Tom Diaz

Posts Tagged ‘Tom Hayden’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look around you, all you see are sympathetic eyes

Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home …

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

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

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

Wikipedia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE ON LOS ANGELES TIMES‘ COVERAGE

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

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

I wanna take you high-er!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Curt Johnson’s American Football Rules Answers for Coaches

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Rocky Delgadillo, former City Attorney of Los Angeles

Order No Boundaries from Amazon.com

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

"Nothing Personal About that Flamethrower, Your Honor."

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

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

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

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

Premature excitation, it turned out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uh, huh. Something like that.

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

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

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

More Geritol, Ma … please!

The Case of the Mysterious Premature Reassignment Explained

Where to start?

Oh, wait, I know!

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

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

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

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

IT IS SO ORDERED.

DATED: December 8, 2009

[Signed]

Judge Gary Allen Feess

Chair, Case Assignment and Management Committee

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

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

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

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

Nice try, Anonymous Mouthpiece!

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

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

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

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

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

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

11.0 RELATED CRIMINAL CASES

11.1 NOTICE OF RELATED CASES

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

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

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

11.2 PROCESSING OF PROPOSED TRANSFER ORDER

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

5.2 PROCESSING OF PROPOSED TRANSFER ORDER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End of mystery.

Oh, Yeah, and About the Ninth Circuit

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

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

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

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

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

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

ACCUSED SECRET SHOT-CALLER ALEX SANCHEZ’S TAKE-NO-PRISONERS BRIEF FLAMES TRIAL JUDGE MANUEL REAL — BOTTOM LINE: JUDGE DOESN’T GET IT

In bad manners, Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on November 23, 2009 at 1:34 pm

 

 

 

Alex Sanchez — the admitted former Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gangster turned Los Angeles anti-gang worker, now accused by the feds of being a “secret shot caller” — has been repeatedly denied pre-trial release.  Now his lawyer, Kerry R. Bensinger, has taken the matter to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in a take-no-prisoners brief that (in nice, polite lawyer language) flames trial Judge Manuel L. Real.

The brief scorches a few other targets, including the government’s trial lawyers and the principle MS-13 expert witness in the case, Los Angeles Police Department Gang Detective Frank Flores.  Flores’s testimony about the meaning of wiretaps (Sanchez allegedly directing a “hit” on a renegade gang member) was key in the detention hearings.  The defense claims that the government not only got one of the key phone call participants wrong, but Flores misconstrued what happened during the calls.

 

Judge Manuel L. Real

 

But Bensinger focuses his flamethrower on the 85-year old Judge Real, stating, “At a minimum, the matter should be remanded for a detention hearing before a different judge.”

If the judge did anything right, it escaped counsel’s notice.

Reading between the lines, Bensinger is conveying to the appeals court the message that — in his view — Real for whatever reason or reasons is confused or willfully obtuse about what the federal law requires in a bail (“detention”) hearing.  In short, the brief argues that the trial judge just doesn’t “get it.”

The 32-page document landed in the appeals court docket less than a week after that court issued an opinion and order applying its own flame to Judge Real.  (Bensinger has more to say on the matter — he asked the higher court to allow him to file additional material.) Here is the Los Angeles Times on the matter involving Real and the 9th Circuit (November 14, 2009):

Federal judge criticized for handling of claimants’ assets, Los Angeles Times, November 14, 2009

A federal appeals court Friday criticized U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real for his handling of $33.8 million entrusted to him for victims of the late Philippines dictator Ferdinand Marcos, calling his accounting “curious” and “filled with cryptic notations” that failed to show what happened to the money.

The three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered a new accounting of the disputed assets by a different judge — a rare act of implied censure that Real has now endured at least 11 times in his long judicial career.

 

 

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 Stakes

 

If You Indict Mother Teresa, You Better Convict

 

The stakes are high for Sanchez in an already complicated case:  “Now five months since his arrest, Mr. Sanchez faces an extended pretrial detention as the parties believe this case will not be ready for trial before December 2010.”

Unstated is the fact that careers will be on the line in the case.  Indicting Alex Sanchez was the rough equivalent of indicting Mother Teresa.  If the Sanchez case flames out, the careers of more than one or two on the government’s side will hit the silk.

The following are unexpurgated excerpts from the appeals brief on behalf of Sanchez.  (“Appellant’s Memorandum of Law and Facts In Support [of] Appeal from Detention Order,” United States v. Alex Sanchez, United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Docket No. 09-50525, filed November 20, 2009.)  Fairly Civil has inserted a minimum of explanatory background.  Additional materials on the case can be found in posts here, here, and here.

The government has ten days to reply.

The Basic Claim — Sanchez Was Denied a Fair Hearing

The core of Sanchez’s appeal is that he was denied a fair hearing on the only issues relevant to whether he should be released, which are (1) is he a risk of flight, and (2) does he present a threat to persons or a community?  Instead, the brief claims, Judge Real essentially held a “mini-trial” on whether Sanchez is guilty of the offenses with which he is charged.

This appeal from an order of pre-trial detention presents the question whether a defendant has been denied his right to a “full-blown adversary hearing” … when the district court limited the hearing to whether the government possessed evidence of the defendant’s guilt, foreclosed the defense from rebutting the government’s case with contrary evidence, shifted the burden of persuasion, ignored evidence relevant to flight and lack of danger and made only a “conclusory finding” misapplying the statutory presumption.

The Life of Alex

 

 

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

 

Naturally enough, the brief sketches a factual review of a man grievously wronged by arbitrary and misdirected government conduct:

Mr. Sanchez quit gang life nearly 15 years ago, beginning a journey of redemption leading him to become one of the foremost anti-gang interventionists in the United States.  In 2006, he became the Executive Director of Homies Unidos, an organization dedicated to extricating youths from gangs and brokering and maintaining peace in communities afflicted by the scourge of gang violence.

