Tom Diaz

Posts Tagged ‘Detective Frank Flores’

ALEX SANCHEZ — ACCUSED SECRET SHOT-CALLER — SPEAKS TO HIS SUPPORTERS

In bad manners, Corruption, Crime, Cultural assassination, Drugs, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on March 17, 2010 at 10:50 am

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

Alex Sanchez, the “anti-gang activist” who was accused last June of being a secret MS-13 gang shot-caller, is out on bail.  (For background details, start here and follow the links.)

Sanchez’s lawyer successfully beat back an Associated Press motion to make public the transcript of the star-chamber secret bail hearing conducted under the octogenarian aegis of  Federal Quirky Judge For Life Manuel Real.  (Go here for details.) His Honor agree to protect the spineless political hack(s) who testified on behalf of Sanchez.

Lesson: the public has no right to know anything and the First Amendment rights of a Free Press do not reach into the Realm of El Rey Real.

Meanwhile, Sanchez’s supporters cooked up this nicely done video in which The Mother Teresa of Gangsterdom turns his soulful eyes to you (woo-woo-woo) in thanks.  (Go here for link to the Simon & Garfunkel song, “Mrs. Robinson,”  to which the preceding parenthetical refers, kid.)

A nice touch in this video — which is making the rounds of the “immigration rights” movement — is the background music, a cover of Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up (For Your Rights).” None of Sanchez’s bobbleheads want to get up, stand up, for their right, much less the right of the public, to know what went on behind locked doors in the chambers of Doktor Herr Schiedsrichter Real.

And completely forget about the rights of ordinary people to be free from gang violence.

As Kurt Vonnegut once wrote: poo-tee-wheet, poo-tee-wheet.  Joltin’ Joe — a “Real” role model — may be gone, but we still have Alex!

Look around you, all you see are sympathetic eyes

Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home …

Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you, woo woo woo …

Joltin' Joe -- Son of Immigrants ... Not a Gangster

DiMaggio was born in Martinez, California, the eighth of nine children born to immigrants from Italy, Giuseppe (1872–1949) and Rosalia (Mercurio) DiMaggio (1878–1951). He was delivered by a midwife identified on his birth certificate as Mrs. J. Pico. He was named after his father; “Paolo” was in honor of Giuseppe’s favorite saint, Saint Paul. The family moved to San Francisco, California when Joe was one year old.

Wikipedia

ALLEGED SECRET SHOT-CALLER SANCHEZ BAIL HEARING STAYS ON DARK SIDE OF THE MOON — WHO IS BEING PROTECTED AND WHY?

In bad manners, Corruption, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, Police, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on March 9, 2010 at 5:47 pm

Alex Sanchez, Accused by Feds of Being a "Secret MS-13 Shot-Caller" and Now Out On Bail, With A Friend in Happier Times

Having written extensively about the Alex Sanchez case, I was looking forward to the so-called “Daubert hearing” to test the expertise of LAPD Detective and MS-13 gang expert Frank Flores.

The hearing was originally scheduled for Monday, March 8, 2010.

But — lo and behold — that hearing has been mysteriously postponed, from Monday until late April — by mutual agreement of defense and government.

This struck me as curious, because Sanchez’s mouthpiece has been aching to do a legal orchiectomy on Det. Flores for almost a year.

Why postpone the surgery, I wondered?

So, I started poking around.

See, the last two big gangsters I have tracked who suddenly entered into a series of friendly postponements with the government were working out plea bargains (Nelson Commandari and a loathsome creature who went by the nickname of “El Culiche,” or “Tapeworm.”)

Please be sure to note that there is NO  evidence whatsoever that Alex Sanchez is negotiating a plea, because he — to the contrary — insists he is completely innocent of the charges and can prove it, and his counsel is fighting like a banshee to do just that.

But I do like to keep track of these sealed filings — and there are a LOT of them in this case — because weird things happen all the time.  Especially in the closed, secret, under-the-radar, star chamber type proceedings that federal criminal courts are turning into.

(This business of secrecy is serious, people.  Some day it may be your turn to have some imperious life-time appointed judge and an arrogant, anonymous, bureaucrat-prosecutor seal your case off.  Good luck to you, then, my friend.  You will be a tree falling in a forest.  See, it’s their government, not yours!)

Call me nosy.

Well, what a shocker!

It turns out that Los Angeles is not Kansas, Dorothy!

And open court has a totally different meaning, dude, in LaLa Land.

Like, get out and shut up, man!

Watch the Razzies or something.

What I found was a curious set of recent filings concerning the transcript of the famous closed Sanchez bail hearing.

If you read Fairly Civil, you may recall that the U.S. government’s witness list was inadvertently made available on PACER just long enough for me to find it and publish it before it was sealed!

On the other hand, Sanchez’s cozy little list of friendly witnesses have never been publicly disclosed.  People of principle, but they like to keep their principles in the closet, you understand.

Judge Manuel L. Real, Presiding Over His Closed Star Chamber, to Public: "None of Your Damned Business."

Bottom line:  Federal Judge Manuel L. Real has ruled against the Associated Press and ordered that the transcript of the secret, star chamber, bail hearing be kept sealed … i.e., none of us … none of Alex Sanchez’s many alleged ditto-head supporters … and none of his putatively former gangster buddies … can find out exactly what was said, by whom, and why the judge changed his mind and sprang Sanchez!

How convenient!

See, he’s innocent.

But you don’t need to know anything, except for the wonderfully redeeming power of Faith, man.  Can you feel it, brother? Heal, I say!  Heal!  Satan, get thee out of this skeptic!

Apparently, AP reporter Christina Hoag reported Judge Real’s denial of its paltry motion on behalf of a Free Press and the Public.  But the report was not picked up extensively.  Certainly not in the Los Angeles Times.  Yawn.  More fun to read about the latest adventures of Lindsay Lohan.

