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Arresting Alex Sanchez

After 3 1/2 Years, Charges Against Gang Intervention Leader Alex Sanchez Officially Dropped, but the Costs to his Family Remain

January 17th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon


Wednesday morning, Judge Dale Fischer of the United States District Court for the Central District of California said that she was granting the motion made by federal prosecutors to dismiss all charges against nationally known gang intervention leader, Alex Sanchez.

Actually what Judge Fischer really said was that she’d already dismissed the Sanchez case last Friday, a fact of which all of those assembled in Fischer’s courtroom on the 8th floor of the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building, seemed startlingly unaware.

“You didn’t see it?” she asked Sanchez’s court appointed attorney, Amy Jacks, who shook her head, looking confused. Arguing the finer points of the government’s proposed dismissal was, after all, the whole reason that Jacks and Sanchez were in the courtroom on Wednesday. Seeing Jacks’ confusion, the normally in-control judge turned next to the prosecutors who stared back at her, equally perplexed. It took some minutes of sorting to determine that, after the judge had entered the dismissal order last Friday, the thing had somehow managed to get stuck somewhere in the bowels of system thus, until this minute, no one else had any way of knowing that she’d actually ruled.

Once the procedural knots got untied, the judge hastily added that she was “exonerating” Sanchez’s bail-–the $2 million bond that friends and family had put up, half in real estate, half in sureties— since Sanchez himself owned no property, and had no real savings.

And, so it was rather anticlimactically that, after three-and-a-half years of fighting federal racketeering (RICO) and conspiracy to commit murder charges …. Alex Sanchez was free.

Well, mostly free.

Specifically, Judge Fischer granted the government its motion to dismiss the case “without prejudice,” which means that the federal prosecutors led by U.S. Attorney Garth Hire, could refile the case within six months, although Judge Fisher cautioned Hire not to take that long.

“You need to make up your mind relatively quickly,” she told him crisply then, with a nod toward Jacks, “The government is paying for counsel.”

Amy Jacks is Sanchez’s second court appointed attorney. The case has dragged on so long that Sanchez’s first attorney, Kerry Bensinger, has moved up the legal ladder to be appointed by Jerry Brown as a Superior Court Judge. The government is on its second team too. All of the original prosecutors who first filed this tragic mess of a case have been replaced.

Hire assured the judge that he would figure things out one way or the other by the end of March, after his team has had a chance to go through the piles of material amassed by the previous prosecutors. (That would be the group that put together the case that has just been dismissed.)

Fischer snapped that she hoped that any future filing would “be done much more carefully than it was last time.”

Hire, who had already admitted that he sought the dismissal because the case against Alex was “flawed,” made assurances to the effect that, yes, any future filings—should there be one— would be based on “proof we intend to take to trial.”


The case against Alex Sanchez, in brief, was as follows: On June 24, 2009, Sanchez— then 38-years-old, married, the father of three, and a former gang member who transformed his life to become nationally known for helping kids find a way out of the gang world, and helping heal communities lacerated by gang violence—was arrested and charged, along with two dozen other defendants, with a laundry list of crimes having to do with the alleged activities of a local clique of the Mara Salvatrucha (“MS-13″).

The charges that were specifically attributed to Sanchez, whom the feds characterized as living a double life as the clique’s shot-caller, all centered around four wire-tapped phone calls, during which he was supposed to have ordered the murder of Walter “Camaron” Lacinos, who was, indeed, subsequently murdered in El Salvador, allegedly by a person nicknamed, “Zombie”, whom the feds said was on the primary phone call.

Except he wasn’t. The prosecution’s expert witness completely misidentified the most crucial participant on the supposedly damning call, who turned out to be—provably— an inactive gang member also nicknamed “Zombie” who was no where near any murders and who, when interviewed, along with his sister, was able to blow a great big hole in the center out of the prosecution’s theory. Added to that, the important parts of the phone conversation were reportedly disasterously mistranslated and/or misinterpreted from the highly colloquial Spanish the men were speaking. And still another part of the conversation, which forcefully contradicted the prosecutors’ contentions that Sanchez was an active gang member and a shot caller, was handily left out of the transcript altogether. Really. The expert witness and the feds, just left out the part they didn’t like.

Plus it seems that the El Salvadorian police have an entirely different theory of the Lacinos murder, which appears more plausible and, well, fact-based.

The boggling list of case-shredding problems goes on from there.

As prosecutor Hire admitted with grand understatement, the government’s case is “flawed.’

In her own motion to dismiss the case, Sanchez’s attorney put it another way. Jacks wrote that the first team of government prosecutors

“….presented false evidence to the grand jury issuing the indictment; that a government prosecutor lied to the grand jury in subsequent proceedings; that the government failed, for more than three (3) years, to take any action to formally acknowledge or attempt to correct an indictment based on false evidence; and that government prosecutors withheld from Mr. Sanchez favorable and exculpatory evidence.”