On June 24, 2009, however, Mr. Sanchez, a long time resident of Los Angeles and the 38-year-0ld father of three, was arrested at his home and taken into custody on an indictment charging 24 defendants with various crimes in connection with alleged activities of the Mara Salvatrucha (“MS-13″).  Within days of his arrest, over 100 social workers, professors, politicians, clergy, law enforcement and former gang members from around the country raised a chorus of support to release Mr. Sanchez from custody, all attesting to his good character, commitment to peace and ties to the community.  This overwhelming support included over $2.5 million dollars in bail pledges and property.

At the detention hearing, the government claimed a chest tattoo indicated Mr. Sanchez had not quit the gang and four phone calls where Mr. Sanchez mediated a non-violent resolution to an intra-gang dispute supposedly evidenced a plot to kill  one of the disputants.  Announcing “the only determination I have to make on this motion” is “whether or not Mr. Sanchez was there” and “what they were discussing,” the district court precluded Mr. Sanchez from rebutting the government’s evidence about the significance of his chest tattoo while refusing lay and expert testimony contradicting the government’s interpretation of the calls.  Focused exclusively on whether there was evidence of Mr. Sanchez’s guilt, and ignoring evidence of Mr. Sanchez’s extensive ties to the community and reputation as a tireless and effective gang interventionist and violence prevention advocate, the district judge misapplied a statutory presumption, shifted the burden of persuasion, and ignored overwhelming evidence that Mr. Sanchez presents neither a flight risk nor a danger to others.

…the district judge refused to allow evidence on the three critical issues by (1) rejecting defense evidence undermining the inference the government sought to draw from Mr. Sanchez’s chest tattoo, (2) rejecting testimony refuting the government’s contention Mr. Sanchez spoke to Cameron’s killer, and (3) rejecting Mr. Sanchez’s proposed expert testimony disputing that the calls relayed “coded” messages.

The Right to Explain “the Physical Evidence”: The Tattoo:

The government stressed that “physical evidence,” in the form of a chest tattoo, showed Mr. Sanchez was still active in the gang.  Rosemarie Ashmalla, the Executive Director of the agency that removed Mr. Sanchez’s other tattoos, however, was prepared to testify that a chest tattoo was not evidence of ongoing gang affiliation because the tattoo removal program “had a policy of only removing visible tattoos.”  Ms. Ashmalla would have affirmed that most gang tattoo removal agencies, including hers, “do not generally remove non-visible tattoos, absent extraordinary reasons.”  As the head of an agency dedicated to removing gang tattoos (and the agency that removed Mr. Sanchez’s visible tattoos), Ms. Ashmalla was in a far better position that the prosecutor to explain the significance of a residual chest tattoo.  Rejecting her testimony was error.

The Damning Wiretaps — The Court Erroneously Precluded Mr. Sanchez From Presenting Relevant Expert Testimony to Rebut the Government’s Expert.

A focus of the case so far has been the government’s wiretaps of four calls in which Alex Sanchez certainly takes a leading role.  But the crucial question has developed to be:  was that leading role as a mediator and peace-maker or as a “shot caller” pushing the conversation to the ultimate murder in El Salvador of one Walter Lacinos (aka Camaron) by a gangster known as “Zombie”?  A close second is whether the government got the wrong “Zombie.”

Of critical importance, given the district court’s focus on “the content of these [four wire-tapped] conversations” is the district court’s refusal to permit Father Greg Boyle’s testimony.  Fr. Boyle is the Executive Director of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention program in the country, and a nationally recognized gang expert knowledgeable in gang language, interactions and “codes.”  After listening to the calls and reviewing Det. [Frank] Flores’s declaration re-interpreting the calls and the prosecution’s arguments based thereon, Fr. Boyle concluded that, rather than corroborating a murder plot, Mr. Sanchez’s statements reflected a gang mediator’s peacemaking efforts.

The brief argues that the judge erred in declaring Father Boyle’s statement not “relevant” to the questions in the detention hearing — a specific case of the judge “not getting it.”

The Court Erroneously Rejected Relevant Defense Evidence Explaining the Context of the Conversations in the Four Wire-tapped Calls.

The district court erroneously rejected the testimony of Sonia Hernandez, a witness who knew the government (and Flores) misidentified one of the key participants in the calls, distorting their interpretation of the statements made therein.

The government got its facts wrong.  Although both Hernandez and Bonilla used the name “Zombie,” the person who killed Camaron was not the person Mr. Sanchez spoke to on May 7.  Sonia Hernandez would have identified her brother’s voice (not Bonilla’s) as the Zombie on the May 7 call with Mr. Sanchez.

By authenticating her brother’s voice on the May 7 call, Ms. Hernandez would have confirmed Mr. Sanchez had not talked “to the person who ultimately did, in fact, carry out the murder in El Salvador,” but to another person also nicknamed “Zombie.”

The Court Shifted the Burden of Persuasion

The brief also addresses a technical point that involves the difference between the “burden of production” (producing some favorable evidence) and the “burden of persuasion” (persuading the fact-trier that the evidence is true).  Essentially, Bensinger argues again that Judge Real confused the two:

“The burden of persuasion regarding risk-of-flight and danger to the community always remains with the government…”  As now-Justice Breyer explained, even where the nature of the charges gives rise to “a rebuttable presumption that ‘no condition or combination of conditions will reasonably assure the appearance of the person as required and the safety of the community,” [citing 18 U.S. Code, Section 3142 (e)] this presumption only served to “shift the burden of production” and require the defendant to introduce “some evidence” to the contrary.

The brief argues that Sanchez met this burden of production with witnesses who could rebut the government’s factual assertions about the tattoo and the calls, his agreement to “many restrictions on his liberty,” and the character witnesses and property-owners willing to support his release.

The brief also points out additional problems with Judge Real’s ruling:  he did not provide the requisite written statement of reason for Sanchez’s detention, including findings of fact, and erroneously placed undue weight on evidence of guilt, as opposed to risk of flight or danger.

Despite its refrain that “this is not trial” — invoked only to exclude defense evidence contradicting the prosecution’s case — the district court transformed the detention hearing into a mini-trial on the merits of the charges…Rather than conduct an inquiry focused on whether the release of Mr. Sanchez posed a clear and present danger to any person or community, the district court devoted himself to prejudging the evidence of guilt even though, as now-Justice Kennedy reminded, “the statute neither requires not permits a pretrial determination that the person is guilty.”

