Tom Diaz

Posts Tagged ‘Latino prison gangs’

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!"

INSPECTOR GENERAL: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE GANG INTELLIGENCE ISN’T

In Crime, Gangs, Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, politics, Transnational crime, Turf Wars, Washington Bureaucracy on November 19, 2009 at 9:25 pm

Department of Justice Inspector General Report: DOJ's Two Major Anti-Gang Intelligence Units "Are Not Contributing Significantly to the Department's Anti-Gang Initiatives."

If a tree falls in the courtyard of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, DC, would anybody notice in Yakima, Washington?

Not if it involves the two units in the department charged with developing national anti-gang intelligence and coordination systems — at least,  according to the department’s inspector general.  In dispassionate, almost clinical language, a just-issued report by the IG’s staff pretty much trashed both the FBI-based National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) and the DOJ-based Gang Targeting, Enforcement, and Coordination Center (GangTECC).

The IG staff reports that “after almost 3 years of operation, NGIC and GangTECC still have not made a significant impact on the Department’s anti-gang activities. Despite being located in the same office suite, both NGIC and GangTECC are not effectively collaborating and are not sharing gang-related information.”

A key recommendation — that the department consider merging the two rival siblings — is the kind of good government idea that could set off a classic turf war.

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

The following excerpts from the 63-page report — “A Review of the Department’s Anti-Gang Intelligence and Coordination Centers,” U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, Evaluation and Inspections Division (November 2009) — cover the major points:

A Review of the Department’s Anti-Gang Intelligence and Coordination Centers

In January 2007, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales announced that the Department had taken several steps to address gang violence. Among those efforts were the establishment of three new entities: (1) the National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC), which was established by statute in January 2006, integrates the gang intelligence assets of all DOJ agencies and other partner agencies; (2) the National Gang Targeting, Enforcement, and Coordination Center (GangTECC), established in June 2006 by the Attorney General, serves as a central coordinating center for multi-jurisdictional gang investigations; and (3) the Gang Unit, another Attorney General initiative created in September 2006, develops and implements strategies to attack the most significant gangs and serves as the prosecutorial arm of the Department’s efforts against violent gangs.

….

Our review found that, after almost 3 years of operation, NGIC and GangTECC still have not made a significant impact on the Department’s anti-gang activities. Despite being located in the same office suite, both NGIC and GangTECC are not effectively collaborating and are not sharing gang-related information.

National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC)

NGIC was established by statute in January 2006 to “collect, analyze, and disseminate gang activity information” from various federal, state, and local law enforcement, prosecutorial, and corrections agencies.5 The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) used existing resources from its Criminal Intelligence Section to establish NGIC. The public law that established NGIC also charged the FBI with administering NGIC as a multi-agency center where intelligence analysts from federal, state, and local law enforcement work together to develop and share gang-related information. NGIC was to provide a centralized intelligence resource for gang information and analytical support to law enforcement agencies. For fiscal year (FY) 2008, NGIC’s budget was $6.6 million and, as of June 2009 there were a total of 27 staff at the NGIC.

Gang Targeting, Enforcement, and Coordinating Center (GangTECC)

On February 15, 2006, Attorney General Gonzales announced plans to create a new national anti-gang task force as part of an initiative to combat gangs and gang violence. On June 26, 2006, GangTECC began operations under the leadership of the Department’s Criminal Division. Its mission is to bring together the Department’s operational law enforcement components and the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to identify, prioritize, and target violent street gangs whose activities pose a significant multi-jurisdictional threat. According to its Concept of Operations, GangTECC is intended to coordinate overlapping investigations, ensure that tactical and strategic intelligence is shared between law enforcement agencies, and serve as a central coordinating and deconfliction center. Unlike NGIC, GangTECC is not authorized a separate budget by statute. Instead, costs are borne by the contributing agencies. As of early 2009, there were a total of 17 GangTECC staff members.

Our review found that, after almost 3 years of operation, NGIC and GangTECC still have not made a significant impact on the Department’s anti-gang activities. Despite being located in the same office suite, both NGIC and GangTECC are not effectively collaborating and are not sharing gang-related information.

Most importantly, NGIC has not established a gang information database for collecting and disseminating gang intelligence as directed by statute. NGIC is perceived as predominately an FBI organization, and it has not developed the capability to effectively share gang intelligence and information with other law enforcement organizations.