Ms. Jacks noted Wednesday that while the new government prosecutors had not admitted to her allegations, nor had they refuted them.

This does not guarantee an outcome when it comes to the refiling question, but it says a great deal. Garth Hire and the other members of the new prosecutorial team, honestly, on first bounce, seem like sane, logic-driven professionals. The earlier team members appeared to be something else altogether, people intent on winning, whatever the cost. Seeking justice wasn’t even on the table.

Even experienced criminal court watchers I spoke with came out of those early hearings shaken.


So what are the costs to a man and his family of 3 1/2 years of what sure appears to be a wrongful murder charge?

After the hearing, Sanchez and around two dozen friends and family members held a press conference outside the Roybal Building, where he explained just a little bit of what these years of being under indictment for murder had been like for him, for his kids, for his family. He talked about how he’s going to start rebuilding, but that admittedly a lot has been lost.

Privately Sanchez talked about some of those losses—some of them obvious, like the dive in funding dollars for Homies Unidos, the gang intervention non-profit he founded. And then there are the things you wouldn’t think of, like for example, how when one of his brothers was dying of cancer last year, he wanted help him keep his business afloat by doing some of the work himself, but that his bail restrictions prevented it. “I just wanted to help my brother when he needed it. And I couldn’t.”

Off to the side, away from the press cluster, I also talked about years between the arrest and now with Alex’s 18-year-old eldest son—Alex Jr. who was 14 when two dozen cops in tactical gear burst into the Sanchez family home at and took his dad away at gunpoint. “Seeing guys pointing M-16 rifles at my dads head….It was devastating. We couldn’t get my grandmother to stop crying,” he said.

Seeming relieved to be able to let some of the anxiety out. Alex Jr. talked a lot. He talked about how, after his dad was arrested, without his salary, the family couldn’t afford the rent on their Bellflower house, “So we all had to move in with my aunt. That was hard. Not having a home that was ours.”

He talked about how when they went to visit their dad in jail, seeing him there in the jail jumpsuit, his younger sister would always cry in a way that distressed him terribly.

He told of the day when he learned that, after seven months, the judge had finally granted his father bail. “That was a really good moment,” he said.

Yet the conditions of the bail were restrictive. “We used to travel a lot.” But, after he was released from jail, his dad was not allowed to travel outside the LA area, the family couldn’t make their usual visits other immediate family members in San Francisco. Or in Santa Cruz. “And there was weird stuff, like my dad wasn’t allowed drink alcohol. He couldn’t have a beer.”

Before the arrest, said Alex Jr. “we were just a normal family living a normal life. Like the day before, we were doing mechanics on my dad’s car, this Honda he drives. We were just a family working on a car. And then, they came to pick up my dad.”

But his family is really strong, he said, “because we survived this.”

And, yet, he admitted there are scars. For instance, the whole family has become obsessively over-careful, he said.

“See, now, even us, the kids, are so careful, like, when we talk on the phone, because any little thing one of us says or does could be made into something that it’s not, and that might cause them to take my dad away again.” A pause.

“That’s what we’re trying our best not to have happen. If that happened, if they took my dad away again, I don’t know how we’d stand it.”

For all the WLA reporting thus far on the Alex Sanchez case go here, and keep scrolling down until you get to the first June 24, 2009 post.

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez, Prosecutors | 2 Comments »

“[Alex] Sanchez is due more than one apology, and I’ll start with mine.”

January 7th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon

In the past three and a half years that I’ve reported on the Alex Sanchez
federal murder conspiracy case, I have repeatedly linked to the ongoing write-ups on the case by Tom Diaz.

I did this because—as I’ve mentioned in every post pertaining to the case— Alex Sanchez is a friend and, even though I have done my best to give an honest, rigorously factual account of the events of the case as they have unfolded, my reporting cannot help but be affected by the fact that I have always believed Alex to be innocent of the charges arrayed against him.

Tom Diaz, however, has pretty much held the opposite view to mine from the get go. So I linked to him as a countervailing voice, figuring that since I leaned so resolutely in the direction of the defense, he would present the prosecution’s POV—and do so from an informed perspective, due to his background in the law and his extensive contacts in the law enforcement community, both federal and local.

In case you’re not familiar with his name, Tom Diaz is an attorney, author, journalist (a former assistant managing editor at the conservative Washington Times), He is also the former lead Congressional counsel on counterterrorism and firearms, has written extensively on transnational gangs, Mara Salvatrucha—or MS13—among them, and on firearms (He is a former competitive shooter.) and he is now the Senior Policy Analyst for the Violence Prevention Center. AND he’s a occasional talking head on news shows whenever somebody with his expertise is required.

