Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal
Jonathan Tony Sanchez wasn’t your typical convicted felon. So, too, his recent federal trial on charges of being a felon in possession of a firearm and ammunition was far from ordinary.
The FBI had identified Sanchez as one of eight members of the ultra-violent Syndicato Nuevo Mexico prison gang on the streets of Albuquerque who had been solicited in 2015 to kill the then-Cabinet secretary of the New Mexico Corrections Department, and two other prison administrators and their families.
Sanchez, 36, of Albuquerque, wasn’t charged in that years-long racketeering prosecution of the gang and the murder plot was foiled. But when Sanchez was arrested at an Albuquerque apartment in March 2021 for violating his state parole on a drug conviction, the FBI and federal prosecutors were interested in the .40 caliber semi-automatic pistol found at the scene – a weapon that later showed traces of his DNA.
During his three-day federal trial on the gun charge last week, Sanchez was permitted to wear makeup in court to hide his trademark gang tattoos. U.S. District Judge David Urias of Albuquerque also granted defense motions that forbade prosecutors from using Sanchez’s gang name, Kilo, or mentioning his SNM gang affiliation.
The government also couldn’t mention that he had absconded from state parole at the time state fugitive investigators and Bernalillo County Sheriff’s deputies forced their way into a Wellesley NE apartment when no one inside heeded calls to come out.
Government photos showing the breached door were banned at trial. Investigators who testified merely said they had to open the door and wait inside until Sanchez came downstairs because they were serving a warrant.
Urias – appointed to the bench earlier this year – granted several defense motions to exclude what federal prosecutors argued was admissible evidence. The defense deemed it prejudicial or irrelevant to the firearms case.
But after two hours of deliberation on Thursday, the jury found Sanchez guilty – a conviction that carries up to 10 years in prison.
Defense attorneys Michael Rosenfield and Phillip Sapien couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.
But their defense focused primarily on what was found on the handgun, which was inside a small open purse on a table near the front door. The purse belonged to Sanchez’s girlfriend, who is now his wife, Guadalupe Sanchez. She had been charged with bringing contraband into prison in 2020, but that state charge was dismissed after she entered a pre-prosecution diversion program. Neither she nor Sanchez testified.
At trial, a DNA expert from the FBI testified that 84% of the DNA found on the firearm came from a female, 14% from Sanchez and 2% from an unidentified male.
The defense argued that Sanchez’s DNA could have been transferred to the gun without him ever touching it. That could have occurred by his personal contact with his girlfriend who might have left his DNA on the weapon, Sanchez’s attorneys maintained.
The state was barred from asking witnesses about Sanchez’s being a fugitive from justice when he was arrested, after defense attorneys convinced the judge that doing so would make it appear their client was an “irresponsible convict.”
At the time, law enforcement was seeking Sanchez after he absconded from parole for possession of a control substance. He had prior convictions for robbery, trafficking a controlled substance and receiving/transferring a stolen vehicle. As a felon, he can’t possess firearms or ammunition.
The morning of his arrest, an officer from the Corrections Department’s Security Threat Investigation Unit testified, they used loud sirens and a public address system to get someone to open the door. Then they pushed the front door in. An FBI criminal complaint said it took Sanchez another 15 minutes to come down from upstairs where he was with another alleged SNM member.
FBI Special Agent Bryan Acee, who has led the FBI investigation into the SNM’s criminal activities, testified on Wednesday that he was contacted after the pistol was recovered and was later told by Sanchez’s girlfriend that she owned the gun. Sanchez, in an interview, admitted his DNA might be on the gun, Acee testified.
Acee didn’t mention the SNM while on the witness stand, but did identify himself to the jury as the coordinator of the FBI’s Violent Crime Gang Task Force.