By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
L.A. City Hall’s reaction to the implosion of the No Guns family operation speaks volumes about the L.A. Bridges program.
For three months after the recent home-invasion robbery arrest of Hector Jr. and the weapons-possession arrest of Hector Sr., L.A. Bridges director John Chavez went limp. Chavez actually extended No Guns’ contract an additional month, while he obsessed over whether the No Guns debacle would hurt the image of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Moreover, Chavez’s first impulse was to act as apologist for the Marroquins, e-mailing a City Hall colleague: “Hector Jr. alleges that there is a personal issue with one [police] officer against the Marroquin family.”
Only after a call from Fox 11 news reporter Chris Blatchford in late April did Chavez begin seriously looking into No Guns’ questionable financial practices — unexplained cash withdrawals from No Guns accounts and shoddy payroll records — exposed in a 2004 city audit. Marroquin also blatantly ignored orders from L.A. Bridges leaders, in December 2005, to stop hiring his relatives — a practice prohibited by the city contract.
Meanwhile, City Controller Laura Chick says she never investigated No Guns, although this year she sought their financial records from a city department.
The nepotism was glaring. According to city officials, Marroquin and his wife and two kids were taking down taxpayer-funded salaries totaling more than $200,000 per year — almost half the L.A. Bridges grant. After Blatchford's persistent questions, Chavez finally ordered funds to No Guns frozen last May. (Fox has yet to air a story on Marroquin's City Hall connections.)
Despite numerous investigations, police have never charged him with Mexican Mafia–related crimes. He’s been arrested repeatedly and charged with felonies while doing business with Los Angeles City Hall and the County Probation Department. But many times, witnesses have refused to cooperate — and family members have taken blame for guns found at his house.
“There's been a long pattern of harassment from law enforcers,” says Patrick Smith, lawyer for Marroquin and his son. “He works with gang people. It's his job. Some people don't want to believe a former gang member can leave gang life.”
Supporters of purported gang reduction programs also prefer to believe police are out to get the Marroquins — a view nurtured in City Hall. But police say Marroquin is a clever thug, capable of shaking off multiple arrests even as his family-run No Guns raked in public monies.
At the very least, Marroquin, inhabiting what one of his admirers, former state Senator Tom Hayden, calls a “world of shadows,” is an advertisement for L.A. Bridges’ flailing gang-reduction efforts and poor supervision by public officials.
To fans like Hayden, Marroquin is a peacemaker. In 1998, he negotiated an end to a spree of gang killings in Santa Monica between members of the Santa Monica Barrios and the Culver City Boys. In 2001, he ran a training program involved in the hiring of 900 gang members and felons to work construction jobs on the massive Playa Vista project. A touching L.A. Times story in 2005 described Marroquin — a burly, bald-headed man with an “Aztec Warrior” tattoo, known on the street as “Weasel” — choking back tears of redemption. The message for years has been: Weasel left his old life behind.
Marroquin’s emotional confession and street knowledge impressed the right people and helped him win fat contracts. Thanks in part to his No Guns salary of close to $90,000 a year, he enjoyed all the trappings of mainstream success, such as his Navigator and numerous properties and businesses, including a bar he purchased for $645,000 in 2004 in his wife and daughter’s names. But Marroquin, 50, had a rougher start. The former altar boy grew up fatherless. His mother abandoned him at age 14. He married at just 16, and by 18 he and his wife, Charlotte, had Hector Jr. By then, he’d already jumped into the 18th Street gang, and from 1976 on his life was a series of arrests on charges including marijuana and gun possession and resisting arrest.
He claims a pivotal moment came in 1996, when a youth smashed a 40-ounce beer bottle over the back of Hector Jr.’s head. Marroquin ran to his son’s aid and was shot. Transformed by the shooting, he started No Guns. After that, his efforts in luring away kids from the chaotic thrill of gang life kept him out of trouble — or so the story went.
His tale of redemption captured the imagination of influential people like L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca, Inglewood Mayor Roosevelt Dorn and Hayden, who seemed to appreciate his potential to stop violence and help kids. Yet when he stepped into the Santa Monica gang strife in 1998, Marroquin was on probation for turning a rifle on Sheriff’s deputies after a domestic disturbance. Police sources say a felony conviction would have stuck, but Hayden intervened. Marroquin’s attorney said he didn’t intend to point the rifle at anyone. “Hector had credibility on the street,” Hayden says. “He’s been in a lot of jams, and the police have always been after him. He was sticking his neck out and was taking risks that were important to ending the violence.”