In contrast, we found that GangTECC has no budget and lacks the resources to carry out its mission. We also found that the Criminal Division has not filled an attorney position at GangTECC that is intended to enable it to provide guidance to law enforcement officials conducting gang investigations and prosecutions. In addition, because GangTECC’s member agencies and the United States Attorneys’ Offices (USAO) are not required to inform GangTECC of their investigations and prosecutions, GangTECC cannot effectively deconflict the Department’s gang-related activities as directed by the Deputy Attorney General. Further, GangTECC’s efforts to publicize its priority gang targets have lagged.

As a result of the above, NGIC and GangTECC are not effectively providing investigators and prosecutors with “one-stop shopping” for gang information and assistance, and they are not contributing significantly to the Department’s anti-gang initiatives.

NGIC has not developed a gang information database as directed by Congress.

NGIC planned to create and maintain a library of gang identification information and make that library available to investigators, prosecutors, and other law enforcement staff. In addition, NGIC planned to establish electronic bridges to federal, state, and local information technology systems to connect disparate federal and state databases containing gang information or intelligence.

However, technological limitations and operational problems have inhibited NGIC from deploying a gang information database. For example, NGIC has not developed the electronic bridges necessary to allow it to access information from states that have technologically disparate databases on gangs. In addition, performance issues with a contractor contributed to the delay in the development of the gang library. As of July 2009, the information management system and electronic bridges have not progressed beyond the development phase. Unless NGIC can obtain a technical solution for bridging these databases, NGIC’s ability to use existing gang information will be very limited.

NGIC is not effectively sharing gang intelligence and information.

To effectively share gang intelligence and information, NGIC must know the needs of the law enforcement personnel who are its customers and ensure they are aware of the NGIC’s capability to support their gang-related investigations and prosecutions.

We found that NGIC has few regular users outside of the FBI, GangTECC, and itself. These three organizations accounted for 64 percent of all requests received by NGIC. The remaining 36 percent of the requests were distributed among 15 other customer groups. With respect to the “state, local, and tribal law enforcement” customer group, our analysis showed that few requests came from these potential customers. This customer group encompasses the majority of law enforcement agencies and personnel in the United States – over 30,000 agencies and 700,000 sworn officers – and has the greatest interactions with criminally active gangs in the United States. Yet, despite its large size, this customer group made an average of only 3 requests per year and submitted only 13 of the 213 total requests for information received by NGIC from its inception in 2006 to February 2009.

In discussions with the NGIC and GangTECC personnel and other law enforcement officials about why NGIC was not used more frequently by law enforcement agencies, we found that NGIC was not perceived as an independent, multi-agency center by many of the law enforcement personnel we interviewed. It was repeatedly referred to as being “FBI-centric” in the products it generates and the intelligence analysis that it provides.

We also found that, in the 38-month period we examined, NGIC responded to only about six requests a month. While this increased to about 17 requests a month in the first 5 months of FY 2009, that number is still small given NGIC’s staffing of 20 intelligence analysts. NGIC management attributed the small number of requests to the law enforcement community’s unfamiliarity with NGIC – despite the Center’s attempts to advertise its presence – and to NGIC personnel not recording all the requests they received.

Although GangTECC’s operational guidance states that it is intended to be a major user of NGIC’s gang intelligence services, its use remains limited.

GangTECC has insufficient resources to carry out its mission of coordinating gang investigations and prosecutions.

GangTECC has a broad, multi-purpose mission, but only 12 members and no operating budget. Participating components are required to contribute staff to GangTECC and pay their salaries out of their own budgets. The lack of an operating budget has prevented GangTECC managers from taking actions essential to its operations, including hosting case coordination meetings and conducting effective outreach to the law enforcement community. Almost all GangTECC members we interviewed, as well as the GangTECC Director and Criminal Division officials, stressed that the lack of an operating budget is the biggest hindrance for GangTECC, particularly when it prevents the GangTECC personnel from fully participating in case coordination meetings.

Coordination efforts. Organizing and participating in case coordination meetings is central to GangTECC’s mission to identify common targets between law enforcement agencies. GangTECC identifies opportunities to coordinate gang investigations with multiple law enforcement agencies and attempts to organize case coordination meetings to bring together federal, state, and local investigators, analysts, and prosecutors to share information. Successfully coordinated cases may enable charges to be brought against large, geographically dispersed gang-related criminal enterprises.

GangTECC has coordinated 12 cases that involved multiple law enforcement agencies and jurisdictions, and these efforts resulted in better, stronger cases for prosecution. GangTECC has also facilitated cooperation and coordination in over 100 other cases in which investigators or agencies would not initially share information on common targets with one another. Law enforcement personnel we interviewed who used the GangTECC’s services reported high levels of satisfaction and told us that case coordination was the most helpful service that GangTECC could provide to the field.

