An article in today’s LA Times about the arrest of an anti-gun activist for gun-running has thrown up some similarities to policing problems here. Corruption is the same the world over, eh?
Former 18th Street gang member Hector “Weasel” Marroquin for years was celebrated and rewarded for having turned his life around.
He founded the anti-gang organization NO GUNS and received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the city for his efforts to help steer Latino youths away from a life of crime. His champions included former state Sen. Tom Hayden.
But his arrest this week on charges of selling firearms to federal undercover officers underscored concerns long held by people familiar with Marroquin’s background that he had not left his criminal life behind.
“I never for a moment believed that he ever left the life,” said Connie Rice, a civil rights attorney and former member of the Los Angeles Police Commission who noted that she saw Marroquin at meetings of anti-gang agencies. “I always thought he was using the system.”
Marroquin, 51, was arrested Thursday at his Downey home on charges of selling several guns, including a machine gun, two silencers and two rifles, to undercover officers.
In the mid-1990s, claiming to have left the gang life, Marroquin formed NO GUNS — Networks Organized for Gang Unity and Neighborhood Safety — headquartered in Lennox. Over the next decade, NO GUNS emerged as one of the area’s few anti-gang groups run by Latinos.
In 2000, the Sheriff’s Department called in NO GUNS to help quell riots between Latinos and blacks at its Pitchess Detention Center.
But some law enforcement officials believed that Marroquin was a front man for the Mexican Mafia prison gang and that NO GUNS was a facade for illegal activity and a channel for public funds.
One was Richard Valdemar, a retired sheriff’s sergeant and expert on gangs who led an investigation that resulted in the first federal racketeering trial of Mexican Mafia members; it resulted in the conviction of 13. Valdemar said the Mexican Mafia has a long history of using anti-gang and drug rehabilitation groups as fronts to acquire public funds.
“This is a major part of their operation,” said Valdemar, whom Marroquin unsuccessfully sued for defamation of character in 2002.
Bill Martinez, director of gang intervention programs for Toberman, said NO GUNS was hired because it was the only group in South Los Angeles working with Latino gangs. Over the next three years, NO GUNS collected more than $1.5 million in city funds as a subcontractor.
Marroquin’s organization was contracted to help find job training for gang members and to mediate cease-fires, said Angela Estell of the city’s Community Development Department.
The contract continued even though in December 2005, Hawthorne police arrested Marroquin’s son, Hector Jr., known as “Little Weasel” and a principal in NO GUNS. He and another man were charged with a home-invasion robbery. Police said he had several weapons in his house. That case is scheduled for trial next week.
Last summer, NO GUNS lost its city contract after it was discovered that Marroquin had used funds to hire many of his family members, said Gloria Lockhart, director of Toberman Settlement House.
Marroquin’s case illustrates the potential problems that public agencies face when they hire people with criminal pasts for gang prevention work.
Hayden, author of “Street Wars: Gangs and the Future of Violence,” recalled asking Marroquin to help halt violence among Westside gangs in the late 1990s. Marroquin mediated and found construction jobs for several dozen gang members hanging drywall at the Playa Vista development, Hayden said.
“Police will tell you, when things are really violent … these intervention workers are key to calming it down,” Hayden said. “These guys perform a service. If they backslide, well, who doesn’t?”