Diaz and I have discussed the case on several occasions, most often agreeing to disagree on some of the more salient points.

However, after the most recent news broke about the Feds dropping charges against Sanchez (all the while assuring everyone they intended to refile) Diaz read through any and all of the available legal material on all the matter (at least anything that wasn’t under some kind of seal), at the end of which time he evidently had a change of heart and mind.

As a consequence, over the weekend, Diaz issued a very public apology to Alex Sanchez.

Here are some clips from his post.

It will be four years in June since the United States government shocked the world and threw a legal fragmentation grenade into the home of Alex Sanchez. On June 24, 2009 Sanchez was arrested and charged under the federal racketeering law popularly known as RICO.

The essence of the federal charge was that Sanchez—an anti-gang activist whose prominence at the time cannot be exaggerated—was secretly continuing his membership in the huge and violent Latino gang, MS-13, a transnational racketeering organization. In plain words, Sanchez was accused in the indictment of plotting, as a boss or “shot caller,” to kill another gang member.

The government recently dropped the charges against Sanchez.

But the great, gray, anonymous and tight-lipped agglomerations of suits that is “the government” collectively muttered under its breath that it is going to “review” the evidence and likely will indict Sanchez again. They’ll be back. The prosecution asked the judge to let it take its embarrassingly shredded case back to a grand jury.


With the conspiracy to murder charge toasted like last week’s Cinnabon, perhaps the genius bar at the U.S. Attorney’s office can assign half of the federal agents in Southern California to follow Sanchez around and nail his ass on a charge of felonious crossing against a “don’t walk” sign.

Sanchez is due more than one apology, and I’ll start with mine.

I’ve followed this story for three years with a series of caustic and skeptical posts. The trouble is, I was skeptical about the wrong party. Although I have always been careful to note Alex Sanchez’s claim of innocence, looking back over past posts, it is clear that I had a grain, nay a fist-sized rock, of salt stuck in my throat.

My blind spot was that I simply could not believe that the government would indict a man as well known and, frankly, beloved as Alex Sanchez unless the government case was locked up tight. As I have written many times, you better be damned sure you’re right if you indict Mother Teresa. I also knew that the government has a barracks full of informants and “flipped” gangsters, so they must have had solid evidence against Sanchez.

My bad.

I am sorry. I apologize to Alex Sanchez and to those who had faith in him. Because it now appears that the U.S. government, with all the power and resources available to it, screwed up in such a way that assistant U.S. Attorneys and some law enforcement agents ought to be fired, or at best reassigned to wear out their shoe leather on student loan collection work.


How could the federal government—with its awesome access to technology and expertise—get the single most important piece of evidence in the only meaningful charge against Sanchez wrong? Namely, the phone calls in which the operative facts were all about who was Talking to whom about killing whom?

You tell me. But they did. And now they grudgingly admit it.

The government’s expert witness, it turns out, completely misidentified a participant in the supposed plot to kill phone calls. And when the real participant surfaced, he blew up the government expert’s theory of the case.

After Sanchez’s new lawyer filed a motion to throw the case out, the U.S. Attorney’s office got some new lawyers on the case to reply and fess up…sort of….


All the basic documents in this courtly exchange are sealed. But one juicy little piece of sizzling meat somehow escaped the Czar’s censor. This is an extract from Alex Sanchez’s defense reply to the government’s request for a do-over:

The government has not filed an opposition to the Motion to Dismiss and has avoided addressing the factual arguments therein: that the government presented false evidence to the grand jury issuing the indictment; that a government prosecutor lied to the grand jury in subsequent proceedings; that the government failed, for more than three (3) years, to take any action to formally acknowledge or attempt to correct an indictment based on false evidence; and that government prosecutors withheld from Mr. Sanchez favorable and exculpatory evidence.

(There’s a lot I’m leaving out, so read the whole thing.)

When I spoke to Tom on the phone Sunday afternoon, he reiterated that he found the case very disturbing. He was bothered for example that, after the central elements of their case had blown up, the feds continued to “hide behind a forest of sealed files.”

“You want to think that prosecutors are seeking justice with a case, not career advancement,” Diaz said.

With Sanchez’ case he said he was no longer at all sure, and was beginning suspect instead “a massive miscarriage of justice.”

More to come after Sanchez’s hearing later this month.

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez, FBI, LAPD | No Comments »

After 3 1/2 Years, Charges Against Alex Sanchez Could Vanish—or Not

December 20th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

Late on Monday, federal prosecutors filed a motion to dismiss “without prejudice”
all charges against Alex Sanchez, the nationally respected gang intervention leader who was arrested at his Bellflower home in June 2009, as his family looked on fearfully, and indicted under the RICO act for conspiracy to commit murder—among other charges.

