This is an amusing (if distressing) post about a L.A. Times puff piece from July 2005 about a man named Hector Marroquin, Sr. The article portayed Marroquin as a former gang member who “turned his life around long ago” and left the gang life:
Big Hector Marroquin still looks like the widely feared gang leader he once was. Tattoos spiral up his big arms and across his chest and a heavy gold chain hangs at his neck. His head gleams bald above a lush, chestnut goatee and a cross dangles from a pierced eyebrow. Black Ray-Bans rest on his forehead. He looks like a man who is used to being obeyed.
He turned his life around long ago by becoming a roofer, building his own company and becoming a man of peace. By the mid-1990s, law enforcement officers, ministers and a state senator were seeking him out to negotiate gang truces from Lennox to Santa Monica.
According to the article, once he was clean, Marroqin started a legitimate gang intervention agency:
Within a year, Hector Sr. had founded No Guns, a gang intervention agency funded by the city.
“No Guns.” Remember that name. It will provide comic relief later in this post. The article continues:
The Marroquins do what worked for them: Give troubled men hard work, honest money and male support. So far, 60 former felons have found construction jobs and gained union membership through their program.
The article implies that, since starting his gang intervention agency, Marroquin Sr. has had only one brush with the law, a weapons arrest which led to an acquittal. That arrest is portrayed as a cautionary tale about how unreasonable authority figures refused to believe that a man could turn his life around.:
It hasn’t been a smooth walk. In 1998, Hector Sr. was tried on illegal weapons charges and acquitted. The case and accompanying news coverage scarred his reputation.
“If a good man can turn bad, how come a bad man can’t turn good?” Big Hector asked.
This fluff job quoted exactly three people: Marroquin, and two other employees of his gang intervention agency . . . one of whom is his son.
Notably, it does not quote any police officers.
A recent L.A. Weekly story about Marroquin does quote police officers — and it paints quite a different picture of Marroquin indeed (h/t Patricia).
The L.A. Weekly article chronicles Marroquin’s several serious brushes with the law — many involving firearms — since starting “No Guns.” Police say Marroquin is a Mexican Mafia gang member who allegedly ordered a hit on a police informant — according to that informant, who is now dead. The criminal legal problems of Marroquin’s son and daughter, both of whom worked at “No Guns,” have been eye-opening as well, including his daughter’s alleged involvement in the burning of a corpse whose brains were splattered across the walls of “No Guns.” And the story also discusses how Marroquin collected big bucks from government officials, despite financial irregularities that had been revealed in an audit conducted before The Times published its puff piece.
The ugly details are in the extended entry.
The L.A. Weekly piece says:
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.
The L.A. Times article claims that Marroquin and his son, Hector Jr., both turned their lives around after Hector, Jr. was whacked in the head with a 40-ounce beer bottle in 1996, and Marroquin Sr. was shot trying to protect his son in the aftermath. Marroquin later started No Guns and employed Hector, Jr. and his daughter Charleeda. But, the L.A. Weekly article tells us, while the elder Marroquin currently faces trial on yet another gun possession charge,
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.
Remember the name of Marroquin’s organization: No Guns. Heh.
As for Marroquin’s daughter, Charleeda, who was the treasurer of No Guns?
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.
The young man’s brains had been “spattered on a wall” of the No Guns office, but the gang members present (and the mother of one of them) said the young man, who was called “Clumsy,” had died playing Russian Roulette. They apparently didn’t explain why the carpet was “missing a large cutout area” — or why “Charleeda Marroquin drove Clumsy’s body to a remote area, where she and other gang members burned his genitals and lower extremities — reasons unknown.”
I can understand why they didn’t explain that. Because it’s rather inexplicable.
San Bernardino Sheriff’s deputies’ arrest of Charleeda, the treasurer of No Guns, on suspicion of arson and accessory to murder, was no secret: It made local headlines. But, “San Bernardino sheriffs told us that the district attorney didn’t want to prosecute Charleeda,” says [Hawthorne gang investigator Sergeant Ti] Goetz. “The sheriffs told us the D.A. said it was too political, on account of Charleeda’s father. He had a lot of pull with some high-profile politicians.”
Nor has Marroquin Sr. escaped brushes with the law. In connection with the death of “Clumsy,” police searched the “No Guns” offices. Inside, they found “a police baton, a throwing knife and 18th Street gang medallions and paraphernalia.” This was a violation of Marroquin’s probation — after starting No Guns, he had been placed on probation for “turning a rifle on Sheriff’s deputies after a domestic disturbance.” But, despite the probation violation, “three months later, Marroquin and No Guns got their first City Hall subcontract to steer kids from gangs.”
The L.A. Weekly article says that Marroquin Sr.
[has] 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.
One of Marroquin’s encounters with the law can’t be adequately summarized, so I’ll quote the passage in its entirety:
One key incident places Marroquin in the middle of a complex, deadly gang scenario. According to a Sheriff’s memo generated by [Retired prison gang investigator Richard] Valdemar’s warnings, in August 1998, Marroquin allegedly held a meeting of local gangs at his own home in Lennox, ordering, at the behest of the Mexican Mafia, a “green light” on the Lennox 13 gang — the street equivalent of a license to kill.