This Case Should Be Reassigned to a Different Judge on Remand

The brief ends up with the following request, not coincidentally accompanied by a footnote referring to other instances in which the Ninth Circuit has corrected Judge Real:

Judge Real rejected Ms. Hernandez’s testimony refuting the government’s claim that Mr. Sanchez instructed Bonilla to kill Camaron because it was “totally irrelevant.”  Judge Real excluded this patently relevant evidence not on technical legal grounds but because he failed to appreciate its logical relevance to the crucial issues at hand.  The same is true with respect to Fr. Boyle’s testimony.  Even if the matter were remanded for renewed consideration, there is little chance Judge Real will accord this evidence it proper weight, simply because the disputed evidence has been found relevant and admissible…[He has already] declared that it is entitled to no weight whatsoever.  At a minimum, the matter should be remanded for a detention hearing before a different judge.

Fairly Civil looks forward to reading and posting excerpts from the government’s reply to this brief.

 

 

Government's Serve

 

WRONG ZOMBIE? COULD MISTAKEN IDENTITY STRIKE TWICE IN TWO FEDERAL MS-13 CASES? BOTH INVOLVING ALEX SANCHEZ?

In bad manners, Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on October 27, 2009 at 10:53 am
Sorry, Wrong Gangster?

Sorry, Wrong Gangster?

“’Curiouser and curiouser!’ Cried Alice (she was so much surprised, that for the moment she quite forgot how to speak good English). ’Now I’m opening out like the largest telescope that ever was! Good-bye, feet!’ (for when she looked down at her feet they seemed to be almost out of sight, they were getting so far off).

Lewis Carroll, Alice In Wonderland.

Pregnant MS-13 Gangster Brenda Paz Was Slashed to Death on the Banks of the Shenandoah River on the Morning of July 13, 2003 for "Ratting" on Fellow Gangsters

Pregnant MS-13 Gangster Brenda Paz Was Slashed to Death on the Banks of the Shenandoah River on the Morning of July 13, 2003 for "Ratting" on Fellow Gangsters

Here is a curious web of events, the common thread of which is one Alex Sanchez, aka “Rebelde.”

Sanchez is the putative “anti-gang activist” whom the government accused in a racketeering (RICO) indictment handed up in June 2009 by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles of being a fraud — acting in secret as a “shot-caller” while posing in public as the Mother Teresa of the Latino gang world.  (For details of the case, start here, and here and follow links).

Let us, gentle reader, go forth and explore this web together.

O, Shenandoah!

A horrific murder — typical of the work of members of the bloodthirsty transnational Latino gang, Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) — was committed the morning of July 13, 2003.

On the banks of the gently flowing and historic Shenandoah River in Virgina, pregnant gangster Brenda Paz was brutally slashed to death by two of her fellow gangsters.  One of them, Ismael Juarez Cisneros, later told investigators, “I loved her with all my heart.”  Skeptics might be forgiven for thinking Cisneros — a deported and feloniously re-entered illegal alien from Mexico — had a curious manner of showing his affection.

Brenda’s offense?

“Ratting out” her fellow gangsters to federal authorities and a host of state and local police.  Paz was scheduled to testify in a federal murder trial, in which she was prepared to implicate as homicidal mastermind a Virginia-based MS-13 shot-caller, Denis “Conejo” (Rabbit) Rivera — not incidentally one of her former lovers.

[The sordid details of Brenda Paz’s life and murder are summarized in my book, No Boundaries:  Transnational Latino Gangs and American Law Enforcement (University of Michigan Press, 2009).  No Boundaries also examines the genesis of MS-13 within the context of the broader history of Latino street gangs generally. Those interested in a book more narrowly focused specifically on Paz’s tumultuous life and tragic death should read Samuel Logan’s This is for the Mara Salvatrucha (New York: Hyperion 2009).]

In a December 2005 piece on the Paz murder, “The Fight Against MS-13,” the CBS 60 Minutes television program summed up the relevant events:

Not only does MS-13 conduct investigations of its own, but like a corporate organization, most cliques have regular meetings where they discuss recruiting, money and murder – what they call a “greenlight.”

According to witnesses, the gang took a unanimous vote in a hotel that Brenda should be assassinated. The next morning, she was lured away on a fishing trip with her new boyfriend, Oscar Grande, and her friend, Ismael Cisneros.

A former MS-13 member who is now in jail on an ammunition possession charge and asked 60 Minutes not to use his name, went with them.

“I was facing the river. You know, I was watching, I was enjoying the view. Was summertime. It was nice place. And they was behind me fixing the fishing pole. And I turn my face. I see for couple seconds that she was get stabbing. And I freak out and I run away,” he recalled.

Asked to confirm if he saw the stabbing of Brenda Paz, he answered “Yes.”

She was stabbed by her boyfriend Oscar Grande and Ismael Cisneros, who later confessed. He said she had called out “Why?” “Because you’re a rat” she was told. They stabbed her approximately 13 times.

MS-13 Gangster Ismael Cisneros Claimed He "Loved" Paz, Whom He Was Convicted of Slashing to Death

MS-13 Gangster Ismael Cisneros Claimed He "Loved" Paz, Whom He Was Convicted of Slashing to Death

Court records and other news reporting make clear beyond doubt that the anonymous “former MS-13″ gangster quoted on the 60 Minutes program was one Oscar Garcia-Orellana.  Garcia had either somehow slipped between the cracks and evaded a 1998 deportation order, or feloniously re-entered the United States after having been deported to El Salvador.

Garcia was the only defendant in the 2005 Paz murder case trial to take the stand.  Prosecutors claimed that he held a rope around Paz’s neck while the other two men slashed the life out of her and her unborn child.  Garcia admitted that he had been present at the time of the slaughter, but claimed that he did not know in advance that Cisneros and Grande planned to kill her.  He testified that instead of trying to save Paz, he had acted like a coward and run away when they started slashing her.  His lawyers maintained that although he had once been an active member of MS-13, he had drifted away from the gang.

