LA anti-gang activist granted $2M bail

CHRISTINA HOAG (The Associated Press)
January 13, 2010
LOS ANGELES — After a lengthy legal fight, an anti-gang activist accused of still participating in gang life by ordering a hit on a rival was granted $2 million bail on Wednesday, despite objections by federal prosecutors that he could flee to his native El Salvador.

After a closed hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real granted bail – to be paid half in sureties and half in real estate – to Alex Sanchez, founder of the anti-gang organization Homies Unidos.

“It shows what we’ve been saying: Alex is not a threat to the community and Alex is not a flight risk,” said Sanchez’s younger brother Oscar Sanchez.

Oscar Sanchez said relatives and supporters, who include former state Sen. Tom Hayden, have already pledged $2.5 million in sureties and properties, and his brother could be freed in about a week after paperwork is processed.

“We trust in him,” Oscar Sanchez said. “He’s an asset to the community, not the danger they say he is.”

U.S. attorney’s office spokesman Thom Mrozek said he could not comment because the hearing was not public and transcripts were ordered sealed.

A former member of the brutal Mara Salvatrucha “MS-13” gang, Sanchez later disavowed gang life and became one of Los Angeles’ best known gang interventionists who work to steer youth away from violence.

Law enforcement officials, however, said the 37-year-old father of three was leading a double life as an active leader of an MS-13 faction in central Los Angeles.

He was arrested last summer on a federal racketeering indictment based on wiretaps in which he allegedly ordered the murder of a troublemaker, Walter “Camaron” Lacinos, who was found dead in a Salvadoran beach town.

Sanchez’s arrest stunned his supporters, who have rallied to his defense, saying Sanchez’s gang slang in phone calls was misinterpreted and that he is being railroaded.

Real had ordered Sanchez held without bail, but the judge was ordered by an appellate court to rehear Sanchez’s petition.

At Real’s request, prosecutors on Wednesday called three law enforcement officers who are experts in gang crime to testify about Sanchez’s alleged continued involvement with MS-13.

The government’s witness list filed with the court Tuesday identified Los Angeles Police Capt. Justin Eisenberg; FBI Special Agent Robert W. Clark and Los Angeles City Attorney gang division head Bruce K. Riordan as the experts.

At a hearing last week, Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Carpenter said Sanchez posed a flight risk because he has ties to the MS-13 in El Salvador who would help him, even though Sanchez was granted political asylum based on threats against his life in the Central American country.

As proof, she cited the wiretapped phone calls that Sanchez made to associates in El Salvador.

“He is not actually in danger in El Salvador,” Carpenter said.

She added that although Sanchez has removed visible gang tattoos, he still has an “MS-13” tattoo on his chest.

Sanchez’s attorney Kerry Bensinger argued that the wiretaps recorded Sanchez trying to mediate a gang dispute by suggesting that Lacinos be isolated from the rest of the gang. Sanchez was not talking to a hitman, as prosecutors allege, but to another inactive gang member, the lawyer said.

Bensinger noted that Sanchez’s last felony conviction was in 1994, and more than 100 people submitted letters to Real attesting to Sanchez’s character. Bensinger did not return phone calls for comment Wednesday.

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