L.A. Now

Prosecutor drops case against anti-gang activist

The U.S. attorney's office has filed a motion to dismiss charges of racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder against a well-known anti-gang activist who authorities said was in league with one the nation's most violent street gangs.

Key evidence presented to a grand jury in the 2009 indictment of Alex Sanchez, executive director of Homies Unidos, contained "errors" that made it necessary to dismiss the charges, federal prosecutors said in a court filing Monday. Although neither the prosecution nor the defense would specify what the errors were, court documents outline a case built heavily on recorded telephone conversations in which participants referred to each other by nicknames.

Federal authorities said that Sanchez was recorded as he helped leaders of the gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, plot the 2006 killing, and that he used the gang name Rebelde or Rebel.

Prosecutors filed the motion to dismiss Monday, and asked that the charges be dropped without prejudice, leaving the door open for them to file charges again in the future. Thom Mrozek, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office, said it was likely that new charges would be filed against Sanchez.

The action follows a recent court filing by defense attorney Amy Jacks, who demanded that the case be dismissed because prosecutors "presented false evidence to the grand jury, lied to the grand jury and withheld exculpatory evidence," she said. Her motion was not made public because it deals with sealed testimony before a federal grand jury, she said.

"We applaud the government for conscientiously reevaluating the case and recognizing that the evidence it presented to the grand jury does not support the charges brought against Alex," Jacks said. "This has been a long time coming…. 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."

A judge will make a decision on the case next month.

Homies Unidos is a nonprofit gang intervention organization that operates in Los Angeles and El Salvador.

In court papers, prosecutors accused Sanchez of conspiring to kill Walter Lacinos, alias Camaron, in El Salvador in a series of coded-language telephone calls. The calls were translated by Los Angeles Police Det. Frank Flores, whom the government has since removed as an expert witness.

In earlier court filings, Sanchez's lawyer said that authorities misconstrued the conversation, and that Sanchez was trying to mediate a dispute. She also said that authorities wrongly identified a man — nicknamed Zombie in the conversation — as suspected killer Juan Bonilla. A different man has said in a deposition that he was the person nicknamed Zombie in the telephone conversation.

Jacks also said in court documents that authorities in El Salvador have a different theory about the killing and say it had nothing to do with the recorded phone calls. Salvadoran police say Lacinos was killed as an act of revenge by associates of a man Lacinos killed in El Salvador days before.

Sanchez is free on $2-million bond. Before his arrest, Sanchez had won praise from politicians and celebrities for his work with gang members

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World