One of the defense witnesses for Garcia was — the aforesaid “anti-gang activist” Alex “Rebelde” Sanchez.

The Expert Witness for the Defense

Here is an excerpt from the report of the Paz murder trial in the May 4, 2005 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch newspaper:

Jurors also heard from Alex Sanchez, a gang expert from Los Angeles and a former MS-13 member. He explained that many young people join gangs like MS-13 to mitigate abuse or neglect at home.

“They feel a sense of knowing that a bigger group will stand up for them, that they are not alone,” he said.

Sanchez also said most older gang members fall away from MS-13 once they reach their 30s, when younger members take leadership roles. His comments dovetailed with the assertions of Garcia’s lawyers, who claim he was a part-time gang member who was not involved in MS-13′s decision to kill Paz.

“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

Sorry, Wrong Member

But Alex Sanchez was by far not the only help Oscar Garcia got.

More important was a huge screw-up, belatedly admitted by government prosecutors.  Here is an excerpt from the May 11, 2005 edition of the Richmond Times-Dispatch (which, it ought to be noted, cleaned the Washington Post’s clock on the coverage of this case) detailing the blunder:

Lawyer Alexander Levay, representing 32-year-old Oscar Garcia-Orellana, charged that government lawyers manipulated evidence and pursued conspiracy charges against Garcia even after prosecutors recognized their indictment against him was seriously flawed.

“If we can’t count on the government to play fair and by the rules, then each of us are a little less free,” Levay said.

At issue are allegations central to prosecutors’ contention that Garcia conspired with the accused mastermind of the plot to kill Paz, 21-year-old Denis “Conejo” Rivera. At the outset of the case, prosecutors said a taped telephone call between Garcia and Rivera — in which Garcia purportedly informed Rivera that Paz was dead — would prove Garcia’s guilt.

But prosecutors were forced to abandon that assertion after Garcia’s lawyers showed that it was not the defendant’s voice on the call. Rather, Rivera apparently was talking about the Paz murder with another gang member, Napoleon Hernandez, who shares the same nickname as Garcia, “Gato.” Hernandez has been deported.

Prosecutors acknowledged their mistake earlier in the case. Out of the presence of the jury, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald L. Walutes Jr. offered to withdraw the phone-call allegation from the indictment. But Garcia’s defense lawyers refused, hoping to show to the jury that the prosecution misstep made their entire case against Garcia suspect.

Levay said prosecutors had reason last year to suspect that they had the wrong Gato, but chose not to pursue the evidence.

“It didn’t fit their little scenario of the case, so they buried it,” Levay said. “The fact that they would mislead you into believing that the Gato on the phone was my client should be enough to find him not guilty.”

Levay’s attack on the prosecution case was part of a defense strategy to differentiate him from his fellow defendants.

“The indictment lumps everyone together, but the evidence distinguishes them again and again,” he said.

Oops.

Garcia walked — but right into the arms of federal agents, who arrested him on another felony charge of being illegally in possession of ammunition (by reason of his immigration status).  According to federal court records, he took a plea and was sentenced to a year and a day.  He has since presumably been deported to his native El Salvador [although the trail grows cold in official records, one might justifiably assume that the government kept track of him this time.]

His Other Left Foot

Fate takes strange turns in the gangster world.

This June Alex Sanchez found the shoe on the other foot — instead of witness for the defense, he became notorious defendant (for not the first time in his life).

In brief, Sanchez is accused of only pretending to have rejected the gang life and become a prominent anti-gang activist.  In fact, the government claims, Sanchez has all along been a secret leader of an MS-13 clique in Los Angeles.

More specifically, Sanchez is said to have directed the murder of a renegade gang member in El Salvador, one Walter Lacinos (aka “Camaron,” also sometimes spelled “Cameron”).

Prosecutors persuaded a federal magistrate to detain Sanchez when he was arrested.  The issue in a detention proceeding is not guilt, but the risk of flight.  The strength of the government’s detention case was four wiretapped phone calls in which — according to the analysis of Los Angeles Police Department Detective and MS-13 expert Frank Flores — Sanchez allegedly directed one Juan Bonilla (aka “Zombie”) to whack Camaron.

Judge Manuel L. Real promptly confirmed the magistrate’s decision and set a new bail (detention) hearing for last Monday, October 19, 2009.

According to the court’s one page of clinical minutes, the hearing before Judge Manuel L. Real lasted one hour and eighteen minutes.  (Criminal Minutes — General, “Further Hearing re: Defendant’s Application for Review/Reconsideration of Detention Order,” Case No. CR-09-466-R).

Here is what happened, according to the court’s minutes:

Detective Frank Flores is called, sworn and testifies.

Exhibits are identified.

The Court hears arguments of counsel.

For reasons stated, the Court orders the continued detention of defendant.

More or less, open and shut.  Here is a nice, balanced account from LA Weekly about the hearing.

But according to the social justice website WitnessLA, something fascinating also happened.  And it is no doubt this something that prompted Alex Sanchez’s court-appointed lawyer, Kerry Bensinger, to file an interlocutory appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding the detention order.  Courts of appeal generally do not fiddle with such fact-based, pre-trial rulings of lower courts, but the 9th Circuit is said to have reversed Judge Real at an exceptional rate and to be “on his case.”

Sorry, Wrong Member, Redux

Alex Sanchez (WitnessLA Illustration)

Alex Sanchez (WitnessLA Illustration)

Miracle of miracles, Sanchez’s defense lawyer,  Bensinger, claimed to have found in the Sanchez case precisely the flaw that brought down the government’s case against Oscar Garcia-Orellana.  Namely, the mistaken identification of a party to a key wiretapped phone conversation!

If there were a convenience store for defense tactics, this one would be right up at the front of the MS-13 impulse shopping shelf!

The whole thing reminds me of a common street defense I encountered during my brief tenure as a defense lawyer for indigent defendants in Washington, D.C. some years ago.  It was commonly known as “the Tyrone defense” and was more or less automatically uttered by any miscreant collared with incriminating swag in hand, but not actually witnessed ripping the swag off.