Here is the state of play, as I make it out by reading the docket:

  1. The Associated Press files a motion asking for the last Sanchez detention hearing transcript to be unsealed.
  2. The U.S. government replies, OK by us, we agree there are insufficient grounds to seal the record, sure, unseal it.
  3. But SANCHEZ (aka Mother Teresa of the Gang Universe), who one would think would LOVE to have the record unsealed to show how pure he is and deserving of release, has successfully opposed the AP’s motion!

So the record remains sealed. In other words, Sanchez does not want the public to read why he was released!  (Please, counsel, spare me the phony argument that the hearing record  contains hearsay and evidence that would be inadmissible at trial.  What a crock!)

Not only that, a flurry of sealed documents have been filed in the case.  Sorry, none of your business.  Even requests to seal documents are sealed.

Why?

It might to some look as if Sanchez (and/or his lawyer) are trying to protect the politician(s) who showed up on his behalf, and who are rumored to have been City Council Member Ed Reyes and/or City Council Member Tony Cardenas, and perhaps others.

But that would be crass, cynical, and not at all like Mother Teresa, to whom some have compared Sanchez.  You know, the truth shall make ye free, etc., etc.,etc.

Talk about judicial administration by the dark of the moon!  Hey, I know, let’s seal the whole trial and just let Judge Real read from an envelope and announce a verdict, like the Oscars!

All the  legal bureaucrats implicit in this charade can show up on the red carpet.

I can hear the snarky commentary now:

“OOOH, the new U.S. Attorney is wearing an absolutely daring two vent, European cut Navy blue pinstripe suit … oh, wait, it’s just the suit!  How clever!  And will you check out the alligator skin Manolo Blahniks lead defense counsel is wearing!”

Where are all the “civil liberties” advocates who would be going bananas if some common

Activist Tom Hayden Curuiously Silent on Judge Real's Little Judicial Gulag

thug were held two minutes incommunicado from the professional mouthpieces who service gangsters?

Where is WitnessLA?  Where is the Gangsta Tea Party and Marching Social Justice Band that shows up at every public orchestration of the government’s horrible oppression of gangsters?

Where, for the love of all the Bill of Rights and “transparent” judicial administration are Tom Hayden, Barack Obama, and Eric Holder?

Apparently, they all agree.

It’s none of our damned business!

Amazing.

Truly amazing.

Judicial administration roughly equivalent to the Soviets dragging dissidents down to the cellar of Lubyanka Prison and putting a nice round of 9mm in the back of their heads.

Or, boiling frogs one degree at a time.

How does it feel, suckahs?  Freedom rocks, right?

"He did NOT say that! Shut up! Get Out!"

Why the Los Angeles Gang Tour and the Sicilian Mafia are Bad Ideas

In bad manners, Corruption, Crime, Cultural assassination, Drugs, Ethics in Washington, Gangs, Guns, Latino gangs, Marijuana Debate, politics, Transnational crime, Turf Wars on January 31, 2010 at 3:44 pm

Survivors of Gunshot Wounds Suffer Pain, Indignity, and Often a Life of Daily Horrors

“This isn’t the Boy Scouts. It isn’t the chess club. It’s a world of violence.”

Los Angeles Police Department Detective and gang expert Frank Flores, quoted in article on MS-13 trial in Charlotte, NC, Charlotte Observer, January 14, 2010

Just when you thought Los Angeles couldn’t get any goofier or more self-defeating, an entrepreneurial former gang member turned “anti-gang activist” has started a gangland bus tour.

Alfred Lomas, 45, a former gang member and the creator of the tour ($65, lunch included), said this drive-by was about educating people on city life, while turning any profits into microloans and other initiatives aimed at providing gang members jobs.

“A Gangland Bus Tour, With Lunch and a Waiver,” The New York Times, January 16, 2010

OK.

Like the mudslides and wildfires that remind us the Los Angeles Basin was intended by its Maker for other than human habitation, this idea roared through the arid mind canyons of the Left Coast and swept thoughtful analysis into the Pacific Ocean like so much polluted runoff.

Not on the Tour

First, let’s be clear about one thing.  Lomas’s “tour” is going to skip the fundamental reality of gang life in Los Angeles.  You know, the inconvenient bits – drug and human trafficking, extortion, robbery, theft, armed violence, and most of all the visible toll of the dead (think funerals) and the limping, less visible trail of walking or wheelchair-bound wounded (think spinal injuries and those little plastic waste bag appendages).

This You Tube video fills in that weak point of the enterprise.

NOTE:  Some idiot at You Tube  disabled the video I had posted here some months ago — without warning — on the grounds that the images of actual gunshot victims in the video were merely shocking.

You Tube’s Google owners have learned well from their Chinese masters.  I’ll find another venue to host the video and add the link back here when I get it.

Meanwhile, I took down my You Tube site in protest of this idiotic and heavy-handed censorship.  Be warned.

I assume that one of the LA gangster world’s bought-an-paid-for-politicians got to YouTube, or some other thug-hugger.  In a paraphrase of Gen. Douglas MacArthur:  The Video Shall Return.

Superficial Rationales Sufficient for the Chattering Class

Rationale # 1. “Hey, it’s America, right?”

“What the heck, market what you got,” said Celeste Fremon, who writes the criminal justice blog Witness L.A. and has studied the city’s gangs.

Although she disputed whether several of the sites had a solid gang association, she said, “if it makes money for a good cause, more power to them.”

Rationale # 2. “Hey, his heart’s in the right place!”

Kevin Malone, a former general manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers who came to know Mr. Lomas through the center and is one of the financial backers of the project, said he might accept the criticism “if it was somebody other than” Mr. Lomas.

“But I know the guy’s heart,” he said. “He is not taking anything out. All he is doing is serving and giving. If that is exploitation, I hope somebody does that to me.”

Rationale # 3 (maybe … maybe not … demi-semi quavering)Gloria in excelsis scelestus ?”

Caregivers in Pediatric Intensive Care Units See Too Much of This from Gang Violence

“Everybody says we are the gang capital of the world, and that is certainly true, no denying that,” said the Rev. Gregory Boyle, who has spent decades trying to steer people out of gangs into legitimate work. “It’s hard to gloss over that. But there are two extremes we always need to avoid. One is demonizing the gang member, and the other extreme is romanticizing the gang.”

