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Friday, 8 June 2012

Gangster-Turned-Lawyer Returned to Crime, Faces Sentencing in July


18:45 | ,

Isaac Guillen's life story about leaving his Riverside, Calif. gang to become a criminal lawyer was so good, it inspired a television show produced by Jennifer Lopez in 2006 called "Brethren." Like the television show, however, the story proved fictional. Guillen was indicted with 39 other members and associates of the 18th Street Gang on charges of racketeering and money laundering. Guillen pleaded guilty earlier this year and faces sentencing this summer for using his client privileges to gain access to what is widely considered the highest security prison in the country -- the Florence Federal Correctional Complex in Colorado -- and serving as a go-between for an imprisoned gang leader and the 18th Street Gang. Guillen's story began in Riverside, where was initiated into the Devil Wolves when he was 11 years old, according to the Los Angeles Times. He was arrested for burglary, assault and car theft over the years, and was handed over to the California Youth Authority more than once. Years later, when a rival gang fired shots at his apartment, where he lived in with his wife and toddlers, he decided to quit drinking and enrolled in community college. (He also got custody of the kids after he and his wife divorced.) By 1997, Guillen graduated from UCLA with a law degree. Guillen's rap sheet held him back during his job hunt, but lawyers at the federal public defender's office, including Ellen Barry, took a chance on him, according to the L.A. Times. Barry took Gullien along on interviews in a Mexican Mafia murder case, and she urged the state bar to admit him despite his criminal record. The new lawyer earned a reputation among prisoners for taking the time to talk to clients because he was from the streets himself. In 2003, Guillen met Francisco "Puppet" Martinez, a member of the Mexican Mafia who was under federal lockdown for racketeering in Los Angeles. When Martinez asked Guillen to pass a message to Gullien's current client, Alberto "Nefty" Pina, he thought there might be more to the messages, he later said, but he passed them on anyway. When Gullien accepted payment for Pina's appeal, Pina's sister also handed him $15,000 for Martinez. He put it in a safe. In 2004, a judge told Guillen about a plot to have him killed. Martinez used his influence to take care of it, and regularly reminded Gullien that he saved his life. "I felt like I owed him something," Guillen said in court, according to the L.A. Times. Gullien and Martinez became business partners in a limousine service, a liquor distributor and a real estate holding corporation, according to an FBI press release. The Times describes how Guillen would receive "wads of cash" of up to $17,000 from gangsters in a Denny's parking lot near Interstate 10. He also crossed the border with $50,000 hidden around his waist to deliver to Martinez's family in Mexico. In court earlier this year, Guillen said he laundered $1.3 million and was paid $180,000 for his gang work between 2003 and 2008, according to the L.A. Times. Police began to crack down on the gang after its members shot a newborn baby while targeting a street vendor. Drug profits were down, and all three of Guillen and Martinez's businesses went under. In 2009, Guillen was indicted and sent to a federal detention center, where he's been ever since. Guillen was initially unwilling to cooperate with law enforcement, but once lawyers showed him a letter from Martinez ordering that Guillen be "taken out," Guillen agreed to plead guilty and testify against four other Mexican Mafia members on the federal government's behalf, federal prosecutor Kevin Lally told ABC News. Sentencing is expected to take place this summer. Guillen was found guilty on 12 felony charges – one count of racketeering conspiracy, one count of money laundering conspiracy and 10 counts of money laundering. He could face life in prison. Neither Guillen's mentor, Ellen Barry, nor his lawyer, William S. Harris, returned phone calls from ABCNews.com.


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