“I was just standing here when my boy came by and he handed it to me,”  the tarnished angel would state indignantly.  And who would that have been?  “I don’t know.  We just call him ‘Tyrone.’”  Naturally, the ubiquitous Tyrone could never be found.

And, yes, I actually saw the “Tyrone defense” work in at least one poorly “papered” case.

But I digress.

Passing curious, no, this amazing coincidence?  Perhaps beyond strange and approaching incredible?

Here is the self-admittedly and vigorously pro-Sanchez WitnessLA’s description of the argument, which its editor, Celeste Fremon has headlined, “Arresting Alex Sanchez: Part 6: The Judge Real Show.”  (Some among the social justice crowd — but most assuredly not including Ms. Fremon, who is among other things a professor of journalism and who loves her city, including whatever warts she perceives in the LAPD — play a sort of ideological whack-a-mole on this case alternating between whacking Judge Real as some kind of geriatric nut case, the LAPD as a vengeful racist gang determined to “get” Sanchez, and the FBI/Department of Justice as dull-witted, compliant tools of the slavering LA police establishment.  Gangsters, on the other hand, generally conduct themselves with the comportment of wronged angels, who would never lie to, manipulate, or exploit the good intentions of those who come bearing breviaries of redemption.  For the archetypal case of whackfrenzy, see usual suspect Tom Hayden’s piece beamed down from the empyrean to usual outlet The Nation.  )

But I digress again!  Here is the WitnessLA excerpt:

One of the issues that [attorney Kerry] Bensinger brought up during the cross examination was his contention that Flores completely and crucially misidentified a person on one of the calls, a guy with the street name of Zombie. According to Flores, the person, “Zombie,” on the phone call was also the person who was eventually arrested for the murder of Cameron, a murder that Sanchez had allegedly ordered during the last of the four phone calls that are the center of the prosecution’s case.

Yet, according to Bensinger, the guy called “Zombie” on the call was a very different fellow from Juan Bonilla, the killer, who is also called Zombie.

(I know this nickname business is dizzying, but try to stay with me here.)

Evidently there are a number of Zombies in and around the local MS-13 cliques—which is common in gangs. There might be a guy with the nickname of Zombie. But there may also be Lil’ Zombie…..Big Zombie….and heaven knows what other permutation of the nickname Zombie (or Sleepy or Dreamer or P’Nut or Snyper or Loco or…..you get the picture).

Anyway it seems that Bensinger’s Zombie (whom we’ll randomly designate as Zombie 2) dropped a whole lot of identifiers during the course of the long conversation, like references to several family members and—helpfully—his actual name.

With the tiniest amount of police work Flores could have verified which Zombie he had on this call—since it was so important to his case.

When asked if he did any of that follow-up investigation, Flores admitted that he had not. When Bensinger asked why, Flores said that he didn’t need to do any further checking because he knew it was Zombie/Juan on the call. (The exchange between Flores and Bensinger was longer than I am portraying here.) And how did the detective know he had the right Zombie in the face of fairly convincing evidence to the contrary? Flores did not elucidate.

However, what Flores did say is that Zombie/Juan was one of the feds’ informants, that after he was arrested for Cameron’s murder, he began singing like a bird and not only confessed to the killing himself, he also fingered Alex Sanchez and said that Sanchez told him on the phone to kill Cameron. [Fairly Civil’s emphasis.]

It would be an understatement to say that WitnessLA is skeptical of the government’s position, notwithstanding its own report of Flores’s testimony that “Zombie/Juan was one of the feds’ informants, that after he was arrested for Cameron’s murder, he began singing like a bird and not only confessed to the killing himself, he also fingered Alex Sanchez and said that Sanchez told him on the phone to kill Cameron.”

Unfortunately, the transcript of this latest detention hearing is not available as of this writing.  Would that it were, because some observers who were present and have read the above wonder whether everyone was on the same planet.   It is hard, nay impossible, to know what Detective Flores actually said.

Whack!

In any case, some would say that a singing bird (or rat) in hand — a federal informant who identifies himself as the person on  the phone receiving orders — pretty well would establish who was on the other end of the phone line.  If “Zombie/Juan” says it was he….?  But Zombie/Juan/Whoever apparently uttered words that raise some doubt about who he actually was.

Not enough doubt, however, to persuade Judge Real.

Whack!  Whack!

In between blows, it should be noted that gangsters often talk in elliptical ways when on the telephone or in circumstances in which they think someone else might be listening.  For example, in No Boundaries I describe how convicted 18th Street gang hit-man Anthony “Coco” Zaragoza sometimes referred to himself in the third person and sometimes adopted “code” pseudonyms for himself in the course of conversations that were being wiretapped by the FBI.  One of the investigative challenges for law enforcement is breaking through and interpreting the fog of jargon, crude codes, and such attempts at deception on the part of gangland’s little angels.  What seems straightforward to, say, a social justice critic, may have an entirely different meaning to the gangsters involved.

In any event, this is perhaps an appropriate moment to recall the following observation, reported in an earlier Fairly Civil posting:

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

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

Curiouser and curiouser.

Whack!  Whack!  Whack!

23a_cheshire_cat

The Cheshire Cat

Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

`That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

`I don’t much care where–’ said Alice.

`Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

ALEX SANCHEZ HAS GOT SOME EXPLAINING TO DO

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

“And we have said it, we go to war.”

Alex Sanchez, aka “Rebelde”

Transcript of May 6, 2006 Recorded Conversation, “Government’s Supplemental Submission Re: Intercepted Telephone Conversations of Defendant Alex Sanchez,” Exhibit D, p. 24, filed in United States v. Jose Alfaro, U.S. District Court, Central District, California, Docket No.: CR-09-00466-R.

“When the facts are against you, pound the law.  When the law is against you, pound the facts.  When both the facts and the law are against you, pound the table.”

Trial lawyer maxim.

The United States dealt a Royal Flush from its deck of evidence against Alex Sanchez the other day at a continued federal bail hearing.  The  executive director of the transnational anti-gang group “Homies Unidos” has been charged in a sweeping indictment with racketeering, including conspiracy to murder.

