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Nationally recognized 'gang peacemaker' arrested in gang sweep [Updated]

June 24, 2009 | 10:13 am

Sanchez A nationally recognized anti-gang leader was among those named in a federal indictment targeting several Mara Salvatrucha gang members who authorities said today have been involved in multiple slayings, extortion and assaults.

Alex Sanchez, executive director of Homies Unidos, was taken into custody by FBI agents this morning at his Bellflower home. Sanchez and several members of MS-13, one of the nation's most ruthless and notorious gangs, were named as a co-conspirators in the indictment, which will be unsealed later today, said FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller.

The indictment alleges that the gang terrorized the Lafayette Park area west of downtown Los Angeles.

The case of Sanchez, who admitted being a member of the MS-13 gang as a youth but said he had sworn off the gang lifestyle, became a cause celebre early in the decade when authorities attempted to deport the self-described gang peacemaker.

In 1994, Sanchez was deported to his home country of El Salvador because of a decade-old auto-theft conviction and a subsequent parole violation for possessing a firearm. A year later, he returned illegally to the U.S. and eventually helped form the local chapter of Homies Unidos.

Sanchez was granted political asylum after successfully arguing that he might be killed if he was returned to El Salvador because of his links to the Salvadoran gang and his stand against police corruption. Sanchez said he was a victim of harassment by the Los Angeles Police Department, and his case was highlighted by police critics during the Rampart corruption scandal.

[Updated at 3:15 p.m: A previous version of this post indicated Sanchez was granted asylum because of harassment by the Police Department.]

Among those who championed Sanchez's cause was former state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles), who befriended Sanchez in the 1990s and testified on his behalf.

-- Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton

Photo: Alex Sanchez in 2000 at the INS center in San Pedro. Credit: Los Angeles Times