Gang member decides to plead

By Joe Gorman


A leader of a South Side street gang tried to fire his lawyer Wednesday but changed his mind when he was told he would not be granted a continuance of his trial date, which is three weeks away.

Instead, Ruben Sanchez, 18, of Hilton Avenue, entered pleas of guilty to two counts of illegal possession of weapons because of a previous conviction, felonious assault and participating in a criminal organization in Mahoning County Common Pleas Court.

Sentencing will be sometime in July. Martin Desmond, an assistant county prosecutor, is recommending a 10-year sentence, which Sanchez agreed to.

Sanchez was indicted in 2011 when he was 17, and his attorney, Paul Conn, said at least twice he has taken plea deals to his client, but Sanchez has rejected them.

He offered a plea deal to his client Wednesday, but Sanchez said he wanted a better deal and wanted to fire Conn and hire his own attorney. Conn was court-appointed to represent Sanchez.

They went to put his request before Judge Maureen A. Sweeney, but Judge Sweeney told Sanchez if he fired Conn she would not continue his trial for a new lawyer, which was set to begin July 8.

Judge Sweeney told Sanchez it is not up to defense attorneys but prosecutors to offer plea deals.

“If they [prosecutors] don’t want to deal with you, they don’t have to,” Judge Sweeney said.

She asked Sanchez if he thought three weeks was enough time for a new attorney to prepare to defend him. Sanchez said no.

He then agreed to keep Conn as his attorney, and Desmond negotiated for about an hour before a deal was reached late Wednesday afternoon.

Desmond said Sanchez is one of the leaders of the H Block street gang on the South Side, which has a center of operations around Hilton Avenue.

A county grand jury indicted Sanchez and three others on charges they possessed guns illegally and committed robberies and other acts of violence as gang members.

Another person who was indicted with Sanchez, O’Keefe Brown, is expected to appear today before Judge Sweeney in a pretrial hearing.

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