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Judge to consider dismissing charges against anti-gang activist

January 16, 2013 |  8:27 am

Alex Sanchez in 2000.

This post has been corrected, as noted below.

A judge will consider dismissing federal racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder charges Wednesday against one of the nation’s most well-known anti-gang activists.

The U.S. attorney’s office filed a motion in December to dismiss charges against Alex Sanchez, who they alleged was a former gang member or associate who went by the name “Rebelde” or “Rebel.” He is the director of Homies Unidos, a gang intervention nonprofit and was one of several anti-gang workers charged with gang-related crimes in recent years.

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.

But the 2009 indictment contained errors that made it necessary to dismiss the charges, federal prosecutors wrote in court documents. Prosecutors did not elaborate on the errors.

In the dismissal motion, prosecutors said they plan to refile some charges against Sanchez, Sanchez's lawyer, Amy Jacks, said in a statement. She said the motion 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,” she said.

Sanchez was accused of conspiring to kill Walter Lacinos, aka “Camaron,” in El Salvador in a series of 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. She also said investigators in El Salvador concluded Lacinos was killed as an act of revenge by associates of a man who Lacinos had killed in El Salvador days before.

Sanchez is free on a $2-million bond.

[For the record, 8:45 a.m. Jan. 16, 2013: An earlier version of this post and headline said the judge was set to dismiss federal charges against Alex Sanchez. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday morning, but the judge may not issue a ruling.]

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-- Nicole Santa Cruz and Richard Winton

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

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