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Cover of Darkness: S.F. Police Turned a Blind Eye to Some of the City's Most Dangerous Criminals — Who Were Also Some of Their Most Trusted Sources 

Wednesday, May 8 2013

Page 3 of 5

Three open cases in three different Northern California counties didn't scare Sandoval straight. More perplexing is that the three cases should have led to incarceration. Defense attorneys contacted for this story remark that Sandoval's cases in San Francisco, Salinas, and Contra Costa were enough to secure a long prison sentence, and that such delays in assault and narcotics trafficking cases are atypical. Yet again and again, he was allowed to return to the streets.

Meanwhile, the feds in Sacramento were preparing the case that would ultimately lead to his arrest.

While it is unclear exactly when Sandoval started cooperating, a Feb. 2, 2010, meeting between Sandoval, his attorney, and three SFPD inspectors makes it abundantly clear that authorities knew the severity of Sandoval's crimes and defied their own guidelines by working with him. Narcotics Inspector Britt Elmore — who was present at his 2007 arrest in Richmond — led the interview, in which Sandoval received immunity from any charges relating to his testimony identifying the killers of Liri Lesku, a 34-year-old meth addict who was murdered during a robbery gone bad on Feb. 13, 2008.

Sandoval told the SFPD inspectors that his stepson and one of Sandoval's crank dealers planned to rob another dealer because both owed Sandoval money.

The dealer, Sierra Kazarian, tried to convince Sandoval to go in with her on the heist. He was hesitant, but also wanted his money: "So I told her, 'If you're going to go do it ... make sure you pay me my money that you owe me,'" Sandoval told the cops. The trio met at the house of his stepson, Tomas Gutierrez, where Sandoval admitted he kept up to a pound of meth and a .38-caliber pistol. In advance of the robbbery, other pistols traded hands between Gutierrez and Sandoval — a small-caliber Beretta pistol and a .40-caliber Smith & Wesson pistol. Gutierrez agreed to participate after Sandoval helped them plan out the robbery.

The plan was for an accomplice to buy some crank, and Kazarian and Gutierrez would come through the open door. Sandoval drove to Potrero Hill behind a van Kazarian had stolen for the occasion, and waited. A short time later, Kazarian called him, swearing frantically. After Gutierrez and Kazarian jumped in the van, Kazarian said, "Man, he just let off the whole clip.'"

They drove back to Sandoval's Pacifica home where he told them to dump their clothes. Kazarian hid the gun in the bushes.

Medical records say Lesku died from a single .40-caliber bullet wound to the head — the same caliber of ammunition found in Sandoval's house a month later. Two men who were also in the apartment survived the shooting. Gutierrez told Sandoval that one of the men had tried to jump him. "I just popped 'em," Gutierrez said. "I just popped everyone and ran out."

Gutierrez gave the .40-caliber pistol back to Sandoval, who sold it a few weeks later — another unpunished crime.

Despite Sandoval's admission that he provided the murder weapon and that the robbery was for his benefit, SFPD reassured him that he was in the clear. "This is nothing on you, Mr. Sandoval," Inspector Elmore said.

(Melinda Haag and Benjamin Wagner, the United States' Attorneys for Northern and Eastern California, respectively, would not comment on Sandoval's case.)

While Sandoval's participation in N.F.'s drug trafficking is not documented past 2007, in his 2010 interview with SFPD, Sandoval admits to dealing meth and other drugs. But SFPD had the opportunity to rein him in before Lesku's murder, notably when he was arrested in Richmond in 2007 — either the trafficking charges or the open bench warrant for assault in Monterey County could have put him away. Instead, Sandoval remained at large, with the complicity of SFPD.

And Jorge Sandoval is not alone.

Court documents and testimony reveal that SFPD and the District Attorney's office under current California Attorney General Kamala Harris protected another, unrelated, high-ranking gang-member-turned-informant from repercussions for criminal activity including drug trafficking, fraud, extortion, and weapons possession to assault and murder. Abraham H. Guerra Sr., a Norteno lieutenant and career criminal who beat an attempted murder charge because the shooting victim was too frightened to testify against him, also was shielded by San Francisco law enforcement from going back to prison again and again, despite repeated attempts by his parole officer.

SFPD denied a Public Records Act request for the department's files on Guerra. The department also refused requests for comment on Sandoval and Guerra's cooperation for this story. But Guerra's cooperation with SFPD, like Sandoval's, is spelled out in court documents, transcripts, and repeated unsuccessful attempts by other California law enforcement agencies to put him behind bars.

Guerra's cooperation might have remained obscure had he not continued committing crimes; ironically, his death was the catalyst for a chain of events that revealed his work as an SFPD informant, and the extent to which authorities intervened to prevent him from being incarcerated for numerous crimes — a freedom which directly contributed to his death.

Guerra, known on the streets as "Spanky," was a heavyset career criminal whom SFPD first arrested in 1985, when they confirmed his status as a member of the Norteno gang. The San Francisco District Attorney tried Guerra for the attempted murder of Perry Mayorga on July 9, 2001. Mayorga refused to identify Guerra as his assailant during a 2002 hearing and was held in contempt of court. Mayorga said in court he had been approached in the courthouse by an unknown man who "just asked me if bullet holes hurt." Guerra pleaded guilty to assault with a firearm and received a suspended sentence and two years of probation after serving 472 days in SF County Jail before and during the trial.

About The Author

Ali Winston


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