For those who had supported Sanchez throughout the three-and-half years since he was indicted, the word that the case that was finally due to come before a jury in June 2013, was now likely to be dismissed, triggered a round of hopeful celebration. However, a closer reading of the Feds’ motion made it clear that, while the they wished to dismiss the old charges, they fully intended to refile new ones.

The prosecutor’s motion to dismiss the case came after Sanchez’ attorney, Amy Jacks, made her own motion to have the case dismissed on grounds that, as the motion stated: “the government presented false evidence to the grand jury issuing the indictment; that a government prosecutor lied to the grand jury in subsequent proceedings; that the government failed, for more than three (3) years, to take any action to formally acknowledge or attempt to correct an indictment based on false evidence; and that government prosecutors withheld from Mr. Sanchez favorable and exculpatory evidence…”

The actual hearing on the matter will be held in mid-January where a judge will presumably grant the Feds’ motion, which states that the prosecutor:

“….seeks the opportunity to correct the mistakes made in the previous grand jury resentation by representing this case to a new grand jury, focusing on the facts likely to be in dispute at trial.”

Barring emergencies or forces majeur, WLA will be at the hearing.


El Salvadoran-born, former MS-13 gang member, Sanchez has been praised in cities across the country as someone who has helped turn around the lives of many, many young men and women. However, according to the government’s original case, the supposedly reformed Sanchez never reformed at all, but remained, in reality, a MS-13 shot caller who ordered at least one murder.

Yet nothing in the past three-and-a-half years of hearings has unfolded without some kind of messy drama. The original judge was removed from the case. And prior to his removal, it took four separate hearings and the interference of the 9th Circuit, before Sanchez’ attorney was allowed to fully present arguments for setting bail for Sanchez.

(Finally, in January of 2010, the judge set Sanchez’s bail at $2 million, an amount that friends and supporters had already raised in the form of surities and property.)

And then there were the perplexing mistranslations from Spanish of the transcript of an wiretapped telephone call central to the case, the glaring omission of a crucial section of the same transcript, a bizarre case of mistaken identity of one of the main people on the call, the abrupt dismissal of one of the prosecution’s most prominent witnesses, “gang expert,” Sergeant Frank Flores, after Flores gave some wincingly error-ridden testimony during a bail hearing….and more in that same vein.

(For the rest of the backstory go here and here. Scroll down a bunch and read from the bottom up.)


In a Monday night statement made after the prosecution filed its motion to dismiss the case, attorney Jacks said that “the evidence [the prosecution] presented to the grand jury does not support the charges brought against Alex…If the court grants the government’s motion, Alex can focus on what he has done so well for many years: helping our community with gang intervention and prevention and promoting peaceful solutions to our conflicts.”

At the moment, however, it still appears that the prosecutors may wish for the opportunity to hit reset on what some believe is likely a fatally compromised indictment.

(They will have six months to refile after the motion is accepted.)

Or maybe after a sober re-look at what evidence remains, the feds will conclude that starting over is a non-starter.

We’ll know more after January’s hearing.

NOTE: In the interest of transparency, it’s important that those of you new to this story know that I consider Alex Sanchez a respected and valued friend. This means that while I work very hard to give readers the most factual possible information on the issue, I also have strong feelings about this case.

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez, Gangs | 2 Comments »

Arresting Alex Sanchez: Part 10 – Judge Manual Real is Removed

January 13th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

On Wednesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals made the surprising decision to remove controversial Judge Manual Real
from the federal RICO case that involves Alex Sanchez.

This news shocked nearly everyone who is closely tracking the Sanchez matter. Yanking a federal judge from a case is anything but business as usual.

As most longtime WitnessLA readers know, Alex Sanchez is the Salvadoran-born, former MS-13 gang member turned highly respected gang violence reduction activist who has been accused of a long list of Federal racketeering and conspiracy charges. According to the government’s case, the supposedly reformed Sanchez never reformed at all, but remained, in reality, a MS-13 shot caller who ordered at least one murder.

(For the rest of the backstory click here and then scroll down a bunch and read from the bottom up.)

The judge assigned to his case, U.S. District Court Judge Manual Real, was appointed to the federal bench in 1966 by Lyndon Johnson.

At nearly 88 (his birthday is Jan. 27), Real is what we used to call a character. He has spent 45 years on the same bench and, in his court room, he projects an image that combines the demeanor of an irascible uncle who mutters loudly and tyrannically over his soup at Thanksgiving dinner, with that of a glowering bird of prey.