The government’s brief on the bail question makes it clear that prosecutors are doling out only the minimum necessary to keep Sanchez locked up.  There are more aces in the government’s deck.  They will be played before Sanchez’s trial is done.

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

At a minimum,  the latest hand — four wiretap transcripts and the accompanying explanatory affidavit of LAPD Detective Frank Flores, a nationally recognized expert on MS-13 — has shifted the case heavily against the putative “peacemaker.”

Alex Sanchez is now in the position of a man with some explaining to do.

On its face, the record of these calls shows Sanchez to have been a man very much in charge during  a series of angry, profanity-laced international conversations among MS-13 gangsters.  He repeatedly identified himself as among the gang’s members.  He was also so identified by other gangsters during the calls.  Sanchez acted like a leader, not least because he treated other gang members with flashes of imperial and sometimes physically expressed anger that would likely get anybody but a shot-caller promptly whacked for showing disrespect.

The blow-back from Sanchez’s credulous supporters has been fierce.

An exercise in agitated table-pounding — what advocates do when the facts and the law are against them — is taking shape in a series of thinly-veiled collateral media attacks on key players and components of the law enforcement and judicial system that brought Sanchez and his alleged homies before the federal bar.

The Background

O that once more you knew but what you are!
These fifteen years you have been in a dream,
Or when you waked, so waked as if you slept.

Wm. Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew

No one disputes that Alex Sanchez was once a member of MS-13 and is a convicted criminal.  According to the government’s “response” to Sanchez’s motion for pretrial release (bail):

Sanchez has a lengthy criminal history, with convictions that demonstrate his propensity to violence, his capacity for deception, and his disregard for the law.  Defendant has sustained felony convictions for grand theft, witness intimidation, and felon in possession of a firearm; misdemeanor convictions for DUI, vehicle theft, and vandalism; and juvenile convictions for possession of a firearm by a juvenile felon, assault with a deadly weapon with great bodily injury, and petty theft.

Okay, so nobody’s perfect.

And that was then, this is now — according to the Sanchez hagiography.  Supposedly, the admittedly violent gangster turned his back on the past.  After his felonious re-entry into the United States following deportation in 1995, Sanchez won asylum with the backing of  radical activist and aging enfant terrible, Tom Hayden.   He assumed his public role as iconic anti-gang worker and eventually became executive director of Homies Unidos.

That redemption was called called into question when a federal grand jury named Sanchez as one of two dozen defendants in a racketeering (RICO) indictment unsealed on June 24, 2009.  The grand jury charged Sanchez with — among other things — being a secret leader (“shot-caller”) of the Normandie Locos, one of the earliest and most virulent “cliques” of the transnational criminal gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).

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

The shock was palpable.  Sanchez has achieved a rank only a hair short of Mother Teresa’s on the sainthood scale, at least in the universe of Latino gang good works:  intervention, prevention, and rehabilitation.  (See earlier posts here and here for more background on the indictments and the charges against Sanchez.)

Yet, in spite of scores of supporting letters, demonstrations like the one pictured above, and exertions of his counsel, Alex Sanchez remains in the federal lockup.  After reviewing the latest evidence and hearing the arguments of both sides, on August 11th U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real continued the earlier decision of U.S. Magistrate Judge Alicia G. Rosenberg denying Sanchez bail and set a new hearing for October 19th.

WHY?

Alex Sanchez Arrested: Dear FBI, WTF???!

From the blog WitnessLA, “the online source for daily coverage of social justice news.”

Indeed.  What is going on here?

Supporters’ Charge:  A Conspiracy So Vast

“Today we experienced disappointment,” said Homies Unidos board member Monica Novoa, stepping up to the microphone with a quivering voice after Judge Alicia G. Rosenberg’s decision to deny Sanchez bail. “But we are not defeated. We know this affects all of us because we are all Alex Sanchez.”

“Supporters stand behind activist with alleged ties to MS-13 gang,” Los Angeles Times, July 4, 2009.

What’s going on is clear to Sanchez’s dead-end supporters — a government lynch mob the likes of which have not been seen since the infamous Sleepy Lagoon murder trial of the 1940s has trumped up a scandalously weak case against Sanchez.

Lashing out in a classic example of argument by mere assertion (i.e., without specific factual underpinning), the likes of Hayden have not only dug the Sleepy Lagoon murder out of its moldering grave, but reached back to the notorious LAPD Rampart scandal.  And because this case was investigated by a task force led by the FBI, it has also become necessary to go beyond the local cops and darkly infer that somehow that premier federal agency (and all other agencies involved in the task force) has gone into the tank.  The conspiracy is so vast that it must now involve not only these law enforcement agencies, but the federal grand jury, Chief of Police William Bratton, the United States Attorney, Thomas O’Brien, federal attorneys from his office and Washington, a federal magistrate and a federal district court judge. Just for starters.  Like The Truman Show, this conspiracy involves pretty much everybody but the central actor.

The purveyors of this conspiratorial view have been aided by an oddly passive “main stream media” in Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times, for example, has virtually ignored the numerous details of the allegations against Sanchez, in spite of a crush of documentary material easily available in the Sanchez docket at the Federal Court house.  One would think that — given the depredations of MS-13 and the rock star admiration of Sanchez — the home town newspaper would be all over this story like ink on print.

One would be wrong.  Since the original story of Sanchez’s bail denial in June, the Los Angeles Times has restricted its coverage to:

  • a fulminating op-ed attack on Chief William Bratton written by Tom Hayden (“Bratton’s exit opens the door to questions of conflict of interest,” August 13, 2009), and
  • a curiously timed news-like attack on Judge Manuel L. Real (“Critics want to bench Judge Manuel L. Real: He is 85 and has sat on the U.S. District Court bench in L.A. since 1966,” August 16, 2009.)  In addition to being in the age range of several sitting Justices of the United States Supreme Court, Judge Real is apparently a man who brooks no foolishness, having once shut down a lawyer by stating, “This isn’t Burger King. We don’t do it your way here.”

barney_frank1It might be understandable if someone in authority simply quoted Rep. Barney Frank in response to these darkly paranoid rumblings, to wit, “On what planet do you spend most of your time?” (Please understand, this question of defense by impugning assertions is a different question than Sanchez’s factual guilt or innocence of the charges.  That’s why we have criminal trials, not opinion polls or kumbaya love-ins to resolve these cases.)

