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Jury convicts gang member of RICO, sentenced to 30 years

BRADENTON — A Palmetto man was sentenced to 30 years in prison after a jury Thursday convicted him of gang-related racketeering charges.

Jimmy Sanchez, 23, was found guilty of racketeering and conspiracy to commit racketeering after an eight-day trial and almost two hours of jury deliberations.

Sanchez, also known as “Peanut,” was convicted of being a member of a criminal enterprise, the SUR-13 street gang, and committing gang-related crimes from 2005 to 2007.

Circuit Judge Debra Riva sentenced Sanchez to 30 years on each count, but ordered his sentences to run concurrently.

During trial, statewide prosecutors Tom Smith and Diane Croff used witnesses to detail Sanchez’s criminal history, including a 2005 robbery charge and a 2006 gun charge.

Several SUR-13 gang members testified Sanchez is in the gang.

In her closing argument, Croff called SUR-13 members’ lives deadly and senseless, and said they show a “complete disregard for human life.”

“Let Mr. Sanchez know that street justice is not tolerated. Justice is administered in the courtroom,” Croff said.

Prosecutors showed jurors autopsy photos of Stacy Williams III, 9, and Travis Pompey, 22. SUR-13 member Aurelio Ibarra testified he killed Pompey during a Nov. 13, 2005, robbery. He testified Sanchez drove the car he was riding in when he shot Pompey.

In July, SUR-13 member Orlando Valenzuela was convicted of second-degree murder in Stacy’s May 21, 2007 shooting death.

SUR-13 member Johnny Vazquez testified he drove the car as Valenzuela fired the fatal shot from the backseat.

He told jurors that the night he joined the gang, he was taken to a home for approval from gang leader Gerardo Agustin, who Sanchez said was a good friend.

In his own defense, Sanchez testified he was not a SUR-13 member. He said he only hung out occasionally with gang members to get his hair cut.

His defense attorney Ron Filipkowski argued his client should not be found guilty merely by association.

“Compare them with Hell’s Angels,” Filipkowski said during his closing argument. “People associate with them and ride with them despite that some people in that group commit crimes,” Filipkowski said.

Sanchez was arrested in July 2007 during “Operation Tidal Wave,” an anti-gang sweep by the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and the statewide prosecutor’s office.

The project signaled a new tactic by the sheriff’s office to fight a gang population that reportedly numbers more than 600 members in Manatee.

Of the 14 SUR-13 defendants charged, 13 of them avoided lengthy prison sentences by accepting plea deals with prosecutors.

Sanchez is the second alleged gang member to take his racketeering case to trial in Manatee County.

Eric Santiago, a member of the Brown Pride Locos, was convicted at trial last year and was sentenced to 30 years.