One attendee at the meeting was snitch and Lennox 13 gang member Vito “Capone” Medina, who had been taping his phone conversations with Marroquin and talking to federal and local investigators. Medina openly balked at the order to kill members of his own gang, but other gangsters at the meeting immediately went out looking for Lennox 13 members, the memo states.
Over the next 14 days, 20 attacks occurred, including the murders of three Lennox 13 members, according to the confidential sheriff’s memo. Several nights later, on September 5, 1998, Medina’s own Lennox 13 homeboys shot him — in a grim effort to get themselves off the Mexican Mafia’s green-light list, according to the memo. Medina’s shooting led to a search of Marroquin’s house, where police seized stolen guns, cash and notes regarding phone calls from Marroquin to convicted Mexican Mafia members Bustamante and Shyrock — ironically, along with paperwork from No Guns.
Vito Medina, gravely wounded, lived almost six more months. Before he died, on April 2, 1999, he identified the shooters and insisted that Marroquin, as an associate of the Mexican Mafia, ordered his murder, the memo states. The actual gunmen who killed Medina were sentenced to just six years. Marroquin was never charged.
A police officer explains that the case against Marroquin could not be proved after the informant died:
None of this is a mystery to Detective Shonka, who interviewed the fading Medina in a hospital bed. “Because Vito got killed, the whole case went to shit,” she says of the DEA investigation that relied on Medina as a snitch. To Shonka, Marroquin never had to pay: “Hector found out Vito was an informant. He is just a good businessman. I just can’t believe he is still running this No Guns thing. He can sell his little game. He is really scary.”
I’m starting to see why the L.A. Times said Marroquin “looks like a man who is used to being obeyed.”
This wasn’t the only time that a person who posed a threat to Marroquin later died under mysterious circumstances. According to the article, police once warned Marroquin of information they had learned of a suspected threat on Marroquin’s life. They did not name the person they suspected of the plan to kill Marroquin, but weeks later, that person was killed on the streets of Cudahy. No evidence connected Marroquin to the murder and the assailant(s) were never found.
Three months before the L.A. Times ran its flattering portrait of Marroquin, he was alleged to have committed robbery, and to have threatened the victim’s life. Marroquin allegedly claimed membership in the Mexican Mafia:
Who is Hector Marroquin, touted peacemaker? Local police got another glimpse just last year, in April 2005 [the L.A. Times article was from July 2005 — Ed.], when he was arrested on suspicion of robbery, false imprisonment and making criminal threats after allegedly terrorizing a Cudahy youth overdue in paying $4,000 for luxury tires and 22-inch rims Marroquin had sold him. According to the Maywood-Cudahy Police Department report, Marroquin assaulted the youth at a bar Marroquin owns in Cudahy, stole his truck and threatened to kill him and his family. “You’re messing with the Mexican Mafia!” the report quotes Marroquin as shouting. “I run all of Cudahy! I want my money!”
Marroquin denied he stole and sold the teenager’s truck, insisting he merely kept it as collateral. Two months later, as with past cases involving Marroquin, the alleged victim declined to testify.
It’s true that the case did not result in a conviction. But it’s very curious that the L.A. Times mentioned another case of Marroquin’s — a simple weapons charge that resulted in an acquittal — but didn’t see fit to mention this arrest, which paints him in a far worse light.
But brushes with the law aren’t the only issues Marroquin has had. There are also significant questions about how he has run his taxpayer-funded business. It turns out that a city audit conducted in 2004 — before the L.A. Times published its puff piece — had revealed
No Guns’ questionable financial practices — unexplained cash withdrawals from No Guns accounts and shoddy payroll records . . .
Yet according to the L.A. Weekly, this had no effect on the city’s decision to finance No Guns. And even after Hector Jr. was arrested for home invasion robbery, a city official extended No Guns’s contract, explaining to a colleague that, according to Hector Jr., a police officer had a personal issue with the family. And when a criminal defendant says the cops have it in for him, what room is there for skepticism? If you’re a city official, your only real option is to keep throwing tax dollars at the defendant. Wouldn’t you say?
All in all, it’s a pretty good story of government malfeasance and inattention, huh? But the L.A. Times didn’t break it. Perhaps they were embarrassed by their credulous portrait of Marroquin in 2005 — a story that, according to the L.A. Weekly article, actually helped Marroquin con money out of City Hall:
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.
Do I know whether Marroquin is a criminal, or a bad guy? No, I don’t. All I know is that, reading the two articles, it really looks as though the L.A. Times did a laughably poor job of looking into this fellow’s history, opting instead for the lazy puff piece that doesn’t quote anyone who might have something bad to say about him. As a result, the L.A. Weekly has really scooped and embarrassed the L.A. Times with this one.