Snarky Rebuttals

With all due respect to Boyle, Malone, Lomas and Fremon, this is a bad idea on so many levels it makes LA’s most densely stacked freeway interchange look like a rural crossroads.

Snarky rebuttal # 1. Making money for a good cause?  That’s the test?

Deep.

Let’s see, every whacked out terrorist in the universe – especially the ones who strap bombs into their underwear – thinks his or her cause is not only good, but also superior to every other cause on the planet.

Fund-raising for these “good causes” is intimately entwined in the depredations of global organized crime – included human trafficking, sex trafficking, drug trafficking, cigarette trafficking, traffic in phony products from lethal baby formula to fake designer jeans, and the bloody mayhem that accompanies all of the above.   In fact, there is a school of serious thought that the war in Afghanistan is at least as much about the drug trade as the Taliban’s odd socio-religious tyranny.

Street Gangs are the Retail Outlets for Drugs in America

And by the way, the point of this spear of criminality comes right down to L.A.’s ubiquitous marijuana “clinics,” which are a wonderful system of retail outlets for the illegal production and trafficking in weed by the Mexican drug cartels and their affiliates, the Gangs of Los Angeles.

Bad idea, good cause.

Check.

Snarky rebuttal #2. “If it were anybody else …”

Say, what he say?  This logic twists my mind like a pretzel.

Hmmm.

Okay, pick a hero in your life.  Any hero.  You know, like … um … Brangelina … Barack Obama … Mother Teresa … Alex Sanchez … Lindsay Lohan … Pat Robertson … Glenn Close … whoever you look up to in your personal universe.

Just imagine – stick with me here, this is just a “mind exercise” – that your hero decided that running 13-year old child prostitutes up from Pueblo Pobre, Qualquiera, and vending them out in slam pads was a damned good way to raise funds for … well, a good cause, no profit here.

Pick a Hero ... Any Hero

See, if it were anybody else …  love the sinner, love the sin?  Certainly, no one, definitely not Fairly Civil, suggests that there is anything unlawful about the gang tour.  But the logic is the same.

Bad idea, good-hearted personal hero.

Check.

Snarky rebuttal # 3The demi-semi quaver.

In fairness to Father Boyle, it is at least possible that he told The New York Times reporter that this gang tour was definitely a bad idea because it glorifies gang life.  Reporters and editors sometimes cut out the sharp points in a “reader.”  But the quote attributed to him came across as an “on the one hand, on the other hand” equivocation.  What the modern news media call “even-handed.”

Well, be that as it may, here is a more pungent comment from another source:

Is there a danger of romanticizing or even glorifying the culture that has cost so many lives and caused so much heartache and tragedy to go along with the poverty that pervades the area? You think? There are a number of tours of past gangster lairs and stomping grounds from those occupied and traveled by Jesse James to John Dillinger to name only a couple. But those who made these locations infamous or famous are long gone and the thrill is far more benign than what one might expect where there still is ongoing horror.

“L.A. gangland tour is a bad idea,” Dan K. Thomasson, Scripps Howard News Service.

Human tragedy is human tragedy.

Check.

The Sicilian Connection

Cosa Nostra Assassinated Mafia Busting Sicilian Magistrates Giovanni Falcone (left) and Paolo Borsellino

Finally, it is instructive to look at this tour in the context of another gang-infested culture:  Sicily, home of the original mafia, Cosa Nostra (not “La Cosa Nostra,” as the U.S. federal government mistakenly and irreversibly misnamed the American variant.)

It’s well worth reading the history and sociopolitical culture of this scourge.  So much that is fundamentally bad about the Sicilian Mafia and its relation to civil life can be seen in the L.A. gang culture.

  • Self-marginalizing ethnic mythology and denial. “There is no mafia, it’s just a cultural thing we Sicilians have.”  For nearly a century and a half Sicilian and other Italian chatterers – politicians, writers, academics – promoted the idea that there was no such thing as the mafia, in the sense of an organized criminal enterprise in Sicily.  No, they said, “mafia” just means a prideful violence ingrained in the “character” of Sicilians.  You know, like that Latino carnal and barrios stuff.  We just can’t help ourselves.  The gangsters, of course, loved this idea, and promoted it through the transmission belt of their “useful idiots”  — even in the face of well-documented informants from as far back as the late 19th and early 20th centuries!  The mob’s suckers included “intellectuals,” corrupted and gullible politicians, nitwit clerics, and the usual gaggle of do-gooders.
  • Corrupted members of church and state. To the shame of the Italian government and the Catholic Church, many politicians and priests were co-opted by Cosa Nostra.  Some remain so to this day.  Interestingly, a characteristic posture of the corrupted has been to publicly criticize the mafia and propose grandiose plans to attack it, while secretly undermining law enforcement efforts against the mobsters.
  • Attacking law enforcement and judicial authorities. One of Cosa Nostra’s classic tactics has been to attack – both physically and rhetorically – specific gangbusters in Italian law enforcement and in the Italian judiciary.  In many cases, this was assassination intended to send a message that the mafia was above the law, in fact, was the law.  In other cases, it was a smear campaign; a whispering, snickering current of innuendo designed and intended to undermine public confidence in law enforcement generally and in specific persons whose principled activities became a thorn in the side of the mob.
  • Culture of Criminality. The goal of socialization is to inculcate a “culture of lawfulness.”  No matter what else one thinks of cops, there clearly are not enough of them to prevent every crime and stop every criminal enterprise.  This is the job of that broader mass we call “culture” or “society.”  In Sicily, the culture of lawfulness became a culture of unlawfulness.  The vast mass of ordinary people came to accept the depredations of the mafia, because the very culture taught them there was nothing they could do about it.  Many heroes of modern Sicily paid with their blood to reverse this perverse culture inversion.

Sound familiar?