Notwithstanding the demonstrated value, the GangTECC Director told us there have been at least five occasions when GangTECC has been unable to host or even attend out-of-state case coordination meetings because it was unable to fund travel costs. For example, GangTECC could not host case coordination meetings for two cases involving the Latin Kings gang. As a result of the limitations on GangTECC’s ability to execute its mission, opportunities to better coordinate the Department’s efforts to combat gang crime have been lost.

Deconfliction by GangTECC is not occurring as directed by the Deputy Attorney General.

Over its 3-year existence, GangTECC has not established itself as the central coordination and deconfliction center envisioned by its Concept of Operations.9 Although it was intended that GangTECC would “provide a strong, national deconfliction center for gang operations,” neither GangTECC’s own participating components nor USAOs are required to notify GangTECC of newly opened gang cases. Consequently, GangTECC cannot effectively deconflict the Department’s anti-gang activities on a national level.

GangTECC’s efforts to publicize priority gang targets have lagged.

GangTECC is required to use information from NGIC and other sources to identify priority targets and propose strategies to neutralize the most violent and significant gang threats. According to the GangTECC Director, GangTECC and NGIC first identified 13 priority gang targets in 2006. However, we found little evidence during our review that the list was used outside the two Centers.

NGIC and GangTECC are not effective as independent entities.

NGIC and GangTECC’s operational plans required them to co-locate so that they would establish a relationship in which the resources of each Center would be integrated with and fully utilized by the other. An effective NGIC and GangTECC partnership would include deconfliction, identification of priority gang targets, and sharing of gang information. While the Centers are located in the same office suite in the same building, this co-location of NGIC and GangTECC did not lead to the anticipated partnership. Our discussions with NGIC and GangTECC personnel regarding their interactions found that communication between the two Centers remains limited and ad hoc.

In addition, while both NGIC and GangTECC advertise at conferences and in their pamphlets that they provide investigators and prosecutors with a “one-stop shopping” capability for gang information and assistance, this capability has not been achieved due to various impediments. NGIC is administered by the FBI while GangTECC is administered by the Criminal Division. We found that differing leadership and management philosophies, funding sources (dedicated funding versus funding through contributions by member agencies), and investigative priorities have limited the Centers’ ability to work together effectively.

We believe that the Department should consider merging NGIC and GangTECC into a single unit under common leadership.

Likely U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles Wins Wide Support

In Obama, politics on November 2, 2009 at 3:40 pm
AndreBirotte

LAPD Inspector general Andre Birotte Jr. Has Broad Support to be Next U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles

André Birotte, Jr.

LAPD Inspector General

Mr. Birotte joined the Office of the Inspector General in 2001. In 2003, he was appointed Inspector General of the Los Angeles Police Department by the Los Angeles Board of Police Commissioners. Mr. Birotte and his staff of approximately 32 employees, which include lawyers, professional auditors and former law enforcement executives, are responsible for conducting and overseeing LAPD internal investigations and audits to ensure compliance with both LAPD policies and mandates from the Federal Consent Decree. Mr. Birotte holds an undergraduate degree from Tufts University and a J.D. from Pepperdine University School of Law. Following law school, Mr. Birotte worked as a deputy public defender in Los Angeles where he represented indigent clients charged with felony and misdemeanor offenses in several phases of criminal proceedings including preliminary hearings, pretrial conferences, arraignments and over 30 trials. He then joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office, where he investigated and prosecuted numerous violent crime, fraud and narcotics trafficking cases. Thereafter, he joined the Quinn Emanuel law firm, where he represented clients in white-collar crime and commercial litigation matters.

LAPD Inspector General’s Internet Website

Los Angeles is buzzing this week, awaiting a new police chief.  But another nomination, perhaps  just as important, is in the wind.

Last week the Los Angeles Times floated a trial balloon for the likely nomination of Andre Birotte, Jr., the Los Angeles Police Department’s Inspector General, to become the next United States Attorney for the Central District of California (Los Angeles and much of Southern California).

LAPD’s inspector general likely choice for U.S. attorney in L.A.  Andre Birotte Jr. emerges after months of speculation as the presumptive nominee to be appointed to the vacant post by Obama.

The news of Birotte’s pending appointment prompted praise from diverse quarters.  Smart, moderate, and soft spoken, Birotte has successfully navigated the shark-filled waters of L.A. politics and come out strong with his integrity intact.

