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THE ALEX SANCHEZ CASE: “THIS IS OUR EVIDENCE, YOUR HONOR, AND IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT, WELL…WE’LL FIND SOME OTHER!”In Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Uncategorized on January 5, 2013 at 5:08 pm
“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”
“Even a modestly competent district attorney can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich.”
Former Judge, Now Law Professor (and Ex-Con) Sol Wachtler, with respect to whom, see http://www.law.columbia.edu/media_inquiries/news_events/2009/december2009/wachtler-mental.
It will be four years in June since the United States government shocked the world and threw a legal fragmentation grenade into the home of Alex Sanchez. On June 24, 2009 Sanchez was arrested and charged under the federal racketeering law popularly known as RICO.
The essence of the federal charge was that Sanchez—an anti-gang activist whose prominence at the time cannot be exaggerated—was secretly continuing his membership in the huge and violent Latino gang, MS-13, a transnational racketeering organization. In plain words, Sanchez was accused in the indictment of plotting, as a boss or “shot caller,” to kill another gang member.
The government recently dropped the charges against Sanchez.
But the great, gray, anonymous and tight-lipped agglomerations of suits that is “the government” collectively muttered under its breath that it is going to “review” the evidence and likely will indict Sanchez again. They’ll be back. The prosecution asked the judge to let it take its embarrassingly shredded case back to a grand jury.
Ooops! We indicted a ham sandwich. See, your honor, what we really meant to do was to indict a taco. The image of Groucho Marx in a court room springs irresistibly to mind. “That’s our evidence, your honor. If you don’t like it, well, we’ll find other evidence.”
Charge first, evidence later?
With the conspiracy to murder charge toasted like last week’s Cinnabon, perhaps the genius bar at the U.S. Attorney’s office can assign half of the federal agents in Southern California to follow Sanchez around and nail his ass on a charge of felonious crossing against a “don’t walk” sign.
Sanchez is due more than one apology, and I’ll start with mine.
I’ve followed this story for three years with a series of caustic and skeptical posts. The trouble is, I was skeptical about the wrong party. Although I have always been careful to note Alex Sanchez’s claim of innocence, looking back over past posts, it is clear that I had a grain, nay a fist-sized rock, of salt stuck in my throat.
My blind spot was that I simply could not believe that the government would indict a man as well known and, frankly, beloved as Alex Sanchez unless the government case was locked up tight. As I have written many times, you better be damned sure you’re right if you indict Mother Teresa. I also knew that the government has a barracks full of informants and “flipped” gangsters, so they must have had solid evidence against Sanchez.
I am sorry. I apologize to Alex Sanchez and to those who had faith in him. Because it now appears that the U.S. government, with all the power and resources available to it, screwed up in such a way that assistant U.S. Attorneys and some law enforcement agents ought to be fired, or at best reassigned to wear out their shoe leather on student loan collection work.
If it has not committed a massive miscarriage of justice, the U.S. Department of Justice has certainly left the appearance that is has, skulking behind a forest of sealed files. There is virtually NO public record in the Alex Sanchez case other than the juicy tidbits the government has chosen to dribble out. If it makes you feel any better, this is not the only case in which trial by sealed memoranda and plea bargain—as opposed to a public trial and proof of guilt beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury of one’s peers—has become the norm, rather than the exception.
If you have not followed the story, here is a concise summary from a brief filed on behalf of Sanchez more than two years ago. I posted this extract in Accused Secret Shot-Caller Alex Sanchez’s Take-No-Prisoners Brief Flames Trial Judge Manuel Real — Bottom Line: Judge Doesn’t Get It.
The brief sketches a factual review of a man grievously wronged by arbitrary and misdirected government conduct:
Mr. Sanchez quit gang life nearly 15 years ago, beginning a journey of redemption leading him to become one of the foremost anti-gang interventionists in the United States. In 2006, he became the Executive Director of Homies Unidos, an organization dedicated to extricating youths from gangs and brokering and maintaining peace in communities afflicted by the scourge of gang violence.
On June 24, 2009, however, Mr. Sanchez, a long time resident of Los Angeles and the 38-year-old father of three, was arrested at his home and taken into custody on an indictment charging 24 defendants with various crimes in connection with alleged activities of the Mara Salvatrucha (“MS-13″). Within days of his arrest, over 100 social workers, professors, politicians, clergy, law enforcement and former gang members from around the country raised a chorus of support to release Mr. Sanchez from custody, all attesting to his good character, commitment to peace and ties to the community. This overwhelming support included over $2.5 million dollars in bail pledges and property.
