Gang conspiracy investigation could hamper violence prevention organization

Thursday, April 28, 2022
Gang conspiracy investigation could hamper violence prevention organization
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One of the men implicated in the gang murder conspiracies was an employee of Advance Peace.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- An organization collecting taxpayer money to help cut down on gang violence may be hampered by the massive gang investigation culminating in more than forty arrests in the last few weeks.

One of the men implicated in the gang murder conspiracies was an employee of Advance Peace.

Leonard Smith wasn't supposed to be here, back in court, facing charges that could land him in prison for the rest of his life.

His attorney tried to get Smith out of jail Wednesday, at least until a trial on charges including conspiracy to commit murder.

RELATED: Advance Peace employee among dozens of defendants arrested in 'Operation No Fly Zone'

"I asked the court to release Mr. Smith on his own recognizance or an ankle monitor," said defense attorney Mark King.

By law, Judge Jonathan Conklin had to assume the allegations were all true. He denied bail, saying there's no condition or combination of conditions to assure the safety of victims in the case, and the community in general.

Community safety was supposed to be Smith's purpose with Advance Peace.

His job called on him to constantly contact gang members to prevent gun violence, but he denies any further gang connections.

"Mr. Smith tells me that he has not been involved in gang activity for more than a decade," King said.

Smith isn't allowed to have guns since a 1998 conviction for attempted murder. He has no convictions since '98.

Now he's charged not only with the alleged murder conspiracy, but also two gun crimes.

"He's trying to obtain some guns," said legal analyst Tony Capozzi of the charges against Smith in two criminal cases. "I think he's now been charged with possession of some guns and then he's leaking information to gang members."

In charging documents, prosecutors say Smith shared information with gang members about a police murder investigation.

RELATED: 43 arrested, 2 mass shootings stopped during gang takedown operation, Fresno police chief says

Capozzi says that act alone could hamstring Advance Peace.

"Whatever was released to Smith was allegedly given to some of the gang members," he said. "That's a total violation and this may impact the entire agreement with the police department or the MAGEC task force."

Three Fresno City Council members told Action News they'll wait for all the details before forming an opinion about Advance Peace and its city funding.

The organization released a statement after Smith's arrest and its leaders tell us they think the community still believes in what they're trying to accomplish, despite the charges against Smith.

Smith is now due back in court next week and legal analysts say you can expect the case to move a little more quickly with him in custody.

He could raise the bail issue again at a later date.

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