In fact, the government has taken the high road.  It argues that Sanchez’s deception of his acolytes makes the matter especially insidious:

Those who support defendant cannot be faulted for doing so with the fervor they have shown; defendant has operated in support of Mara Salvatrucha all along, without their knowledge, while accepting their support.  This makes him the worst possible danger to the community — a person in a position of trust who has abused that trust, and whose loyalty to MS-13 will assure that he continues to do so.

The Government’s Case

Unlike the poetic scribblings of Sanchez’s supporters on placards, conveniently timed newspaper “thumb-suckers,” and the pages of The Nation magazine, the federal government has to produce actual evidence to support its arguments.

I doubt that many of Alex “Rebelde” Sanchez’s supporters have actually read the 93 pages of transcripts of the four international wiretaps involving him that were filed with the court.  No doubt his lawyers and inner circle would prefer that they not be too widely circulated.  The substance of these conversations (beyond a stunning command of profanity) is a lengthy argument among the leaders of the Normandie Locos clique about the grounds to murder a gang member named Walter Lacinos — who actually turned up dead in El Salvador shortly after these discussions reached their obvious conclusion.

I have indeed read them and — taking care to assert once again that Sanchez is entitled to a presumption of innocence at law — am  compelled to these several points:

  • The dog that does not bark. Sanchez does not talk or act like a “peacemaker” during these calls.  Whatever innocent interpretation his lawyers will no doubt attempt to hang on his words, what is strikingly absent is any attempt by Sanchez at reconciliation, at discouraging the “homeboys” from continuing along the path of discussions that quite obviously can only end in a decision to “green light” Lacinos (authorize his murder).  There is no turning of the other cheek here.
  • The “What is the meaning of ‘is’?” problem. What benign interpretation of Sanchez’s statement “We go to war” is anything short of laughable in the context of these calls?  The conversations are full of angry, profane, violent talk about assassins and hit men allegedly sent by Lacinos to whack Sanchez and his home boys.  Sanchez and others repeatedly  express their need and willingness to defend themselves against Lacinos, and indeed, toward the terrible end of these talks, it is apparent that their purpose is to take the fight to him in El Salvador.
  • The other sleeping dog. At no point in any of these extended phone calls does Sanchez distance himself from characterizations by others of his being there as part of the “clique,” i.e., as a gangster.  On the contrary, at several points he describes himself as part of the clique.  Wouldn’t one reasonably expect (to use the folksy example by assertion that Hayden likes) Sanchez to speak up and say something like, “Well, now, hold on, guys, you know I have left the gang life.  I am now trying to discourage you men from acting like a bunch of foul-mouthed murderous thugs!  Can we all get along?”
  • The command presence. In marked contrast to the silence of the sleeping dogs, Sanchez’s firm and purposeful voice weaves through these calls like that of an experienced commander.  Time and again, when others wander off to gather wool in anecdotal recollection or befuddled irrelevancies, Sanchez forces the conversation back to the subject at hand, resolutely pushing forward his agenda against Lacinos.  The others repeatedly defer to him, even when he snatches things from their hands and yells at them.

The expert affidavit of LAPD Det. Frank Flores ties the transcripts of these conversations together into a coherent picture of an extended corporate decision-making meeting, the purpose and end result of which was murder.

More to Come

As noted at the top, the government makes clear that it has a good deal more evidence to present when appropriate in its case-in-chief.

It would be astonishing if it did not.  One does not indict Mother Teresa — or Alexander Sanchez — without a lot of confidence that one can prove one’s case.

In this instance, it is certain that the government has the cooperation of erstwhile MS-13 insiders — flipped “rats” and others.  According to its pleading, “the government will also present the testimony of multiple witnesses, not all of whom are cooperating witnesses testifying in hopes of a reduced sentence.  These witnesses will testify to their personal knowledge of Sanchez’s ongoing participation in the affairs of MS-13.”

Perhaps Sanchez has a good answer to this mounting evidence.  If so, he better start explaining.

The good plea bargains tend to dry up fast.

SHOW DOWN IN LOS ANGELES–THE ALEX SANCHEZ/MS-13 CASE

In Crime, Gangs, Informants and other sophisticated means, Latino gangs, RICO, RICO indictments, Transnational crime, undercover investigations on August 10, 2009 at 9:49 pm
Alex Sanchez

Alex Sanchez

A document filed today (August 10, 2009) in the federal district court for the Central District of California provides an interesting glimpse into the breathtaking scope of the latest racketeering case against Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), and its alleged Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde,  anti-gang activist Alex Sanchez.

Sanchez is accused of being a secret “Big Homie” (gang parlance for major boss, “shot caller,” whatever.)

Members of the self-styled “anti-gang activist” community are still recovering from the stunning — yes, an overused word, but appropriate in this case — indictment of  Sanchez, executive director of Homies Unidos, a transnational anti-gang organization.

I don’t know how you say “Ghandi” in Spanish, but Sanchez — an acknowledged former MS-13 gang member said to have reformed –  achieved something of Ghandi’s aura as a saintly man of peace and non-violence in his years as hands-down the most well known and broadly supported anti-gang worker in the Western Hemisphere.

It sounded like 50 caliber day at the shooting range on June 24, 2009, the day when the massive indictment against MS-13 was unsealed in federal district court and announced at a fifteen-camera press conference featuring the region’s top gangbusters.  That sound wasn’t gunfire.  It was fainting patrons of gang reformation hitting the floors of scores of salons.