At the detention hearing, the government claimed a chest tattoo indicated Mr. Sanchez had not quit the gang and four phone calls where Mr. Sanchez mediated a non-violent resolution to an intra-gang dispute supposedly evidenced a plot to kill one of the disputants. Announcing “the only determination I have to make on this motion” is “whether or not Mr. Sanchez was there” and “what they were discussing,” the district court precluded Mr. Sanchez from rebutting the government’s evidence about the significance of his chest tattoo while refusing lay and expert testimony contradicting the government’s interpretation of the calls.
How could the federal government—with its awesome access to technology and expertise—get the single most important piece of evidence in the only meaningful charge against Sanchez wrong? Namely, the phone calls in which the operative facts were all about who was walking to whom about killing whom?
You tell me. But they did. And now they grudgingly admit it.
The government’s expert witness, it turns out, completely misidentified a participant in the supposed plot to kill phone calls. And when the real participant surfaced, he blew up the government expert’s theory of the case.
After Sanchez’s new lawyer filed a motion to throw the case out, the U.S. Attorney’s office got some new lawyers on the case to reply and fess up…sort of:.
In their Motions to Dismiss, defendants Alex Sanchez (“defendant Sanchez”) and Juan Fuentes (“defendant Fuentes”) (collectively “defendants”) raise serious questions regarding the evidence presented to the grand jury and the manner in which it was presented. Although the government disputes defendants’ allegations of misconduct and grand jury abuse, the government agrees that the grand jury presentation with respect to the conspiracy to murder Walter Lacinos, aka “Camaron,” was flawed. In order to correct the errors and omissions in the initial presentation, the government asks the Court to dismiss without prejudice, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 48(a), the following counts…
The government makes this request with the express intention of re-filing certain of the dismissed charges, including certain charges with respect to defendant Sanchez, as part of a superseding indictment in this case.
In a footnote, the government grumbles, “a determination of which of the dismissed charges will be pursued will be made only after a thorough re-review of the evidence.” Say what? We’re going to see if there is a ham sandwich lurking in here? Or a taco? Or just anything to save our face?
Here is where it gets really interesting. All the basic documents in this courtly exchange are sealed. But one juicy little piece of sizzling meat somehow escaped the Czar’s censor. This is an extract from Alex Sanchez’s defense reply to the government’s request for a do-over:
The government has not filed an opposition to the Motion to Dismiss and has avoided addressing the factual arguments therein: that the government presented false evidence to the grand jury issuing the indictment; that a government prosecutor lied to the grand jury in subsequent proceedings; that the government failed, for more than three (3) years, to take any action to formally acknowledge or attempt to correct an indictment based on false evidence; and that government prosecutors withheld from Mr. Sanchez favorable and exculpatory evidence.
Insofar as newly assigned government prosecutors have finally performed the analysis and evaluation that should have occurred years ago, Mr. Sanchez does not contend that the government’s Request to Dismiss, filed December 17, 2012, is in bad faith. Mr. Sanchez does not waive his right to revisit this issue, should he subsequently become aware of evidence suggesting that the Request for Dismissal is motivated by anything but a desire to fairly seek justice.
Wowser, sir! These are serious allegations: false evidence to a grand jury? A government prosecutor lying? Withholding evidence? Career-enders and maybe even…criminal conduct? By the good guys? Does the late Senator Ted Stevens come to anyone’s mind? Or a bar association misconduct proceeding?
I have no idea whether Alex Sanchez is a saint or a sinner, the anti-gang activist he appears to be, or a secret agent for Zombie Nation. But I do know “enough” when I see it.
Finish this case without Alex Sanchez and let him stay home to raise his children.
You screwed the pooch.
The U.S. Secret Service has been worried about 50 caliber sniper rifles since the 1980s. Protective measures have necessarily been expanded to take into account the range and power of this gun.
The story of Dennis Gonzalez, the Mexican Mafia’s man (“associate,” ” camarada,” whatever) in Oklahoma City — like so many gangster tales — could begin in a lot of times and places.