You can read some of the best books about Cosa Nostra, the Sicilian mafia, and decide for yourself.  My recommendations:

Salvo Lima, One of the Sicilian Mafia's Politician Friends, Was Brutally Whacked When He Outlived His Usefulness

WAIT A MINUTE COACH! IS THAT PLAYER ELIGIBLE? MS-13 MOUTHPIECES GO AFTER KEY LAPD EXPERT WITNESS FRANK FLORES IN MARA SALVATRUCHA RICO CASE IN LOS ANGELES

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on January 16, 2010 at 4:30 pm

Daubert Hearing Could Knock Expert Out of the Game

Los Angeles Police Detective and gang expert Frank Flores has been tossed on the griddle in the ongoing MS-13 racketeering (RICO) prosecution in Los Angeles.

But first, a big shout-out to Celeste Fremon and her WitnessLA blog, which was named “LA’s Best Police Blog” by LA Weekly. Although Fairly Civil and WitnessLA have different perspectives, Fremon and WitnessLA have done a great job of filling a vast vacuum — journalistic dark hole — left by the indifferent Los Angeles Times on this and other pivotal gang cases and programs.

Back to the subject at hand, the famous (or infamous) Alex Sanchez case.

According to the federal district court’s official minutes of a January 13, 2010 hearing – not (yet) sealed – Det. Flores will be grilled at a so-called “Daubert Hearing” in March:

The Court sets a Daubert Hearing on Detective Frank Flores’s expertise to testify for the government at trial as an expert witness on March 8, 2010 at 1:30 p.m., to be held in Courtroom 890 of the Roybal Courthouse.

“Criminal Minutes – General,” United States v. Jose Alfaro, United States District Court for the Central District of California, CR-09-466-R, filed January 13, 2010.

This could be huge, folks.

Just the Expert Facts, Please

Det. Flores has been in the defense lawyers’ sights from the beginning because it is his expertise that “connects the dots” among much of the cryptic gang talk on key wiretap tapes.  He also can provide the “big picture” and overall perspective on MS-13 as a criminal enterprise – the core of a RICO conspiracy case.

Big gorilla of a question:  Can the federal prosecution team keep Flores out from under the bus?

One may assume that the prosecution has other experts on its bench, but if Flores gets tossed, the defense will win a huge “moral” victory.

One may be assured, therefore, that this will be as rough and tumble a legal gang bang as Judge Manuel L. Real will tolerate in his courtroom.  Let’s hope Judge Real keeps this one open to the public.

What the Heck is a “Daubert Hearing” and Why Care?

Fairly Civil is no expert on Daubert Hearings, but pulled together the following notes from a few websites devoted to the subject. (Links to sites are in the titles.)

What is a Daubert Hearing?

What is a Daubert hearing?  It is, in effect, a mini-trial within a trial, conducted before the judge only, not the jury, over the validity and admissibility of expert opinion testimony.

Actually, of the trilogy of cases, Daubert, Joiner, and Kumho Tire, discussed at this symposium, Kumho Tire is perhaps even more important than Daubert because of two central points in that decision.

-  It clearly states that a Daubert determination of reliability must be made in all cases where expert evidence is offered, whether we call it scientific evidence or technical knowledge or skilled profession.

- The Daubert inquiry is to be a flexible one. All of the factors identified in Daubert that guarantee the kind of reliability the Supreme Court said was needed for admissibility of opinions based upon scientific knowledge, such as replicability, established error rates, peer review, and so on, do not necessarily apply to all forms of expert testimony with the same rigor. They apply with full force only to those disciplines to which such factors can be applied. Conventional wisdom holds that these factors cannot be applied, in the manner spelled out in Daubert, to handwriting identification or to many other forensic sciences where cases deal with problems that are unique and where the accuracy of a specific finding cannot be stated with a measurable statistical degree of confidence.

Overview of the Relevant Law

Prior to the adoption of the Federal Rules of Evidence, all federal and most state courts followed the “Frye” test to determine the admissibility of scientific evidence. In Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc., the United States Supreme Court held that the Federal Rules of Evidence, and in particular Fed. R. Evid. 702, superseded Frye’s “general acceptance” test.

Fed. R. Evid. 702 contains two requirements. First, the evidence must be reliable, or in other words, trustworthy. Trustworthiness guarantees that the information is supported by scientific methods and procedures. Second, the evidence must be relevant. The criterion of relevance has been appropriately described as one of “fit.” To satisfy this requirement, the proffered testimony or evidence must be sufficiently tied to the facts of the case that it will help the jury in resolving a factual dispute. “Rule 702’s ‘helpfulness’ standard requires a valid scientific connection to the pertinent inquiry as a precondition to admissibility.”

Faced with a proffer of expert scientific evidence, the trial court is charged with the role of “gatekeeper” and must initially determine, pursuant to Fed. R. Evid. 104(a), whether the expert is proposing to testify to scientific knowledge that will assist the trier of fact to understand or determine a fact in issue. This decision demands an evaluation of whether the reasoning or methodology underlying the testimony is scientifically valid and can be applied to the facts at issue.

In Daubert the Supreme Court provided four nondefinitive factors that trial courts should consider in making this determination. First, the court should evaluate whether the theory or technique can be and has been tested. Second, the court must determine whether the theory or technique has been subjected to peer review and publication. Third, the court should consider the known or potential rate of error. Finally, the court should evaluate the general acceptance of the theory in the scientific community. The Seventh Circuit has added an additional consideration: whether the proffered testimony is based upon the expert’s special skills.

In addition to these four Daubert factors, other safeguards exist to protect against the admission of unreliable or irrelevant scientific evidence. Federal Rules of Evidence 703, 706 and 403 each provide an independent check. Procedures familiar to every trial attorney, such as vigorous cross examination, the presentation of contrary evidence, and careful instruction of the jury on the burden of proof, also help guard against the acceptance of suspect scientific evidence. Finally, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure prevent cases from going to trial where the evidence is unreliable.