Yet, unlike your irascible uncle, Real wields enormous power over the lives of those who come before him. According to his critics, who are many and varied, he is a bully on the bench who often makes up his mind on a case before it goes to trial and then may visibly telegraphs his opinion to all in the courtroom. He once threatened to throw then California Attorney General Dan Lungren into jail for contempt and used to be known for telling lawyers “This isn’t Burger King. We don’t do it your way here.”

Real’s reversal rate is estimated to be 10 times the average for sitting federal judges.

He has had at least ten cases outright snatched away from him by appeals courts.

In 2006, there was serious talk of impeaching him.

Even in the Sanchez case, it took four separate hearings and the interference of the 9th Circuit, before Real would allow Sanchez’ attorney to fully present arguments for setting bail for Sanchez. (However, to Real’s credit, in January of 2010 Real called for a special closed door hearing, after which he did set Sanchez’s bail at $2 million, an amount that friends and supporters had already raised in the form of surities and property.)

Since Sanchez was originally arrested on the RICO charges in June 2009, this means, had thee been no bail he would have spent, as of this writing, 2 years and 7 months in jail, with no trial as yet in sight.

The change in judges will, of course, push Sanchez’ trial back still further.

Yet, with the alarming wild card presence of Judge Real now removed, no one in either the Sanchez or the prosecution camps, appears to be complaining.

NOTE: In the interest of transparency, it’s important that I tell those of you new to this story that I consider Alex Sanchez a respected and valued friend. This means that while I work very hard to give readers the most factual possible information on the issue, I also have strong feelings about this case.

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez, FBI, Gangs | 1 Comment »

Ed Humes Examines the Case Against Alex Sanchez

February 15th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon

When California Lawyer Magazine contacted Pulitzer-winning author/journalist, Edward Humes
, to write something about the case of Alex Sanchez (published in their February issue), Humes said he first took the story assignment because he was intrigued by the notion that someone as beloved as gang intervention leader Sanchez was said to be living an elaborate double life.

“That becomes the HBO movie, right?” he said.

But as Humes delved into the details of the case and began going to Sanchez’ hearings in federal court, presided over by Judge Manual Real (a character so extravagantly quirky that he begs to be incorporated into a novel), Humes says he began to wonder if perhaps the real story wasn’t something quite different than the tale he first imagined.

As most WitnessLA readers know, Alex Sanchez is a former MS-13 gang member turned highly respected gang violence reduction activist who has been accused of a long list of Federal racketeering and conspiracy charges. According to the government’s case, the supposedly reformed Sanchez never reformed at all, but remained, in reality, a MS-13 shot caller who ordered at least one murder.

Since most LA media outlets have all but ignored the story, I wanted to know more about how and why Humes became interested. Hence our conversation.

Humes told me that one of the things that first caught his attention when he began to get into the case was the fact that bulk of the evidence that the federal lawyers presented against Sanchez focused on four wire-tapped conversations in which Sanchez took part. “But you have these dueling interpretations of the main quotes.” Humes said. As he writes in his article, the government’s interpretation is provided by an LAPD gang expert named Frank Flores. The defense had the conversations independently translated by gang intervention and recovery expert Father Greg Boyle.

I asked Humes what he thought of the discrepant interpretations. “Frankly, Father Boyle’s version of the conversations make a lot more sense in context,” he said

After looking at the dueling translations, Humes said he began to wonder why the government’s interpretation of conversations and events seemed all to require an assumption of guilt.

“The Supreme Court is very clear that the prosecution’s job is-
–not to win—but to see that justice is done. So one of the questions I still want answered is why are they so convinced that he [Sanchez] is dirty since they haven’t produced convincing evidence so far? There may be a lot more at the trial, but based on what they’ve produced so far….”

As to whether he has a gut feeling about Alex Sanchez guilt or innocence himself, Humes won’t commit. “Let’s just say that basically I have a lot of questions about the government’s case. And they need to be answered.”

Humes’ willingness to ask questions has produced an even-handed, thought-provoking and informative look at the case thus far.

Below you’ll find a clip from the story’s opening. But be sure to read the whole article from beginning to end. it’s more than worth your time.

[FIRST, ONE SMALL NOTE: The Sanchez trial was supposed to have begun yesterday, on Valentine's Day. It has now been delayed until September 2011, at the earliest. With the ever-receding trial date in mind, it is worth remembering that, had Sanchez' attorney and supporters not managed to get the presiding judge to reverse himself and grant Sanchez a $2 million bail (and even that only after four bail hearings and the intervention of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals), the defendant---whether guilty or innocent---would have remained in jail from June 2009 until....whenever.]

The four phone calls that put Alex Sanchez in jail—and in the middle of a massive federal racketeering and conspiracy case—were angry, profane, and seemingly illuminating. They opened a rare window not only onto the brutal, secretive, backstabbing world of one of America’s most notorious street gangs, but also on the life of Sanchez himself, a nationally prominent anti-gang activist in Los Angeles credited with steering hundreds of young people away from lives of crime and violence.

