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Federal case against anti-gang activist dismissed; 'errors' cited

Alex Sanchez in 2000.

A U.S. District Court judge has dismissed federal racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder charges against one of the nation’s most well-known anti-gang activists at the request of federal prosecutors, who acknowledged his indictment contained "errors."

But Judge Dale S. Fischer made the decision to dismiss the charges against Alex Sanchez without prejudice a move that allows prosecutors to refile charges if they desire.

Assistant U.S. Atty. Garth Hire on Wednesday said prosecutors will review the evidence and make a decision by March on whether to file any charges against Sanchez.

"We understand the speed with which we need to move with this," Hire said in federal court in downtown L.A.

Fischer advised prosecutors: "I take it it will done much more carefully." 

The judge made the decision Friday and revealed it to Sanchez's lawyers at a hearing Wednesday.

Sanchez's attorney had sought to dismiss the case "without prejudice," a move that would have prevented any charges from being refiled against the anti-gang activist.

But Sanchez was nonetheless jubilant.

"I feel grateful," said Sanchez, executive director of the nonprofit Homies Unidos, outside the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building. "I expect [federal prosecutors] to do the right thing and not refile an indictment on me."

He said he remains fearful the U.S. attorney's office will re-indict him, but he saw the court decision as a step in the right direction.

Prosecutors filed a motion in December to dismiss charges against Sanchez, who they alleged went by the street name “Rebelde” or “Rebel.” Federal authorities alleged in a grand jury indictment that Sanchez helped leaders of the gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, plot the 2006 killing of a man in El Salvador and other crimes.

Key evidence presented to a grand jury in the 2009 indictment contained "errors" that made it necessary to dismiss the charges, but federal prosecutors did not elaborate on the errors.

Sanchez was accused of conspiring to kill Walter Lacinos, aka “Camaron,” in El Salvador in a series of coded gang-language telephone calls in 2006 with a co-conspirator named Juan Bonilla, also known as “Zombie.”

The calls were recorded, then translated by Los Angeles Police Det. Frank Flores, whom the government has since removed as an expert witness. Bonilla allegedly killed Lacinos on May 15, 2006.

Jacks filed for dismissal because prosecutors “presented false evidence to the grand jury, lied to the grand jury and withheld exculpatory evidence,” she has said.

Her motion has not been made public because it deals with sealed testimony. In other court filings, Jacks has said authorities misinterpreted the phone calls and that Sanchez was attempting to mediate a dispute.

She said authorities wrongly identified Bonilla as the killer and that the calls never led to Lacinos’ death. 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.

Former state Sen. Tom Hayden, a longtime Sanchez supporter, said outside court, "I find it hard to believe they would re-indict someone they have put through this outrageous process for years."

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-- Adolfo Flores and Richard Winton

Photo: Alex Sanchez in 2000. Credit: Los Angeles Times

 
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