Potential Abuses and Misuses of Daubert Hearings

Abuses and Misuses of Daubert Hearings

In the following discussion one caveat is called for: We do not suggest that hearings on reliability and relevance are inherently inappropriate. Daubert challenges may, in fact, reflect attorneys’ confidence in their own experts’ views and justified suspicion of the experts’ opinions on the other side. Thus, in a best-case scenario, the challenge leads to achievement of a just and favorable outcome, obviating the expense and uncertainty inherent in a trial. Moreover, when an opposing expert is proffering innovative testimony, the ethics of practice, concerns about legal malpractice, and concerns about claims of ineffective assistance of counsel may require such a challenge.

In contrast to these valid concerns, when the attorney feels that a case is weak or that the client is unattractive to potential jurors, the attorney may want to see if the opposing expert can be “knocked out of the box” from the start by a Daubert challenge. While this ploy poses uncertainties of its own, the effort may be economically justifiable to the retaining attorney.

Delay

The Daubert hearing is not unique in being subject to abuse. Many other valuable safeguards of the fundamental fairness of the legal system exist, such as insuring that a defendant is competent to stand trial before facing the rigors of the adversary system. Yet, in our experience in Massachusetts courts, a motion to invoke this useful safeguard can be and has been used as a delaying tactic to permit the attorneys to prepare the case more thoroughly, to set the stage for a later insanity plea, or even to foster the hope that witnesses will become less sure about recalled testimony.

Similarly, a Daubert hearing may be requested by one side or the other—even when the relevant science is basic, established, and non-controversial—as a comparable delaying tactic designed to secure some advantage by the delay, although, as the law evolves, such challenges to established science may become less common. In our experience, challenging the use of even absolutely standard psychological testing is a common ploy in this category.

The Dry Run

By providing a picture of the expert in action under cross-examination, expert depositions commonly serve as “dry runs” for trial preparation. However, Daubert hearings have the advantage of providing a second opportunity to probe the expert, as well as to obtain an otherwise unavailable assessment of the trial judge’s attitudes toward the case. In those jurisdictions where depositions do not occur or are not allowed in civil or criminal cases, thus depriving attorneys of the opportunity to perform a dry run of the cross-examination of the opposing expert, a Daubert hearing may serve the purpose of obtaining an equally valuable advance look at the opposing experts’ opinions, bases, methodology, and courtroom demeanor. The resultant data can be put to very good use by the attorney in case preparation, mastery of the relevant literature, and the like.

Impeachment: Laying a Foundation

Just as moving for an unnecessary examination for competence to stand trial may aid the attorney in laying a foundation (if only in the public’s mind) for a later insanity plea, moving for an unnecessary Daubert hearing may lay the foundation for later efforts to impeach the expert’s reasoning on scientific grounds. Even if the expert’s opinion is ultimately not excluded, the knowledge gained in the process (the dry run suggested in the prior section) may be helpful to the attorney in designing more effective cross-examination for trial.

Rattling the Expert

The motion for a Daubert hearing may constitute no more than an attempt at simple harassment of the experts, designed to shake their confidence in their own testimony by a threshold challenge to their approach, methodology, reasoning, and professional acceptance of the experts’ theory of the case.

Fatigue Factors

In a related manner, a mid-testimony hearing may be attempted on a specious issue, to overextend the expert’s time on the witness stand, perhaps interrupting the flow of case-related testimony that the jury hears. This approach may generate sufficient distraction and breach of concentration in the jury to obscure the gist and impact of the expert’s testimony.

Economic War

Because a Daubert hearing involves costs for the time and participation of the parties and assistants (e.g., stenographers), the hearing may be requested by a large, rich firm, to drive up the costs for an opposing small, poor firm and thus to discourage or render more difficult the latter’s participation in the suit.

Similarly, because of cost restrictions from the client or insurers, a law firm unable or unwilling to hire its own reputable expert may be forced to put its efforts into attempting to disqualify the other side’s expert through Daubert challenges. Theoretically, such an approach may also serve to create a record designed to refute a later claim for legal malpractice in this situation. An attorney’s specious introduction of standards for reliability and relevance (that no expert could meet) in this setting may also constitute an attempt to excuse his or her failure to retain an appropriate expert.

Shooting the Messenger

A highly unusual twist in the Daubert question has occurred with one of us (H.B.) when an attorney hired several experts, but one of them did not present a favorable opinion after review. The attorney presented that expert’s opinion to the other side in a distorted way that invited a Daubert challenge, which was feebly and ineffectively resisted by that attorney. The attorney then used the successful challenge to rationalize not paying the expert for work already done, based on the alleged failure of the opinion to meet the standard.

Fairly Civil reports.  You — or someone in authority — will decide.

Los Angeles Times Has Been No Watch Dog in Sanchez Case

IT’S REAL — ALEX SANCHEZ GETS BAIL IN MS-13 RICO TRIAL — JUDGE CALLS IN TEAM OF OUTSIDE REFEREES TO HELP MAKE THE REPLAY CALL

In bad manners, Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, Police, politics, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime on January 14, 2010 at 2:02 am

Experts Testified Behind Judge Real's Closed Doors in Latest Sanchez Bail Hearing

Federal Judge Manuel L. Real has granted bail to Alex Sanchez, the former gang member turned anti-gang activist who has been accused in a federal racketeering (RICO) indictment of being a “secret shot-caller” for Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).  [To follow the trail of a series of earlier posts on this fascinating case, start here.  You will eventually land in the Land of Oz. ]

Here is how Celeste Fremon’s WitnessLA broke the news today:

Around 11:30, at the end of the closed hearing that began at 10 a.m. Alex Sanchez attorney Kerry Bensinger came out of the federal courtroom to talk to Sanchez family and a very, very small handful of supporters, whom he drew into a side room and broke the news. U.S. District Judge Manuel Real had granted Alex Sanchez bail.

One thing that can be said for the staggeringly quirky Real, he continues to surprise. This time the surprise was a good one for Sanchez and family.

The bail amount is set at $2 million. It is to be divided into $1 million in properties, $1 million in surities.

Since Sanchez supporters and family have already gathered $1.4 million in property, and $1 million in surities, “it’s only a matter of the paperwork,” said Monica Novoa, a Homies Unidos board member who is very close to the family and thus was in the room.