Social justice maven Celeste Fremon headlined her WitnessLA social justic blog:  “Andre Birotte Jr. 4 US Attorney? Please, Let it Be So!”

Here are her thoughts on Birotte:

I’ve got my fingers firmly crossed that Andre is indeed the nominee.  Honestly, I can’t think of a better choice for LA’s U.S. Attorney. He’s respected by a broad spectrum of people in and around law enforcement.

Plus, with basically no real power in his position as  inspector general for the Los Angeles Police Department, he has still managed to have a real influence in helping the LAPD transform itself into a department that the city can once again be proud of.

The LAPD command staff holds him in high regard.  At the same time,  Andre made a point of reaching out liberal-leaning law enforcement watchers like me—not to garner press attention or advance any agenda—but simply to talk about issues.

Andre is one of those rare people with a truly nuanced intelligence who seeks to understand any problem before him at a deeper and more complex level than what the surface presents.

And, hey, the guy also has a good sense of humor—mandatory in this business, in my humble opinion.

Let’s hope he’s our new U.S.  Attorney.

Bruce Riordan, one of Birotte’s former colleagues in the U.S. Attorney’s office and now Chief, Gang Division, Los Angeles City Attorney, likewise knows Birotte well and offered this assessment:

I have known and worked with Andre for more than a decade.  First as an Assistant United States Attorney,  then as a Deputy Inspector General, and finally as the Inspector General for the LAPD.  In every capacity in which he has worked he has served with real distinction.  He has an innate sense of fairness, a strong moral compass and he is also decisive.  If he is indeed nominated and confirmed for the position of United States Attorney, then it is my firm opinion that the District will see not only a very good man, but also a very good leader.  The District will be in good hands.

If Birotte lands the job, he’ll have his hands full from the first minute.  In addition to pending cases handed off from former U.S. Attorney Thomas O’Brien, he’ll have to lead the way in one of the nation’s most prestigious — and hottest — law enforcement environs.

With the generally positive reviews of all the finalists for chief, and that spectrum of opinion supporting Birotte’s likely nomination, things should be looking up for the City of Angels on the law enforcement front.

CALLING CALIFORNIA: “MEDICAL MARIJUANA” IS A FRAUD — YOU HAVE THE WORST OF BOTH WORLDS

In bad manners, Corruption, Crime, Cultural assassination, Drugs, Marijuana Debate, politics on October 23, 2009 at 12:48 pm
Inhaling the Smoke of This Weeds Is Supposed to be Good for What Ails You?  Or Are its Dispensers Just a Front for More of the Same Criminal Trafficking in a Banned Drug?

Inhaling the Smoke of This Weed Is Supposed to be Good for What Ails You? Or Are its Dispensers Just a Front for More of the Same Criminal Trafficking in a Banned Drug?

This piece from Charles Lane’s Washington Post blog provides a nice, cold-eyed summary, making [my words here] the point:  “Medical marijuana” is a fraud and the Obama administration is ducking the issue:  Should we flat-out legalize this drug, or should we tolerate and maybe even encourage (as do the Holder guidelines on weed) the continued hypocrisy of phony “medicinal” uses.

I originally thought the new Obama/Holder weed guidelines were an elegant solution:  stand back and let the states develop policy and reach a national consensus.  I now see them as a political base-holding confection.  The states, if California is an example, and it is, are developing neither policy nor consensus.  They are waddling along with a sick and corrosive system that is partially legal and overwhelmingly criminal, following a lobby that intensely wants every American to light up and enjoy, meanwhile rewarding criminal gangsters with a facade of legality.

Attorney General Eric Holder Announces Obama Administration's "Medical Marijuana" Tolerance Guidelines

Attorney General Eric Holder Announces Obama Administration's "Medical Marijuana" Tolerance Guidelines

And where is the Washington “law enforcement establishment” — the suits di suits — on this?  Neutered and silent, complicit, reminding one of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s Dereliction of Duty when another Democratic President, Lyndon B. Johnson, used his forceful political persona to send “American boys” to fight a war he said they never would.  Nice backdrops for media conferences.

The original Post blog site from which this excerpt is taken contains data on medical surveys about how phony the so-called “medicinal” properties, at least as administered through a cigarette with no production standards, are.