What Sanchez didn’t know in 2006 when he participated in those calls was that the FBI was listening in. Nor could he have guessed that the words he spoke would help convince a federal-local investigative task force that Sanchez was leading a double life, publicly opposing gangs in his day job, then moonlighting after hours as a leader or “shot-caller” of the Los Angeles street-gang-turned-international-crime-syndicate known as Mara Salvatrucha—MS-13.

The feds characterized one conversation in particular as a smoking gun. It was a conference call with several known members of MS-13, who continually referred to Sanchez as Rebelde, Spanish for rebel, his old nickname from the gang life he’d supposedly left behind 15 years before. The men on the tape debated what to do about an El Salvador – based gangster known as Camarón (the Shrimp), whom Sanchez accused of falsely branding him a police informant—a veritable death sentence in these circles. Sanchez wanted to turn the tables: “He has to face the consequences,” he urged. “We have said it, we go to war.”

Little more than a week after that exchange, the lifeless corpse of Camarón, whose real name was Walter Lacinos, was found shot through the head in La Libertad, El Salvador, a hotbed of MS-13 activity.

Had the FBI just heard Sanchez’s alter ego, Rebelde, order a hit on Camarón? That was the story the U.S. Attorney in Los Angeles offered at a press conference in June 2009 to announce a historic racketeering indictment against Sanchez and 23 named MS-13 members.

“Today in Los Angeles, where the MS-13 gang was formed, we are holding its leaders accountable for the violence and intimidation they have used to bring terror to the citizens living and working within the gang’s territory,” then-U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O’Brien told reporters. The indictments marked the latest assault in a nine-year war on MS-13 by the FBI, which had used 21 court-ordered wiretaps to monitor thousands of phone conversations.

The wiretaps had already helped build an earlier state case against the alleged top shot-caller for MS-13 in Los Angeles. (It also appears that the FBI had made informants out of the alleged “CEO” of MS-13′s worldwide operations, as well as his second-in-command.) Now the recordings were being used in an effort to bring down Sanchez, a poster boy for the gang-prevention efforts that many law enforcement officials reflexively distrusted.

The latest indictments charged that the defendants had conspired to engage in extortion, drug dealing, robbery, witness intimidation, and seven murders. The complaint also described a failed conspiracy to assassinate one of the government’s top gang experts, Detective Frank Flores of the Los Angeles Police Department.

This was a major breakthrough in the fight against MS-13, proclaimed then-LAPD Chief William Bratton, speaking at O’Brien’s press conference. He branded the gang “a cancer … that lacks a single redeeming quality.” And yet no aspect of the story drew as much attention as the charges against Sanchez.

Read on.

The video is from March 2009 at UCLA where Alex Sanchez was on a panel examining “Global Perspectives of Youth and Violence.” Three months later, Sanchez would be arrested by the FBI for racketeering and conspiracy, charges that could get him sentenced to life in prison.

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez, crime and punishment, criminal justice, FBI, Gangs | 5 Comments »

Details of Latest Alex Sanchez Hearing

September 24th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

For those of you following the Alex Sanchez case,
Tom Hayden has a story in the Nation that gives more of the details of the hearing that took place earlier this month.

Hayden describes how Sanchez’ attorney, Kerry Bensinger, makes some intriguing legal points. I don’t think Judge Real will buy them, but Real seems to enjoy defying the expectations of others, so who can say?

PS: Be forewarned, Hayden weaves into the story the issue of the controversial fatal shooting of Manuel Jaminez by an LAPD officer in Westlake, which I think mixes apples and oranges. But whatever. Read the Sanchez material. His remains a very painful case—but also an ever more interesting one.

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez, crime and punishment, criminal justice, FBI | 7 Comments »

Alex Sanchez Update: Hearings and Delays – UPDATED

September 16th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Thursday there is a new hearing in the Alex Sanchez case.
I’ll tell you a lot more about it once the hearing is over. But here are the broadstrokes.

Judge Manuel Real will preside over a hearing to hear a series of motions submitted by the defense. The motions include:

1. A motion to have Alex Sanchez’ case severed from that of the other RICO defendants.

2. A motion to unseal the Grand Jury transcripts. The defense says it needs to see these transcripts in order to see if Alex Sanchez was depicted in any misleading way or if there was any important information omitted to the grand jury. (I’m guessing this one’s going to be a NO. But, I’d certainly ask if I were Alex’s attorney. Grand Juries are a prosecutor-friendly legal instrument in which, unlike other legal proceedings, the defendant doesn’t necessarily get access to what evidence is presented.)