The extraordinary bail hearing was closed to the public.  It followed the filing of a mysterious sealed document by Sanchez’s lawyer, Kerry L. Bensinger.  Contents of that filing are not available on the public record.

Judge Real apparently felt the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals breathing down his back and called in a panel of independent gang experts to help him pin down the facts relevant to Sanchez’s bail request.  These have almost nothing to do with the defendant’s guilt or innocence, but whether he presents (1) a risk of flight, or (2) a threat to others.

According to papers filed in the federal district court, prosecutors made available three expert witnesses.  They were:

  • LAPD Capt. Justin Eisenberg, Commanding Officer of the Gangs and Narcotics Division.
  • Former federal prosecutor Bruce K. Riordan, now Director of Anti-Gang Operations for the L.A. City Attorney’s Office.  Riordan is also Chief of the Gang Division and Deputy Chief of the Criminal Division.
  • FBI Supervisory Special Agent Robert W. Clark, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Los Angeles Field Office.

“Government’s Notice Re; Available Witnesses at Hearing Re: Detention of Alex Sanchez,” United States v. Alfaro, Central District of California, Docket No. CR-09-466-R, filed January 12, 2010.

NOTE:  This document — which was publicly available yesterday at the time this blog post was first written — has now been sealed.  Oh, well.  Good thing I printed it off!

It is possible that Bensinger’s mysterious sealed document was the defendant’s list of experts, some or all of whom are rumored to be politicians and public officials who may not have wanted to be identified as speaking on Sanchez’s behalf.  Is there such a thing as a spinal implant?  Or integrity transfusion?  Perhaps this is something that the indefatigable activist Tom Hayden — who is given to dark conspiratorial theories when a matter involves the government — can investigate and write about in the public interest.

In any event, Judge Real was demonstrably persuaded that Sanchez was entitled to be released.

At least some observers have speculated that prosecutors made a decision to ease back on the throttle regarding the Sanchez bail question.  The theory of this line of reasoning is that prosecutors realized that they had a big problem with the factual scenario they had relied on to implicate Sanchez in an intra-gang hit — to wit, the government may have incorrectly identified a key participant in a wiretapped phone call.

The call on the table, the reasoning continues, was either to continue pushing hard to keep Sanchez locked up and risk seeing the case taken away from Judge Real by the Ninth Circuit, or to reform the skirmish line and perhaps bring in some fresh troops.  A few new strategic calls may also be made.

Most interesting in the short run will be to see what, if anything, the Los Angeles Times prints tomorrow.  Any way you slice the Sanchez case, it is a world class story that any of the old style newspaper men would have given an arm for:  if Sanchez is truly innocent, he has been the victim of terrible mistreatment.  If he is guilty, he pulled off a scam that makes Ponzi scheme artist Bernie Madoff look like an amateur.

But the Times, one of the few interesting newspapers left in America, has studiously ignored the case to date.

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

UPDATE ON LOS ANGELES TIMES‘ COVERAGE

No surprise here.  No story.  Apparently, LA Times editors couldn’t find their butts in the dark with both hands and a flashlight.

But the on-line edition does have this suh-weet blast from the past:

I wanna take you high-er!

CASE OF ALLEGED MS-13 “SECRET SHOT CALLER” ALEX SANCHEZ GETS REAL — ATTEMPTED “HAIL MARY SHUFFLE PASS” BY DEFENSE FLOPS

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on December 28, 2009 at 4:38 pm

Alex Sanchez's Defense Team Got Nowhere in Appeal to Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and Blew Attempted "Hail Mary" Play Around Judge Manuel L. Real. The Feds' Ball-Control Game Plan Appears to be Working.

Question: Is a dropped shovel pass considered an incomplete pass or a fumble?

Answer: A forward pass, is a forward pass, is a forward pass. It can be thrown overhand, underhand, one-handed, two-handed or between your legs. The direction it travels is the only deciding factor as to whether it’s forward or backward.

So, if a forward shovel pass hits the ground it’s an incomplete pass.

Curt Johnson’s American Football Rules Answers for Coaches

LATER NOTE:  Alex Sanchez was granted pre-trial release on January 13, 2010.  See story here.

Alex Sanchez’s lawyer has played a fan-rousing first-quarter game of razzle-dazzle legal football trying to spring the accused Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) “secret shot caller” from jail while he awaits trial.

Forget the cheers and pom-poms.  The case is right back where it started — in the forbidding courtroom of octogenarian federal district Judge Manuel L. Real.

Underhand, overhand, fumble or incomplete pass, call it what you will.  A desperate maneuver to get the controversial case reassigned to a different judge blew up like a busted shovel pass hit by a play-reading, line-backing locomotive.

Tom Diaz, "No Boundaries: Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement"

“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

Full background on the federal racketeering (RICO) indictment, arrest, and incarceration pending trial of Sanchez — an admitted gangster supposedly reformed and turned anti-gang activist, now accused by the feds of being a “secret shot-caller” — can be found in all of its tortured procedural history  here, here, and here.

"Nothing Personal About that Flamethrower, Your Honor."

As Fairly Civil reported in detail here, the appellate brief filed last month on Sanchez’s behalf before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals  torched Judge Real, the government, its witnesses, and the handling of the case.  The brief demanded removal of Judge Real from the case because — paraphrased in layman’s terms — he “just doesn’t get it.”  The defense lawyer’s next appearance before Judge Real should be … um … interesting — a textbook case, perhaps, of “nothing personal about that flamethrower in the Ninth Circuit, your honor.”

Incredibly, while Sanchez’s appeal was still pending, startling “news” broke that the case had been reassigned to another judge.  Sanchez’s many fans popped the corks on the champagne and celebrated an early Christmas.

See how this series of developments unfolded by checking out the excellent (if unabashedly pro-Sanchez) WitnessLA blog here.

This news energized aging California hippy activist and prolific gang fiction writer Tom Hayden like a straight shot of Geritol.  Hayden fired up his rhetorical flying saucer on the tarmac over in Area 51, and beamed an ecstatic account of the thrilling development onto the pages of The Nation magazine.

Premature excitation, it turned out.

