CeaseFire worker gets 27 months in prison for federal gun conviction

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A CeaseFire anti-violence worker was sentenced Tuesday to 27 months in prison for obtaining a gun illegally. | Sun-Times file photo

A worker for the Chicago anti-violence group CeaseFire was sentenced Wednesday to 27 months in prison after pleading guilty to being a felon in possession of a firearm.

Francisco “Smokey” Sanchez, a 51-year-old “violence interrupter” whom federal prosecutors claimed was a national leader of the Two-Six Nation street gang, told investigators that he obtained the gun for protection after “his own people” had opened fire on him last spring.

“Your work with CeaseFire is commendable, but it baffles me that you decided that the way to deal with the violence directed at you was to obtain a gun,” U.S. District Judge John Z. Lee said while handing down the sentence.

“Of all people, Mr. Sanchez should know that violence begets violence,” Lee said.

Prosecutors had sought four years for Sanchez, citing wiretapped conversations between Sanchez and Two-Six members that they said showed “that he retained decision-making authority in the gang.”

In one conversation, Sanchez was quoted as saying: “N—– you shoot at us we shoot at you.”

“These are not the words of a person who claims to be stopping violence in the City of Chicago or trying to convince others to walk away from criminal gang activity,” prosecutors wrote in a memo. “Instead, they are the words of a gang leader, a person who, as the government has shown through substantial and reliable evidence, promoted and encouraged violence in the City of Chicago through his words and actions.”

Lee ruled that the wiretaps didn’t prove Sanchez was a gang leader.

Sanchez, who showed no reaction in court on Tuesday, will get credit for the time served since his May 2017 arrest. His attorneys declined to comment after the sentencing hearing.

Gary Slutkin, CEO of Cure Violence — the University of Illinois at Chicago-based organization that oversees CeaseFire — testified on Monday that, when he read the transcripts of Sanchez’s secretly recorded conversations, he “saw mediations.”

“Frank is extremely respectful,” Slutkin said. “He’s quiet. He does not use cuss words. This is the language that he speaks there with them.”

Slutkin also said supervisors on the Cure Violence staff were aware of the “mediations” as they were happening.

In a memo requesting Sanchez’s sentence be limited to time served, defense attorneys called him “an extraordinary person who turned his life around after his release from prison in 2008.”

Sanchez served 24 years in prison after being convicted of killing a rival gang member in 1986, defense attorneys wrote.

Police and federal agents raided Sanchez’s Brighton Park home last spring and found a Colt .45-caliber handgun inside a metal container designed to look like a book, according to a criminal complaint.

Investigators also found a bulletproof vest and “a sweater vest with a Two-Six insignia on it and the name, ‘Smokey,’” along with a copy of the gang’s bylaws, prosecutors said.

Sanchez was among dozens of alleged gang members who were arrested shortly before Memorial Day weekend last year following a two-year investigation by federal agencies and Chicago Police.

In February 2017, The Trace, a nonprofit media organization that covers gun violence, highlighted Sanchez’s work in trying to stop the shootings in Little Village as a CeaseFire conflict mediator. The story, published in the Chicago Sun-Times, noted that Sanchez grew up in Little Village and was a gang chief by the time he was a teenager.

Sanchez is among about almost a dozen CeaseFire workers who have been charged with serious crimes while working for the organization over the past decade. They’ve been accused of everything from stealing jewelry to domestic battery to drug offenses.

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