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Broken Bridges 

Did City Hall’s plan to fight gangs bankroll a gangster?

Wednesday, Dec 13 2006
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A black Lincoln Navigator sits abandoned in a dead-end alley off Atlantic Avenue in South Gate, its owner miles away, though not willingly. Across the alley, police have finished interviewing workers about a near-deadly shooting inside their workplace, a furniture outlet, and Hector Marroquin is undergoing surgery at nearby St. Francis Hospital in Lynwood.

Police say Marroquin — a gang intervention worker who has received money and praise from ?some of L.A.’s best-known politicians — was shot in broad daylight on this warm mid-November day. Inside the furniture outlet, bullets have ripped through dining and bedroom sets, scattering wood fragments and splinters; a window fronting Firestone Boulevard now sports a gaping hole. Employees are trying to stay quiet about what just went down.

Lieutenant Darren Sullivan of the South Gate Police Department says six young Latino men confronted Marroquin near his auto-body shop, an argument erupted, and the men chased Marroquin to the furniture outlet, where one pulled a 9 mm gun and shot at him four times. Two bullets tore through his torso and exited near his spine, sending Marroquin (pronounced mar-oh-keen) to the E.R., where he survived. Police sources can’t agree on whether it was gang-related or not.

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At first blush, Marroquin’s shooting suggests a cautionary tale about how gangsters gone straight can still face violent retribution. Call it an occupational hazard for Marroquin, a former 18th Street gang member working with City Hall to reduce gang membership in L.A.’s toughest neighborhoods through No Guns, the nonprofit enterprise he founded in 1997. Since its inception, No Guns has been showered with millions of dollars by government agencies. In the past three years, L.A. Bridges — the Los Angeles City Council’s $100 million project to keep kids from joining gangs — has poured nearly $1.5 million into Marroquin’s No Guns coffers.

But a closer look unveils a disturbing reality that raises fundamental questions about a major premise of taxpayer-funded L.A. Bridges: the belief inside City Hall that the virtually unmonitored use of former gang members like Marroquin and his deeply troubled family is a legitimate way to reach out to kids. No Guns stands out because city officials had ample notice that Marroquin ultimately couldn’t escape gang culture himself, police sources say. Several anti-gang programs are financed by taxpayers, at a cost of $26 million per year, including L.A. Bridges, yet City Hall bureaucrats cannot provide any concrete figures proving they have reduced gang activity. A 2003 city-funded audit found that it’s “impossible to count, document and verify” whether children have been drawn away from gangs.

Criminal justice expert Connie Rice went further: She declared the entire citywide gang-reduction system broken.

With almost half of the 49 recipients of L.A. Bridges money now employing former gangsters, the inability of the Community Development Department to keep watch over the City Council’s dream project, launched in 1996, strongly suggests that taxpayers have underwritten a boondoggle that operates with few safeguards.

In the case of so-called peacemaker Hector Marroquin, veteran investigators who have probed his activities for years believe he lives a double life as a menacing tax collector for the Mexican Mafia, the prison-based crime syndicate that controls the Latino street drug trade throughout Southern California. That grim assessment is supported by local police, Drug Enforcement Administration reports and L.A. Sheriff’s Department memos obtained by the L.A. Weekly, including transcripts of taped phone conversations between Marroquin and confidential informants. Some investigators believe Marroquin’s shooting last month was sanctioned by the Mexican Mafia, which has threatened Marroquin before, though some police officials say the job was too sloppy to be a professional hit.

“People were hopeful for Hector to clean up the streets,” says L.A. County Sheriff’s Department detective Karen Shonka. “He would pitch a good pitch. But he is a bad person. He always gets away with things because of the way the system works.”

This dark, alternate view of Marroquin is in stark contrast to the protective embrace of Marroquin by City Hall. In fact, L.A. Bridges officials kept money flowing to No Guns even after Marroquin was arrested in March — for gun possession — and long after his children, Charleeda and Hector Jr., employed in key positions at No Guns, became mired in violent and bizarre incidents.

Marroquin faces trial in January on a felony gun-possession charge, while Hector Jr. — an admitted 18th Street gang member who worked as a youth counselor at No Guns — now sits in jail, facing trial in January on a home-invasion robbery charge involving a mother and her baby the day after Christmas in 2005. Police investigating the home invasion confiscated from Hector Jr.’s home a small arsenal: a Czech Luger, a Glock, a Beretta Tomcat and a Smith & Wesson automatic pistol.

But perhaps the most unsettling case, for a bunch calling themselves No Guns, involves Charleeda Marroquin, an admitted member of the Hawthorne Lil Watts gang who was appointed treasurer of No Guns by her father. Police arrested Charleeda in 2001 after she and fellow gang members admitted dumping the badly mutilated body of a young man — shot at close range in the head at No Guns’ offices — near her dad’s property in San Bernardino. The victim was found with his hands and genitals badly burned. Local authorities ruled the grisly incident an accidental suicide while the coroner ruled it a homicide. Charleeda was arrested for arson for the postdeath mutilation, but troubled Hawthorne police, pointing to Marroquin’s City Hall connections, say the San Bernardino District Attorney refused to prosecute her because it was “too political.”

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