Fairly Civil excerpted relevant sections of the indictment, including the charges against Sanchez,  in an earlier report which can be found here.  In sum, the federal racketeering indictment charges that Sanchez led a double life, was a top leader of the notorious Normandie clique, and was directly involved in a series of telephone conversations that directed the subsequent murder of one Walter Lacinos, a gang member in El Salvador:

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

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

In spite of the fact that scores of Sanchez’s supporters filed letters in support of his release, a federal judge refused to grant bail.  According to docket notes of the bail hearing, Judge Manuel L. Real denied bail but told government lawyers that he wants to “Hear/review the wiretap tapes…and the transcripts thereof” before making a final decision on bail at a hearing scheduled for next week.

Whatever happens, Judge Real is on the spot.  His decision either way is gonna knock some socks off.

In the meantime, one of Sanchez’s most fervent supporters, old-line radical activist Tom Hayden, rushed the following 12 gauge double-aught shotgun defense brief into print in The Nation magazine on June 29, available here:

The indictment of Alex Sanchez, a revered gangbanger-turned-peacemaker, raises new doubts about whether the Los Angeles police department has reformed sufficiently to be released from a federal court order.

It also brings back strong memories in Los Angeles barrios of the Sleepy Lagoon case during war hysteria in 1942, when the LAPD and media helped railroad three young Mexican men into long murder sentences. The verdicts were later overturned and twelve defendants freed from prison. At the time, the lawyer and future Nation editor Carey McWilliams wrote that the case was a “ceremonial lynching.”

….

Alex Sanchez is accused of being heard on wiretapped phone calls on May 6 and 7, 2006, in which several members of MS “conspired” to kill Walter Lacinos, whose street name was Cameron. On May 15, an alleged MS member killed Cameron in La Libertad, El Salvador.

To illustrate the nature of the charge, imagine that the following conversation took place: First party: That dude should be shot. Second party: No question.

In an ordinary criminal trial, it would be difficult to connect these words to an actual deed one week later. There would be evidence, for example, that all kinds of people wanted Cameron dead. He was deported to El Salvador after serving at least fifteen years in California state prisons as a high-ranking gang member. He had enemies as well as friends. But in the conspiracy model, it is easier for the prosecution to “prove” that the wiretapped voices are people who “conspired” in his death.

This example is purely hypothetical. The government has not released the actual content of the tapes, nor a list of its witnesses, nor any of the documents it will be compelled to hand over to the defense at trial.

Alex Sanchez denies the charges.

In sum, this case is just about racism.  Hey, any bunch of law-abiding guys could talk about whacking another guy over a couple of telephonic beers.  And, if the guy turns up dead, so?  Never heard of a coincidence?  Besides, I, Tom Hayden, declare that the man is innocent.  What more do you people need?

Fortunately, in the United States the tradition of trial by jury cuts both ways.  Sanchez is entitled to a legal presumption of innocence until proven guilty, no doubt.  But the government is equally entitled to put on its case without race- and ethnicity-baiting charges that a bunch of slavering racist cops cooked the case up.

Which brings us to the document filed in court today.

It’s a stipulation between the government and the defendants supporting an agreement to postpone the trial.  The document lays out a big picture of the range and type of evidence that the government has assembled.

Whatever else it may say, this fascinating document says to me that this investigation is deeply grounded and the case goes way, way beyond Hayden’s ethno-racist screed against the LAPD.

Stipulation Re:  Request for Vacation of Trial Date and Exclusion of Time Pursuant to the Speedy Trial Act. (Filed 08/10/09)

Current Trial Date:  September 1, 2009

Proposed Status Conference:  November 9, 2009 at 1:30 p.m.

This is an extremely complex case.  The indictment charges twenty-four leaders of Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, with participating in a racketeering conspiracy covering fifteen years of criminal conduct, including six murders, eight conspiracies to murder, five robberies, witness intimidation, and ongoing narcotics trafficking and extorting.

The government represents that discovery in the case is voluminous.  It consists of:

  • Recordings of thousands of telephone calls (primarily Spanish language) intercepted on twelve wiretaps over the course of seven years;
  • summaries of those intercepted calls;
  • applications and reports to the court during the periods of wiretap interception;
  • over 700 consensually-recorded calls (primarily in Spanish);
  • summaries of those consensually-recorded calls;
  • dozens of call recorded from prisons and jails (primarily in Spanish);
  • transcripts of certain intercepted and/or monitored calls;
  • six LAPD murder books detailing homicide investigations, some of which are multi-volume;
  • FBI reports of dozens of controlled narcotics purchases over a number of years;
  • dozens of LAPD incident and arrest reports between 1995 and 2009;
  • FBI reports of surveillance;
  • FBI reports of witness statements;
  • narcotics laboratory reports;
  • firearms trace reports;
  • criminal histories; and
  • photographs, letters, and other documentary materials recovered during [ sic, probably missing "execution of"] search warrants.

….

The government began producing discovery on July 22, 2009 and continues to do so on a rolling basis.  Thus far, the government has produced and/or made available over 2300 pages of documents, including applications and orders relating to eight wiretaps, LAPD murder books for the murder of Jorge Bernal, aka”Travieso,” Erick Flores, aka “Moreno,” and Ileana Lara, aka “Mousey,” and a murder investigation report from El Salvadoran authorities regarding the murder of Walter Lacinos, aka “Camaron.” [Fairly Civil note: sic, name spelled differently in indictment (“Cameron”) and this motion.] In addition, the government has produced fifteen CDs containing recordings and summaries of calls intercepted on five telephone lines and three DVDs containing videos of witness interviews…

The government estimates that the trial in this case will last approximately 60 days; longer if the government ultimately seeks the death penalty against any of the death-eligible defendants.  Defendants are not yet in a position to estimate how long any defense case would last.

It’s crazy to predict anything.  But there is a pattern to this series of RICO cases against Latino gangs in California.

One, they have all been successful.  The government does not file these things like a blustering screed fired off to The Nation.

Two, they have all involved informants — gang members who have flipped and ratted out their “homies” and “carnales.”  Which means that the government knows a lot more than it puts in its indictments.

So that, three, a few of the defense lawyers take a look up the mountain and start looking for deals.

The glove may not fit, and the jury may acquit.  If that happens, a number of promising government legal careers are going to be blown up.

But win, lose, or draw, it’s going to be a fascinating trial.  I hope to get a seat.

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