Two months ago, the executive director of the organization Homies Undidos, Alex Sanchez, was arrested on racketeering charges for his alleged role in a murder and other gang activities. The charges are difficult for many to believe since Homies Unidos works to help young men and women escape the gang lifestyle. National Public Radio broadcast an update on the Sanchez case this week:
Federal prosecutors filed translated transcripts of wiretapped phone conversations in which Sanchez — reportedly also known as "Rebelde" or Rebel — allegedly gave orders to commit murder. As further evidence, prosecutors cite a photograph of Sanchez with a Mara Salvatrucha tattoo on his chest....
Federal authorities say they can't talk to the media as the case heads to trial. But it's clear they're counting on those wiretaps to help put Sanchez away. Meanwhile, Sanchez has supporters from around the world rallying for him.
"I don't for a moment think, 'Wow, there must have been a moment of weakness for him,'" says Father Greg Boyle, another gang interventionist who runs Homeboy Industries. "I don't for one second think he's guilty of even a part of this. Not for one second."
Boyle defends Sanchez as a heroic peacemaker who had to stay in contact with the gangs to do his job. But he says many authorities misinterpret the work.
"There's this presumption that, 'Will these folks ever really change? Don't they always keep if not one foot, then a big toe in?'" Boyle says. "But it's not different from recovery. Is it hard? Yeah. Do people do it? Sure. Do people relapse? Sure. But that's more the gang member who broke up with his lady, and now suddenly, he's back kicking it with his homies again. Not Alex Sanchez. That wasn't a temptation for him: 'Gee, I'll go back to gang-banging.' Are you serious?"
The Homies Unidos website contains this letter to supporters from the organizations' Board:
July 18th, 2009
Dear Friends and Supporters of Homies Unidos,
As many of you know, our Executive Director, Alex Sanchez was named among twenty-three others in a federal indictment charging him with involvement in an alleged gang conspiracy. As long time colleagues of Alex, we are deeply saddened by these serious and unfortunate allegations.
The Homies Unidos board and staff stand in full support of Alex, his family, and believe unquestionably in his innocence.
We deeply appreciate the outpouring of support that has been shown during this difficult time, a testament to just how many lives have been transformed and inspired through the work Alex began over eleven years ago.
At Homies Unidos, we have been working nonstop to ensure that our peace work continues. In Alex’s absence, the board has named Mirna Solorzano Interim Executive Director. Formerly Homies Unidos’ Director of Operations, Ms. Solorzano has been with the organization since it’s inception in 1998, and has worked on the development and implementation of key programs such as the Epiphany Project and Family Wellness workshops. The Board will fully support Ms. Solorzano as she takes on this interim role and has absolute confidence in her ability to lead the staff, further our programs and help guide Homies Unidos toward accomplishing our mission of creating a culture of peace within our communities.
Today our mission continues. We presently have 40 youth awaiting tattoo removal and another 50 ready to begin our 12-week Epiphany Project. Our staff, continue to teach our leadership programs, Family Wellness Workshops and lead Grassroots Political Advocacy on behalf of our community.
We invite you to visit our office, witness our programs in action, and meet Homies Unidos’ dedicated staff. Without you, our work would not be possible.
As we continue on through these trying times, your support is more important than ever. We humbly ask that you make a donation to help Homies Unidos sustain our programs and serve those who need us most. Please enclose your tax-deductible donation in the envelope provided or donate online at www.homiesunidos.org
The Entire Homies Unidos Board