The case was promptly — and somewhat curtly — reassigned back to Judge Real!

News of Ephemeral "Reassignmnet" Galvanized Accomplished Intergalactic Saucer Pilot and Gang Fiction Writer Tom Hayden

Never one to let the facts get in the way of a good story, Hayden jumped back into his intergalactic travel machine and fired an email straight from the radical 70s, filled with predictably dark imaginings about the manipulation of the legal system, the sinister hidden hand of LAPD corruption tainting the federal legal system …. yadda-yadda, yadda-yadda.

Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em. But try not to inhale.

Here, is WitnessLA’s recitative on Hayden’s petulant emission:

Hayden sent around an email Tuesday night containing details and reactions. It read in part:

“The turn of events will raise new suspicions about alleged manipulation of the proceedings which began six months ago with Sanchez’ arrest on gang conspiracy charges. Sanchez, a well-known gang intervention worker who helped expose the Los Angeles police Rampart scandal a decade ago, asserts his innocence in the case. He is being held without bail at a federal prison in Los Angeles.

As of 4:30 Tuesday afternoon, no order reversing the transfer had been received by defense counsel, and no explanation offered for the unusual chain of events.

The order surprised and pleased the Sanchez defense team. His supporters, organized as http://www.wearealex.org, assert that Sanchez is being railroaded and denied any semblance of a fair trial. Sanchez’ court-appointed counsel, Kerry Bensinger, argued in a recent appeal to the Ninth Circuit that the case should be remanded to another judge.

Why the December 4 transfer order was withdrawn less than a day after it was made public will raise questions about the inner workings of the judiciary itself.”

Uh, huh. Something like that.

Or to put it another way: Whiskey Tango Foxtrot???!!

Or, to put it yet another way, “Beam me up, Scotty.”  In fact, the assignment-reassignment is not puzzling at all.

A complete explanation was then, is now, and will be available in full view, on the public record, in the federal court house in Los Angeles for any journaliste or enfant terrible curious — and energetic — enough to bring actual facts to the question.  Anyone without the means to actually get down to the clerk’s office (take a bus or ride a bike) can go onto an amazing thing called “the internet” ( a series of interconnected tubes) and dial into reality.

More Geritol, Ma … please!

The Case of the Mysterious Premature Reassignment Explained

Where to start?

Oh, wait, I know!

How about with the actual court order reassigning the reassignment?  Brilliant idea!

Here is the complete text of the “Order Returning Case to the Calendar of Judge Manuel Real,” United States v. Jose Alfaro, United States District Court for the Central District of California, Docket No. 09-466-CAS, filed December 8, 2009:

As Chair of the Case Assignment and Management Committee, I have been advised by United States District Judge Christina Snyder that she inadvertently signed a transfer order that contained the representation that the present criminal case purportedly “arise[s] out of the same conspiracy, common scheme, transaction, series of transactions or events” that were the subject of CR 05-00539.  Apparently the order was generated when a defense attorney submitted a belated notice of related case status.  That notice focuses on a case handled by Judge Snyder involving one of the numerous defendants in the present case.  Judge Snyder advises that she was unaware of the status of the above-captioned action, does not believe that the relationship of the cases warrants transfer and has referred the matter to me for a determination as to whether the case should be returned to Judge Real.

Even if there is some connection between these two cases, which I note were filed four years apart, the current case is at such an advanced stage and Judge Real has spent such substantial time and effort on the matter that no judicial economy would be achieved by a transfer at this late date.  Indeed, a transfer at this point would undermine the very objectives that provide the reason for the rule.  Accordingly, the transfer to Judge Snyder is VACATED and the matter is ORDERED to be returned to Judge Real’s calendar for all further proceedings.

IT IS SO ORDERED.

DATED: December 8, 2009

[Signed]

Judge Gary Allen Feess

Chair, Case Assignment and Management Committee

[Judge Snyder’s original order is also available.  It is simply a “check the box and sign” order form, CR-59 (12-07), the kind of thing some judges whiz through while pretending to listen from the bench to bloviating counsel.  It states in relevant part:  “I hereby consent to the transfer of the above-entitled case to my calendar, pursuant to General Order 08-05.”]

Um, plainly, this was an attempt at “judge shopping” by “a defense attorney,” who is not named and may or may not have been Sanchez’s counsel:

We can define “judge shopping” as an effort by a lawyer or litigant to influence a court’s assignment of a case so that it will be directed to a particular judge or away from a particular judge. The adversary usually does this to gain partisan advantage in a case (e.g., to steer it to a judge who is likely to impose a more lenient sentence in a criminal case…)

Memorandum by David C. Steelman, National Center for State Courts, January 21, 2003.

Nice try, Anonymous Mouthpiece!

But … no gain on the play. Ball stuffed.  First down, government’s ball.

Three questions linger, and their answers clear up the rest of the mystery.

  1. What is “the rule” to which Judge Feess refers in the order?
  2. What prompted Judge Snyder to refer the matter to Judge Feess?
  3. What was the allegedly “related” case the unnamed defense counsel was so anxious to hook the present case to?

No Wizard Behind the Mysterious Green Curtain -- Just a Boring Rule

Well, for anyone who is interested in how things actually operate behind the sinister green curtain, here is the relevant text of the rule, General Order No. 08-05.  It pretty well lays out the boring, non-conspiratorial routine procedure — including safeguards — that goes on in such a case of attempted judge-shopping:

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT, CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA, GENERAL ORDER NO. 08-05, ASSIGNMENT OF CASES AND DUTIES TO JUDGES

11.0 RELATED CRIMINAL CASES

11.1 NOTICE OF RELATED CASES

It shall be the responsibility of counsel to promptly file a Notice of Related Cases whenever a criminal case previously filed and one or more informations or indictments later filed:

a. arise out of the same conspiracy, common scheme, transaction, series of transactions or events; or

b. involve one or more defendants in common, and would entail substantial duplication of labor in pretrial, trial or sentencing proceedings if heard by different judges.