3. A motion to suppress the Fed’s wiretaps. There have been questions in regards to the legality of the wiretaps. (Tom Hayden wrote an interesting article for the Nation that outlines some of the reasoning for this motion. )

There are some other, smaller motions, but these are the main areas of contention.


For reasons that he did not spell out, Judge Real recently delayed Sanchez’s trial from its scheduled start date of October 15 to February 14, 2011.

If the trial does indeed start on Valentines Day, this means that, had Alex not gotten bail, he would be sitting in jail for a minimum of 19 months—not because he’s been convicted of anything, but because that’s the norm in criminal cases.


The Wa-Po reported the very welcome news that Elizabeth Warren is going to be the head of the newly-created consumer financial protection bureau. Here’s a clip from the story.

President Obama this week plans to name Harvard law Professor Elizabeth Warren as a special adviser so that she can oversee a new consumer financial protection bureau while avoiding a potentially vicious Senate confirmation fight, according to people with direct knowledge of the decision.

The appointment would place Warren - adored by liberals and consumer advocates, viewed with suspicion by many bankers and congressional Republicans – in charge of the new regulator that she proposed three years ago to protect Americans against lending abuses…

Go Elizabeth!

UPDATE: All but two parts of the motions were denied. Two were continued. More as it unfolds.

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez | 5 Comments »

Newest Twist in the Alex Sanchez Case: The Daubert Hearing

May 13th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon

Thursday at 1:30 p.m. Judge Manuel Real will preside over what is called a Daubert hearing.

The purpose of the hearing is to evaluate whether or not LAPD Detective Frank Flores will be permitted to be an expert witness in the RICO Case under which Alex Sanchez will be tried this October. The hearing will allow Judge Real to explore the criteria that would qualify Detective Flores as an expert on the Mara Salvatrucha gang (MS-13).

A press release from the Sanchez camp cites three reasons why Flores should be knocked out as an expert witness although he has long positioned himself as an authority on MS-13. (For the record, I don’t have an opinion on the depth or lack thereof of his expertise.)

1. Flores translated wiretap conversations that included Alex Sanchez, and his translation of the Spanish plus his interpretation of slang and verbal nuance in the wiretapped exchanges was very much at odds with the translations and interpretation of the same material done by Father Gregory Boyle, who listened to the recordings and provided an alternate analysis of the calls. Boyle’s translations suggest very different conclusions vis-a-vis Sanchez’ guilt or innocence, than did those of Flores. Furthermore, Flores left out certain significant sentences altogether from his characterizations of the translations.

2. The defense contends that Detective Flores has misidentified a certain crucial participant in one of the wiretap calls, although the ID was easily checkable. Furthermore, as with the wiretap translations, the ID that the defense contends is demonstrably wrong pointed to Sanchez’ guilt, whereas the “correct” ID, would suggest innocence.

3. The defense also claims a monster conflict of interest on the part of Flores. Another part of the RICO case (a part that does not involve Sanchez) alleges a conspiracy by MS-13 gang members to kill Detective Flores. “Given that he is a supposed target,” states the release from Sanchez supporters, “how is it possible that he is an objective, credible source in making the case for this indictment as an investigator and the main ‘expert’ and interpreter?”

I have long wondered about this last point. If Flores was a target—AKA a potential victim—of one part of the conspiracy, how is it possible that he could be any kind of “objective” expert witness on another part of the same Rico case—much less the primary expert witness on whom great chunks of that case may hang? If a judge or a prosecutor was in a like situation, surely the petitions for recusal would be flying. Why then, has Detective Flores been allowed to stay on?

In any case, today we’ll find out what Judge Real thinks.

NOTE: As I have stated in the past, I know Alex Sanchez and have strong defense leanings in this case, thus for a balancing view I recommend that you keep an eye out for what Tom Diaz has to say on this same hearing, as he is also covering the case with great interest but leans toward the government’s side of the street.

FOR BACK STORY ON THE CASE go here and read from the bottom up.

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez | 2 Comments »

Alex Sanchez: Why Seal the Record?

March 11th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Earlier this week Tom Diaz noticed something that I had overlooked
with regard to the ongoing legal proceedings in the Alex Sanchez case.

Back in January, if you will remember, after the 9th Circuit rapped Judge Manual Real on the knuckles for the way he earlier went about refusing Sanchez bail, Real granted Sanchez had one last bail hearing. The hearing, however, was a two-part series—the second part of which featured two sets of “experts,” one chosen by the prosecutor, the other by Sanchez’ attorney, Kerry Bensinger. The experts testified in a closed door session with the judge on January 13.

Then shortly after the doors opened, Judge Real announced that he was granting Alex Sanchez bail. (Here’s a link to my post on the events of that day. Then find the rest of the Alex Sanchez posts here.)

