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
The job back in 2001 was to work the streets, talking youths out of joining gangs. “I really enjoyed working with them,” recalled a Bethune Middle School supervisor. “I liked Hector a lot. He was very responsive. If we would have a [racial] fight on the campus we would call him. .?.?. He was always cordial.”
But after Central Recovery Development Project lost its contract for failing to oversee subcontractors like No Guns and attracting an IRS tax levy, Marroquin eventually joined up with another contractor willing to vouch for his services, Toberman Settlement House. Toberman House funneled a half million dollars a year from Los Angeles taxpayers to No Guns, which was hired to work in South L.A. council districts, particularly focused on more than 50 gang organizations, including 18th Street, Crazy Riders, Mid-City Stoners, Florencia 13, Grape Street, Crenshaw Mafia, Block Crips and Rollin’ 40’s. No Guns employees, former gang members themselves, counseled youth on race relations, parenting skills, the dangers of substance abuse and ways to escape gang life.
In a 2005 fiscal report, the Community Development Department found that Toberman failed to monitor No Guns and other subcontractors — and that Marroquin ignored orders to clean up his subpar management. City Hall was so lax that even clear rules like the ban on nepotism — former gangsters hiring relatives to bring in even more money from the city — were blatantly ignored. At No Guns, for example, Marroquin’s wife, son and daughter were paid employees, along with Marroquin, reaping more than $200,000 in salary and benefits, city officials say.
The latest chapter in the Marroquin saga poses critical questions: Are the Los Angeles City Council and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa going to hold anyone accountable for the No Guns debacle and try to root out other similar potential disasters?
On May 11, Marroquin’s son, Hector Jr., a project director at No Guns, was indicted on a felony home-invasion robbery charge after a harrowing incident just after Christmas in 2005, when he and three other gang members allegedly kicked down the door of a No Guns employee as his wife and baby cowered on a bed. At Hector Jr.’s residence in Lennox, police turned up a fully loaded Czech Luger 9 mm automatic, a loaded .32 Beretta Tomcat, an unloaded Glock, an unloaded Smith & Wesson 9 mm automatic, loads of ammunition and a copy of the 18th Street gang injunction issued by Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo. Hector Jr., who faces up to 40 years in prison if convicted on robbery and weapons charges, insists he merely drove a client home the night of the home invasion. Smith, his lawyer, says the alleged victim is lying.
State and federal agencies searched four Marroquin family properties, including Hector Sr.’s home in Downey, looking for Hector Jr. On a March 9 raid of Hector Sr.’s house, they found a gun in his bedroom. Court records say Marroquin shouted, “Who put this here?” and looked at his daughter, Charleeda, who paused — then said it was her gun. She was booked on a possession-of-drug-paraphernalia charge, but police did not buy her tale about the gun. Marroquin’s gun-possession trial is set for January.
Remarkably, despite Hector Sr.’s weapons charge, and right after the raid on Hector Jr.’s weapons cache, city officials handed more taxpayer funds to No Guns. On March 31, John Chavez, director of L.A. Bridges, approved “one more month” to No Guns.
Chavez seemed oblivious to the fact that the city was now openly using taxpayer money to bankroll a suspected felon. As Chavez fretted in e-mails over adverse publicity that might affect Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a director at Toberman House tried to assure him with her reply: “Just take a deep breath and we’ll get through this.”
Even now, after city officials forced Marroquin and his son to resign from No Guns, the city still pays Marroquin’s wife, Charlotte. In June, she became the new head of No Guns — at $39,000 a year.
In a display of bureaucratic understatement, David Esparza, assistant general manager of the Community Development Department, wrote in a letter to Toberman House: “The circumstances surrounding the [arrest] incident seem unfortunate, but also raise concerns about the commitment of No Guns to assist youth in moving away from gang violence and criminal activity.”
Hector Marroquin is not like most people. In his world of shadows, the difference between a gangster and an ex-gangster is a matter of degrees. That’s what makes the underlying premise of L.A. Bridges so hard to swallow — and perhaps is why L.A. Bridges is just one of many such programs about to receive a second jarring report from criminal justice expert Connie Rice, questioning two decades of assumptions in using tax dollars to reduce gangs.
USC professor Malcolm Klein, who has watched the city slowly grasp his warnings of a decade ago, says overreliance by bureaucrats on guys like Marroquin is a dicey proposition. “You take older gangsters and ask them to set an example, be a goody-two-shoes, and it’s unfair. They can talk about their glory days as a means of bonding with kids who are headed down that path, and they form this emotional connection. It gets lost in the dialogue that they are supposed to be steering kids away from that very same path.”