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Indicted leader's anti-gang group got city money

June 24, 2009 |  4:54 pm

Los Angeles City Councilman Ed Reyes said his office had donated $5,000 in city funds to Homies Unidos, the gang intervention group whose executive director, Alex Sanchez, was named in a wide-ranging federal indictment targeting two dozen members or associates of the MS-13 street gang.

Reyes said the funds, disbursed in 2007 from a general purposes fund controlled by the councilman, were for a youth soccer league that the group had started in the Pico-Union area. He said he was shocked and disappointed when he heard that Sanchez had been arrested, especially given the important community work being done by Homies Unidos.

"The organization filled a void and addressed the needs of youngsters," Reyes told The Times. ”We are all disappointed to see this kind of occurrence amid all these challenges. My heart goes out to the kids and families that worked with him in the past.”

Sanchez, in a letter on the organization's website, thanked Reyes and Tony Cardenas for attending a 10th anniversary banquet for the group. Sanchez also lauded Reyes, Cardenas and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s staff for being ”instrumental” in helping pass a City Council resolution honoring Homies Unidos' 10 years of work in the city.

On its website, the group says it provided services to more than 5,000 youths during its first decade, and  Councilman Eric Garcetti is quoted as part of a campaign for $10 donations.

“Homies Unidos is exactly the kind of community-based violence prevention and intervention program Los Angeles needs to help eliminate its gang problem,” Garcetti stated.

Federal authorities said Homies Unidos received public funds, but they did not specify the sources of the money. Officials in the mayor's office said that they had reviewed records going back more than a decade and that there was no evidence of any contracts or subcontracts for anti-gang work between the city and Homies Unidos.

In a statement, Cardenas said he was "heartbroken by the news of Alex Sanchez."

"It is my sincerest hope that the allegations are not true and that he is proven innocent through the judicial process," Cardenas said. "My knowledge of Alex Sanchez is as an individual who has committed himself to reducing gang violence and improving the community.”

-- Richard Winton and Andrew Blankstein