Naturally, we who were confined to the trial-watching bleachers
wanted to know who was in those two groups of experts, and what exactly they said that convinced Judge Real that Alex was not a gargantuan threat to public safety.

But the court quickly sealed up both the names and the testimony. (That was after it accidentally allowed the prosecution’s list to be posted online—Ooops!—but then hurriedly resealed it.

AP reporter Christina Hoag also wanted to know what went on in the hearing
so she and the AP formally requested the transcript.

On Monday February 22, Judge Real declined to release it.

Something about invading people’s privacy.

Tom Diaz has his take on it here (which you should read).

Mine is a bit different. (I know, you’re shocked, shocked.)

Here’s the thing: We know by the outcome of the hearing that someone in the room—or perhaps several someones— spoke in support Alex Sanchez. So why can’t we know who that might be and what that person or persons said that persuaded Real to be his own devil’s advocate on the issue of bail?

Is it really that politically untenable to speak out publicly in behalf of a man
who has not yet been convicted of anything?

Never mind. Don’t answer that.

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez | 9 Comments »

Alex Sanchez: Finally Out on Bail

February 11th, 2010 by Celeste Fremon


Just under two months after he was granted bail
in his third bail hearing, Alex Sanchez was actually released from jail to rejoin his family on Friday, February 5.

Since his release, money has been issue for Sanchez,
as there are still some additional bail fees to pay and he has been locked up without income since June. Alex is not allowed to go back to work as the executive director Homie Unidoes since one of the conditions of his parole, is no association with anyone who might be a gang member, former or active—which means he can’t really set foot inside Homies Unidos, much less run it.

Friends have done some fundraising to help out,
but that strategy can only be a stopgap measure. He will have to find some other form of income and/or employment as he works with his lawyer on his case,

As a followup to Alex Sanchez’ release, , L’Opinion’s Assistant Editor and Columnist, Gabriel Lerner
has written a very long column for the Huffington Post about Sanchez and his case.

For those of you interested in Sanchez’ legal situation, it is recommended reading. While I do not agree with every single word that Lerner has written, his portrait of the emotional reactions to Sanchez arrest and subsequent court hearings provides an informative perspective. Moreover, Lerner’s views and perceptions are very representative of the feelings of those in the communities who know Sanchez best—and should not be too easily discounted.

He also points out that, pretty much without exception, the English language newspapers, when they have reported on the Alex Sanchez case at all, have done little more than regurgitate, unchallenged, the official versions of the case. Whereas Spanish language media has acted as if there are two possible sides to the story.

Here’s a big clip from the column:

As Roberto Lovato points out, while charges against the other 23 defendants were backed by hard evidence, charges against Sánchez were based on “a series of phone conversations” in which he allegedly participated and discussed the killing of the Mara Salvatrucha member in El Salvador.

The tape of the conversation, which was played in court, is not conclusive and is prone to interpretation.

Those who defend Sánchez believe the legal campaign against him
has broad social and political ramifications, and threatens to de-legitimize the social justice approach to the problem of gangs. That perception is widespread. “If they demonize this population – with whom we work around here – then it’s a short hop to demonize the people who work with them,” said Father Greg Boyle, the founder of Homeboy Industries, one of the most successful gang intervention programs in Los Angeles, pointing to himself in an interview. “I think that’s what happened to Alex”.

This case could thus be a wake up call for those ex-gang members
who now work in prevention and intervention and, to be effective use the gang’s language, appearance, and set of values (i.e. respect, family, homies). They are, like Sánchez, in many cases, ex-gang members, who now fear that they too will be mistakenly accused of maintaining ties with those still committing crimes.

So, the arrest became a daunting reality for many young Blacks and Latinos in the inner city who for years have struggled to escape the reach of gangs. If Alex Sánchez was still considered a gangbanger after all these years, after all he did, goes the narrative, how will they redeem themselves, be able to escape that environment? Will they be able to make the transition, be allowed to study, work and thrive?

The direct effect of seeing an ex-gang member who has made the transition, Sánchez said, is crucial. “Nobody can do it except somebody who’s been there. All the kids who looked up to me because of the bad things that I was doing; now they seek change and want to do good in the neighborhood”. This example, seeing someone make that all-important transition, is now in jeopardy.

Most of the coverage of the arrest tilted heavily in crediting chief Bratton, the FBI, the US Attorney, the grand jury and others for the charges in the indictment, assuming this was sufficient evidence. It failed to separate the severe accusations against the other defendants and the weaker ones against Sánchez, who is, by far, the most important target of the 3-year-investigation….

Here’s the rest.

Photo from Cuéntame photo and video collection

Posted in Arresting Alex Sanchez, criminal justice | 32 Comments »

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