|SUPPORT: Alex Sanchez UPDATE|
The Arrest of AlexSanchez: Part 3 - The Bail Hearing
Nathalie Contreras <ncontreras7@...>
Corina Garcia <corina.m.garcia@...>
Witness LA inside courtroom
reporting The Arrest of AlexSanchez: Part 3 - The Bail Hearing
Hey everyone, I'm not sure what the advoacacy
efforts will be on behalf of Alex Sanchez but
please stay tuned. This is a blatant injustice
that we must all mobilize against.
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The Arrest of Alex Sanchez: Part 3 - The Bail
July 1st, 2009 by Celeste Fremon
Yesterday, Los Angeles gang intervention leader,
Alex Sanchez, had his bail hearing at the US
District Court on Spring Street in downtown Los Angeles.
The drama that played itself out in the 8th floor
hearing room of the US District Court building
was both informative and disturbing.
As you’ll remember, Alex Sanchez is a former
MS-13 gang member who turned his life around in
the mid-1990s and now serves as the executive
director of the non-profit, Homies Unidos. He is
highly regarded in Los Angeles for the work he
has done in helping others reclaim their own
lives, and for persuading school kids to stay out
of gangs altogether. Sanchez has won multiple
awards, and has been lauded nationally as a peacemaker and a role model.
Then last week Alex Sanchez was arrested by the
FBI on Federal racketeering charges. The Feds
allege that 37-year-old Sanchez has been living a
double life and is in fact the shot-caller for
the Normandie clique of the infamous Mara
Salvatrucha and that he was involved in a
conspiracy to have a rival gang member killed in
El Salvador in 2006. Prosecutor Elizabeth
Carpenter announced that if Sanchez is found
guilty he will receive a life sentence without possibility of parole.
AT THE COURTHOUSE
Although family, friends and supporters were firm
in their insistence that Alex was innocent,
everyone gathered at the courthouse assumed that
the Federal prosecutor would ask for a high bail
due to the seriousness of the charges.
In an effort to get the bail reduced—or better
yet, to persuade the judge to release Alex on
home arrest—Sanchez’ attorney’, Kerry Bensinger, made an impassioned pitch.
In 20 years of law practice, Bensinger told U.S.
Magistrate Judge Alicia G. Rosenberg, “I’ve never
seen such an outpouring of support for a client.”
Indeed, only about one third of the family and
friends who have turned up for the hearing were
able to jam themselves into the room. The rest
were asked to wait in the small park across from
the court, where a press conference was scheduled to be held, post hearing.
Among those who made it inside the hearing were
Mario de la Rocha, deputy to City Council member
Tony Cardenas, former state senator Tom Hayden
and Minister Tony Muhammad of the Nation of
Islam, who was accompanied by a couple of his
bow-tie-wearing Fruit of Islam body guards.
Author/poet Luis Rodriguez also made it inside
the hearing room but civil rights lawyer Jorge
Gonzales arrived late so waited patiently outside.
The Reverend Cecil Murray, former pastor of the
First AME Church, sent a statement. Father Greg
Boyle, who was out of town, sent a fellow priest
to read an even lengthier statement.
Attorney Bensinger read excerpts from 110
additional letters that he said were from clergy,
academics, university professors, a few politicos and a pile of professionals.
There was even a strongly worded letter of
support from a former FBI guy named Tom Parker
who used to be the assistant special agent in
charge of the F.B.I.’s Los Angeles Bureau. Parker too was at the hearing.
In my experience, when someone is arrested people
start to distance themselves from that
individual,” Bensinger said. “The opposite has occurred here.”
THE $1.2 MILLION
As for the bail itself, Bensinger announced that
although Sanchez had no assets of his own to put
up to guarantee bail, his group of friends and
supporters had put up a total of $1,260,500 in “surities” in his stead.
Bensinger then asked the judge to weigh Sanchez’s
more than a decade of good deeds and a life now
dedicated to helping people out of gangs and
acting as “a beacon for peace,” against “unproven allegations.”
PORTRAIT OF A SHOT CALLER
Prosecutor Elizabeth Carpenter thought otherwise.
Carpenter—a 30-something woman whom one suspected
had often been told she resembled actress Mary
Louise Parker and had since cultivated the
look—told the judge that while all the letters
and support were very nice and all, Alex Sanchez
had been leading a double life, and those who
supported him “have been duped” by the man,
because Sanchez was and always had been a shot
caller—meaning a leader—of the Normandie clique of Mara Salvatrucha—or MS-13.
As proof of Sanchez’ continued gang involvement,
Carpenter produced the following:
1. A photo of a bare-chested Sanchez taken post
arrest that showed a Mara Salvatrucha tattoo
across his breast bone. Carpenter did not mention
that all of Sanchez’ many other tattoos had
long-ago been removed and that the,
usually-covered chest tattoo was the only one that remained.
