Feds Arrest Head of Anti-Gang Group in LA

Thomas Watkins, AP, June 25, 2009

A man who said he left a ruthless street gang in Central America and later won praise for his anti-gang work in Los Angeles was arrested Wednesday by authorities who allege he conspired to kill a rival even as he spoke out against gang life.

Alex Sanchez, 37, who heads the local office of the nonprofit Homies Unidos anti-gang group, was taken into custody at his Bellflower home on federal racketeering charges, authorities said.

The indictment names 24 leaders, members and associates of MS-13, part of the Mara Salvatrucha gang affiliated with the Mexican Mafia prison gang.

It alleges crimes that include seven murders, eight conspiracies to commit murder, and gun and narcotics offenses since 1995. Sixteen of those named were already in custody. Four others, including Sanchez, were arrested Wednesday.

The alleged crimes by Sanchez occurred after he returned from El Salvador in 1996 and publicly decried gang life.

The indictment said he went by the nickname Rebelde, or rebel, and was a shot-caller for the Normandie contingent of MS-13. He and three others are accused in the indictment of conspiring to murder a man identified by authorities as Walter Lacinos “for the purpose of maintaining and increasing their position in MS-13.”

In May 2006, Lacinos was killed in El Salvador.

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He returned illegally to Los Angeles in 1995. Authorities tried to deport him a second time, but he was granted political asylum after saying police picked him up because he had testified against officers in the Rampart police corruption scandal.

Several people spoke in his defense, including Tom Hayden, a former student radical and state senator.

In July 2002, Sanchez received political asylum after officials determined his life would be in danger if he returned to El Salvador.

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Homies Unidos was founded in 1996 in El Salvador. Sanchez helped establish the Los Angeles office the following year.

The office has helped remove tattoos from more than 240 gang members.

FBI officials said everyone named on the indictment could face up to 25 years to life in prison, while those charged with murder could face the death penalty. No one else from Homies Unidos was named in the indictment.

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