‘Medical marijuana’ is a Trojan horse

…decriminalization of marijuana is worth debating. I have no objection to letting AIDS patients and other truly desperately ill people smoke marijuana if it makes them feel better. I have no objection to the administration of THC, pot’s active ingredient, in properly tested and dosed pharmaceuticals. What I do object to, strongly, is the claim that smoked marijuana is some sort of wonder cure with a multiplicity of proven, but officially repressed, therapeutic uses.
….
Why does this bug me so much? It always bugs me when some group of true believers tries to foist its views on the public in the guise of science (e.g., “creation science”). This is especially pernicious when it involves selling phony remedies for real diseases (or real drugs for phony diseases)…
….
“Medical marijuana” is obviously a Trojan horse for legalization of pot as a recreational drug. In a democracy, people should pursue their policy objectives openly, not under false pretenses. In that respect, I thought that the attorney general created a certain amount of inevitable confusion when he announced his non-prosecution policy toward consumers and sellers of pot under state “medical marijuana” laws, while continuing to pursue large-scale traffickers and growers. Is marijuana a sometimes-therapeutic substance, as the AG implied by referring to “medical marijuana” smokers as “patients,” and those who provide pot to them as “caregivers” following “treatment regimens?” Or does pot have “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” as federal law provides — and, I would add, the evidence suggests? To be sure, the Justice Department’s directive to prosecutors focused on individuals with “cancer or other serious illnesses” who are complying with state law. But since many people who don’t have cancer or anything close to it are getting high under medical pretenses, plenty of ambiguity remains.

What Lane does not get into here is how the present phony, runaway “medical marijuana” system simply drives up demand — “patients” are pouring out of the woodwork because, “Hey, dude, it’s legal!” — which demand is met not by doctors and laboratory technicians in white coats ensuring a uniform product free of impurities, but criminal networks large and small selling illicitly grown, insecticide-laced, who-knows-what weed.  Fairly Civil was told during a visit to California that the bigger criminal networks, including the Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations, are cranking up to help meet the supply, and even forcing out those beloved hippy pot farmers whose righteous sense of  “serving” the self-medication community disappears into a liquid stream down the leg when confronted with DTO or gangster firepower.

Weed and Weapons In Oregon

Weed and Weapons In Oregon

Nothing stops a small-time farmer like looking down the barrel of a Kalashnikov clone.

Here’s another point I heard from the parent of a 16-year old boy.  Yes, he’s smoking, and guess where he gets his weed?  From the children of other parents who procure their “legal” drugs at “medical marijuana” shops on jacked-up licenses, and then dispense it to their own medically-needy children.  These aren’t East L.A. stereotypes, these are whatever passes for upper middle class in L.A.  See, they would rather “know” where their kids are getting their drugs (i.e., from their own trendy parents) than worry about some “dealer” seducing them.  How sick and disgusting is that?  The parent-victim of this system that I talked to doesn’t want her son smoking, but she is caught right smack between the do-gooders and the traffickers.

This is exactly an example of the kind of evil some state and local law enforcement personnel understand and want to shut down.  But, for some reason, many politicians in California want to actually encourage and expand this criminal shambles and resist cleaning it up.  Cui bono?

Ironic, but this state may fast be sliding into No Country for Either Old Hippies or Old Values….If you like your budget system, you’re gonna love where this is going.

Let's See:  Smoking Tobacco is a Public Health Hazard.  Smoking Marijuana is Medicinal?  Oh-h-kay...

Let's See: Smoking Tobacco is a Public Health Hazard. Smoking Marijuana is Medicinal? Oh-h-kay...

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 THREE

In Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, Mexico, Transnational crime, Uncategorized on September 16, 2009 at 9:16 pm
Dennis Gonzalez in Alhambra (CA) Police Department Wanted Poster, January 27, 2003

Dennis Gonzalez in Alhambra (CA) Police Department Wanted Poster, January 27, 2003

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.

Oklahoma City is 1,181 Miles From Compton, CA

Oklahoma City is 1,181 Miles From Compton, CA

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.

Compton Varrio Tortilla Flats Members Gonzalez Managed the Oklahoma City Drug Trafficking Operation, Allegedly as the Mexican Mafia's Associate

Compton Varrio Tortilla Flats Member Gonzalez Managed the Oklahoma City Drug Trafficking Operation, Allegedly as the Mexican Mafia's Associate

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.

So, You Want to "Legalize Recreational Drugs?"  Which One of YOUR Children Do You Wish This On? (Poster From OK Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control Website)

So, You Want to "Legalize Recreational Drugs?" Which One of YOUR Children Do You Wish This On? (Poster From OK Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs Control Website)

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

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.

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

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