(This might or might not be explained by the fact
that tattoo removal is quite expensive, programs
like Sanchez’ Homies Unidos and Greg Boyle’s
Homeboy Industries that provide the service free
to gang members wanting out of the life, usually
request that homeboys and homegirls confine
themselves to only get visible tattoos removed.)
2. Two snapshots of Sanchez at a 1999 anti-gang
conference in San Francisco. In one photo he was
standing with another alleged gang member. In a
second, he is shown in a tourist-like pose with
several others that Carpenter said were gang
members. The men appeared to be making gang signs with their fingers.
3. An account of how, on May 2 of this year, an
LAPD officer observed Sanchez in conversation on
the street with “five males” one of whom the
prosecutor says is an active member of MS-13. The
officer took down all the men’s names. That was
it. Nevertheless the prosecutor cited this police
contact as further evidence of “a double life.”
(Just in case anyone has dozed off reading this,
I should probably note here that Sanchez is a
street intervention worker who talks to gang
members for a living. It goes with his job
description. This includes members of MS-13, the
gang in which he has far and away the most expertise.)
THE WIRE TAP
In addition to the photos, which Bensinger called
laughably weak, Prosecutor Carpenter had other
allegations that, if true, were far more serious.
Carpenter told the court that, using a wire tap,
law enforcement had intercepted calls in 2000,
2001, 2006, and 2008 between MS-13 gang members
and that Sanchez was “and active participant” in
some of those calls—some of which were used, she
said, to plot the murder of a gang member who was
plotting to kill Sanchez and others. Instead,
said Carpenter, the plotting gang member was
ordered killed in El Salvador, and subsequently wound up dead.
The judge listened grimly then asked defense
attorney Bensinger if he had anything to say about the allegations.
Yes, said Bensinger, but in order to do so, he
needed to see supporting paperwork of some kind.
“I provided my paperwork to the government days
ago,” said Bensinger, “and the government has
provided me with nothing. No transcripts, no
recordings of the calls….” So it was hard to
refute what he had not been able to see or hear,
he said. He had only Carpenter’s blanket assertions.
The judge appeared confused by Carpenter’s
objections. “This isn’t a trial,” she said
But if the prosecutor was going to use these
accusations as reasons why Sanchez should not get
bail, Bensinger said, she needed to produce the
supporting paperwork so that he and the court might assess the assertions.
Bensinger turned to Carpenter. “May I have the transcripts?” he said.
No, said Carpenter.
Startled, Bensinger asked again. This time
Carpenter ignored him. Bensinger turned to the
judge for help. She appeared not to hear the question.
There was another half hour or so of the same kind of disjointed back and forth
For instance, Carpenter stated that Sanchez
couldn’t possibly be given bail because was a
“danger to the community.” He was likely to have
witnesses against him killed, she said. As to how
or why she knew any of this….she didn’t say.
WHERE IS TOM HAYDEN’S HOUSE?!
One of the odder moments came when Carpenter
remarked that the $1.2 million of sureties put up
by supporters wasn’t very impressive because, “I
see no one has put up a house.” Then bizarrely:
“I see Senator Tom Hayden is in the room. But he hasn’t put up his house!”
The judge perked up at this potential moment of
celebrity drama and, after several seconds of
nonverbal communication with his wife, Hayden
walked quietly over to Bensinger and whispered
that he would be happy to put up his house. Bensinger announced Hayden’s offer.
Now that a house had been produced, however,
Carpenter lost interest.—as did the judge.
Exasperated, Bensinger snapped that, if Sanchez
was such a giant MS shot caller, where was all
the money he’s been raking in? Where were the
assets.? The house? The Swiss bank account?
RISK OF DANGEROUSNESS
At the end, it appeared that there was never a
decision to make. The judge said that because of
the “weight of evidence” that the defendant will
pose a danger to the community.”
This again sent the audience into an unhappy
state of muttering. “What evidence!” people whispered.
The court finds that the defendant poses a risk
of dangerousness,” said Rosenberg. “The court will order detention.”
In other words, no bail at all.
Alex Sanchez looked small as he was led out of
the courtroom in his white jump suit and manacles. And that was that.
Supporters said afterward that the bail hearing
was only the beginning, that the charges against
Sanchez were preposterous, and that they were
heartened by Bensinger’s obvious skill.
Yet the reality was that Sanchez’ trial may take
a year to play itself out. Maybe two. Maybe more.
And whether he is ultimately proven guilty or
innocent, he will remain behind bars for the duration.
Outside at the press conference, around 100
people waved FREE ALEX signs and chanted.
Meanwhile Sanchez’ wife, his brother Oscar,
members of the Homies Unidos board, and some of
the young men who said their lives had been
forever changed by Sanchez, repeatedly swiped at
tears….as the painful realization began to set in
that Alex Sanchez would be long absent from their midst.