years as a person they should work with to quell gang violence and divert young people from the life.

Is any of this sounding familiar?

ALEX SANCHEZ HAS GOT SOME EXPLAINING TO DO

In Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on August 23, 2009 at 6:48 pm
Supporters' View of Alex Sanchez, Indicted and Accused of Leading a Double Life as Public "Anti-Gang Worker" and Secret MS-13 "Shot-Caller"
Supporters View Alex Sanchez as a “Peacemaker,” Even Though He has Been Indicted and Accused of Leading a Double Life as Public “Anti-Gang Worker” and Secret MS-13 “Shot-Caller”

“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.

Latest Wiretap Evidence Leaves Alex Sanchez as a Man With Has Some Explaining to Do
Latest Wiretap Evidence Leaves Alex Sanchez as a Man With Some Explaining to Do

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.

The Background

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).

In Happier Times, Sanchez Enjoyed A Saintly Aura Comparable to that of Mothere Teresa
In Happier Times, Sanchez Enjoyed A Saintly Aura Comparable to that of Mother Teresa

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.

WHY?

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.”

barney_frank1It 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.

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.

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

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