Let’s start with what is perhaps the most breach-honored tradition of Latino gangs — never rat out your homies:
Oklahoma City gang member Jason “Joker” Lujan agreed to cooperate with authorities after his arrest in 2003, volunteering that several members of a Hispanic gang from California, later identified as the Compton Varrio Tortilla Flats, including “Boxer,” “Lalo,” and Mr. Lujan’s sister-in-law, Jennifer Lujan, had moved to Oklahoma City to deal large quantities of methamphetamine. Specifically, Mr. Lujan explained that Boxer, later identified as Dennis Emerson Gonzalez, had already left Oklahoma City but still ran the operation; Lalo, later identified as Eduardo Verduzco, delivered drugs to Oklahoma City at Mr. Gonzalez’s direction; Ms. Lujan distributed the drugs in Oklahoma City; and Mr. Gonzalez’s girlfriend, “Mousey,” stored the drugs in her apartment.
United States v. Castro, (10th Cir. Court of Appeals) May 30, 2007, 225 Fed. Appx. 755; 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 12543.
Oops. I guess Jason “Joker” Lujan did not get the omerta memo. You know. The one about never talking to law enforcement, death before dishonor, etc.
“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
Joker Lujan wasn’t the only homey throwing his fellow gangsters under the prison bus.
At about the same time, a Compton Varrio Tortilla Flats member was also talking to now-retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Richard Valdemar about the connection between Compton and Oklahoma City — including the long-distance control by the Mexican Mafia of a major part of the drug trade in Oklahoma City.
Valdemar’s notes of the conversation run to four single-spaced pages. Among other things, the informant — whose anonymity will be protected here — “said that he would be willing to cooperate with a federal investigation to bring down Dennis Gonzalez and his Mexican Mafia connections…”
But…wait. Mexican Mafia? In Oklahoma? As the following — admittedly crude — graphic illustrates, Oklahoma City (“where the wind comes sweeping down the plain”) is not in Southern California.
Nothing is so interesting about this sordid little drug-trafficking operation as the fact that it illustrates the powerful reach of EME half-way across the country, by means of its control over a Sureno gang, and that gang’s “muscling in” on what was a purely local Latino street gang, the “South Side Locos.” Another federal appellate case provides a bit more detail:
Mr. Lujan told the police that, beginning in early 2002, several members of a Hispanic gang from California, later identified as the Compton Varrio Tortilla Flats, moved to Oklahoma City to set up a methamphetamine-dealing operation. Mr. Lujan explained to the police that the members of the group included “Boxer,” one of his confederates later identified as Mr. Gonzalez, who ran the operation from Florida; “Lalo,” later identified as Eduardo Verduzco, who delivered the drugs to Oklahoma City at Mr. Gonzalez’s direction; and Jennifer Lujan, his sister-in-law, who distributed the methamphetamine.
United States v. Dennis Emerson Gonzalez, (10th Cir.), 238 Fed. Appx. 350; 2007 U.S. App. LEXIS 15102, June 25, 2007.
An indictment in the case — in which most of the participants pleaded guilty, although Gonzalez and Castro went to trial and were convicted — described Gonzalez’s central managerial role:
During the period of the conspiracy … Gonzalez… exercised an organizing and leadership role in the drug trafficking enterprise by among other things, recruiting distributors, demanding a share of the profits in sales, controlling distributors, identifying persons to whom distributors should wire transfer money and directing the wire transfer of the money. The drug trafficking enterprise involved at least twenty individuals, in the coordinated smuggling of controlled substances from California to Oklahoma and the transfer of drug proceeds in at least 195 separate transactions.
Superseding Indictment, United States v. Dennis Emerson Gonzalez (U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma), Docket No. CR-04-179-R, October 20, 2004.
According to Valdemar’s informant, Gonzalez was acting as the Mexican Mafia’s representative, a function and organization described in the two earlier post in this series (here and here). There was the requisite whacking to bring recalcitrant locals into line. (Not that the South Side Locos are any angels. Two of them went to prison in 2006 for killing a 9-year old with stray bullets from a shooting.)
The question all of this raises is two fold: where else in “middle America” has the “California prison gang” EME taken control of local street gang operations, and what is the trend?
Valdemar is still very much active in the anti-gang world. He believes that the Mexican Mafia is very deliberately extending its reach and expanding its control throughout much of the United States. In other words, consolidating and integrating. It makes sense that EME could do that if it chose to, if you consider the number of Latino gangsters who roll in and out of prisons and jails at all levels, the dispersion of EME members throughout the federal prison system, and their presence in many state facilities.
The same bloody mechanism of control that worked in California can as well apply in any prison in which the Mexican Mafia has a beachhead: sooner or later a gang’s members are going to end up in a prison where they can be “green-lighted” for murder if the gang does not defer to EME on the streets.
What worries Valdemar is his belief that these tentacles out of California are invisible to many in law enforcement at all levels.