11.2 PROCESSING OF PROPOSED TRANSFER ORDER

Whenever counsel files a Notice of Related Cases indicating that any one or more of the above circumstances set forth in Section 11.1 exist, the Clerk shall prepare a proposed transfer order which shall be presented to the transferee judge and processed in the same manner as are related civil cases under Section 5.0 of this General Order.

5.2 PROCESSING OF PROPOSED TRANSFER ORDER

The Clerk shall also simultaneously provide an informational copy of the proposed transfer order to the judge randomly assigned to the case later filed (the transferor judge).

If the transferee judge approves the transfer, the case shall be transferred to the calendar of the transferee judge. If the transferee judge declines the related case transfer, the case shall proceed as originally assigned on the calendar of the transferor judge.

If the transferor judge disagrees with the decision of the transferee judge, the transferor judge may appeal the decision to the Committee. The Committee shall determine whether the cases are related.

Z-z-z-z. So much for the first two questions.  No proposed transfer was ever going to just slip by Judge Real in the dark of night.  Whether Judge Snyder figured it out on her own, or got a friendly call from Judge Real and/or the U.S. Attorney’s office is immaterial.  Once a question was raised, the matter was bound to go to the Case Assignment and Management Committee.

So, what was the case the enterprising defense lawyer selected?  For that answer, one must go to Docket No. CR 05-00539 in the same federal courthouse (using the inter-tube thing or skate-boarding to get there).

That docket recounts the case of one Juan Miguel Mancilla, aka “Gato,” a gangster who was arrested in one of the first sweeps by the FBI’s MS-13 National Gang Task Force.  Mancilla was charged with trafficking in methamphetamine. His prosecution was handled by then-assistant United States Attorneys Bruce Riordan and Scott Garringer. In April 2006, “Gato” copped a guilty plea and was sentenced to 97 months in prison.  The case has been closed since then.

When the current indictment was handed up in June, Mancilla was also named as a defendant, this time on racketeering charges, and was accordingly arrested while still in federal custody.  Whoever the enterprising defense counsel was who filed the transfer motion with Judge Snyder was trying to pin the elephant of this case onto the tail of the sleeping donkey of the Mancilla case.

End of mystery.

Oh, Yeah, and About the Ninth Circuit

The government filed a determinedly sober brief in response to Sanchez’s flamethrower.  Many observers believe that Sanchez’s argument that one of the participants in a series of calls was misidentified is possibly correct, and has given prosecutors a bit of grief.  But, the government’s answer — so what, the guilty party confessed independent of the wiretap? — has so far trumped the assertion, especially in light of the hundreds upon hundreds of hours of other wiretaps and informant material in the case.

The government’s brief, however, contained these interesting assertions, which go beyond the four wiretapped phone calls on which the case has been focused in the bail hearings:

Sanchez had contacts with gang members in 1999, when he arranged a meeting of the shotcallers of the Normandie clique of MS-13 in Los Angeles to negotiate a division of their narcotics distribution enterprise. Sanchez was able to organize this meeting because he was a senior Normandie shotcaller who had been one of the founders of MS-13 in Los Angeles and the former MS-13 representative to the Mexican Mafia. Sanchez has continued to be active in gang business; among other things he has directed its distribution of narcotics and collected proceeds of its narcotics trafficking. Sanchez was intercepted on wiretap calls in 2000, 2001, and 2006 and on recorded prison calls in 2008, talking about MS-13 business.

“Government’s Opposition To Defendant’s Appeal From Detention Order; Memorandum Of Points And Authorities,” United States Court Of Appeals For The Ninth Circuit, Docket No. C.A. 09-50525, filed December 3, 2009.

On December 22, 2009, three Circuit Judges from the Ninth Circuit sent Sanchez’s case back to the federal district court, meaning to the courtroom of Judge Real.

Sanchez Case Is Back to the Future With Judge Manuel L. Real: "Good Morning, Counsel. Now, Where Were We?"

Y QUE? ALEX SANCHEZ DENIED BAIL AGAIN

In bad manners, Crime, Drugs, Gangs, Guns, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, undercover investigations on October 20, 2009 at 4:09 pm
Still in Custody -- Judges denies Bail Request of Alex Sanchez, Accused "Stealth Shot Caller"

Still in Custody -- Judges denies Bail Request of Alex Sanchez, Accused "Stealth Shot Caller"

Details are not only sketchy, they are non-existent, but two close sources confirm that Alex Sanchez was again denied bail at his hearing in federal court yesterday.  Don’t bother searching the Los Angeles Times, to whom this case is apparently not a story in spite of its drama and implications for administration of justice, gangs, and organized crime.

For background on the story of this former gangster, ostensibly turned anti-gang activist, but now accused in a federal RICO indictment of being a secret “shot-caller” or gang boss, go here, here, and here.

Meanwhile, perhaps the most that can be said until the trial and verdict is this.

Whatever the prosecutors served up yesterday, it apparently was sizzling enough to convince federal judge Manuel Real to keep Sanchez locked up.

Experienced gang prosecutors and investigators who are not related to or part of the Sanchez case have told me that this sort of “back and forth” or what is known as the “battle of the transcripts” is fairly typical of the early stages of a big racketeering case — particularly when you have a case that relies on transcripts that require translation — and that it is best at this stage to keep an open mind and not jump to conclusions but rather to follow the evidence until the “back and forth” sorts itself out.

At this stage it appears to these observers that too many people are jumping to conclusions and making personal attacks (on both sides) when the real issues are evidence-based — namely, “First, “what precisely do the transcripts say?”  Then, once that is established, second, “Now that we know what the transcripts say, what exactly does that mean?”

Point taken, but Fairly Civil remains amazed at the virtual news blackout on this case.

Lindsay Lohan grabs more media time? Any media time?

Pathetic.

Newsworthy in L.A.

Newsworthy in L.A.

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

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

MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

MS-13 Gangsters Flash Devil's Horns

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

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

Gangbuster:  LAPD Chief William Bratton

Gangbuster: LAPD Chief William Bratton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Plot to Whack a Cop

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But he is held without bond at this writing.

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

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

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

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com


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