Homies Unidos is an NGO working in Los Angeles and El Salvador to work with gang members and to attempt to get them to leave their violent and destructive lifestyles. I've written about the group on this blog.
Today comes the surprising news that the organization's executive director in Los Angeles, Alex Sanchez, has been arrested on federal racketeering charges along with 23 other purported MS-13 gang members.
According to a press release on the FBI Los Angeles office website:
The sixteen-count federal indictment, unsealed today, charges 24 members and associates of MS-13 with participating in a racketeering conspiracy that involved a variety of crimes including murder, conspiracy to commit murder, extortion, robbery, narcotics trafficking, and witness intimidation, over a period of fifteen years. The indictment alleges the defendants who engaged in the racketeering enterprise, were responsible for seven murders and eight conspiracies to commit murder since 1995....
The indictment charges Alex Sanchez, the Executive Director of "Homies Unidos," a non-profit organization which purports to use the public and private charitable contributions it receives for gang intervention efforts. Sanchez is charged with racketeering offenses, including conspiracy to murder, during the time he was associated with Homies Unidos.
Sanchez was from El Salvador and was admittedly a former MS-13 member. In 2002, he won political asylum allowing him to remain in the US:
Sanchez, now 37, was deported in 1994 to his homeland, 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....
In requesting political asylum for Sanchez, his attorney, Alan Diamante, argued that his client might be killed if he was returned to El Salvador because of his links to the Salvadoran gang Mara Salvatrucha and his stance against police corruption.
The police chief of San Salvador, [former California State Senator Tom] Hayden, three anthropologists, a photojournalist and a psychologist were among the witnesses who testified on behalf of Sanchez.
The work of Homies Unidos in El Salvador led CNN to name its director there, Luis Ernesto Romero, a CNN Hero in 2007. There is no suggestion that Romero is implicated in any way by the indictment. More information is available in this Wall Street Journal article.
From the FBI press release, the indictment and arrests appear to center on the actions of the gang in the Los Angeles area. Anything which works to weaken MS-13 is a good thing, but hopefully the spillover from the arrest of Sanchez won't destroy the good work that Homies Unidos had been doing in El Salvador. (Although it is easy to foresee that donations to the nonprofit group will quickly dry up because of the cloud over the organization). The Homies Unidos website was reachable earlier in the day today, but has since been removed from the web.