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Feds arrest MS-13 gang members in L.A.

June 24, 2009 5:43:27 AM PDT
Federal charges have been filed against two dozen alleged members of the Mara Salvatrucha street gang. Of the 24 alleged gang members indicted, 20 were arrested in the federal crackdown Wednesday, including a prominent anti-gang activist. The suspects are facing charges ranging from narcotics and federal racketeering to murder.

The Mara Salvatrucha gang, or MS-13 gang, was born in the immigrant communities just west of downtown L.A. In 25 years, it's spread its violence and drug dealing across the country and into Mexico and Central America. The MS-13 gang is estimated to have several thousand members, and is known for its brutality.

Alex Sanchez, the head of a gang intervention organization called Homies Unidos, was also arrested at his home in Bellflower. He is accused of taking part in some MS-13 activities, and is charged with conspiracy to commit murder.

"Also included in the indictment are racketeering charges against Alex Sanchez, the executive director of Homies Unidos, who has alleged to have engaged in racketeering activity, including a May 2006 conspiracy to commit murder during the time he and Homies Unidos were receiving substantial funds for gang intervention work," said George Cardona, chief assistant U.S. attorney.

L.A. City Councilman Ed Reyes, who supported Homies Unidos, says he's stunned by Sanchez's arrest.

"Well it's real disappointing. I mean, I along with other community leaders and the organization, you know, I feel real disappointment, real concern," said Reyes.

L.A. police say gang intervention programs are important, but they're now coming under increased scrutiny to weed out the bad apples.

"I think it certainly appears that he was actively engaged in the gang life while purporting to be a intervention worker," said LAPD Deputy Chief Charlie Beck.

Police and federal agents say the gang members are responsible for seven murders and eight conspiracies to murder, including a conspiracy to murder an LAPD gang detective.

"Five defendants, all alleged to be shot callers of MS-13's Hollywood clique, conspired to murder Los Angeles police detective Frank Flores, who has been investigating MS-13 activities for the last 10 years," said Cardona.

One of those indicted Wednesday was recently killed in some sort of gang activity and three remain at large.

Police say the arrests will severely disrupt MS-13's ability to deal drugs and recruit new members, but they will not put the gang out of business.

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