The Los Angeles chapter of the Young Presidents' Organization, a global network of young chief executives, featured a mystery guest at its January meeting whose attendance is proving to be quite controversial.
The event's speaker began his lecture on building organizations from behind a screen. The audience of around 175 Southern California business leaders under the age of 45 could only see his silhouette.
Imagine their surprise when they discovered they were listening to Rene "The Boxer" Enriquez, a notorious former Mexican Mafia hit man who shot a guy five times in the head, ordered a woman killed, and took part in numerous armed robberies, stabbings, sexual assaults, and drug deals.
"It was not until the curtain was lifted that the audience saw Enriquez standing on a small stage, in a black business suit, with his hands cuffed to waist chains and his legs in shackles," wrote Los Angeles Police Commission Inspector General Alexander Bustamante in a report released Tuesday. "After the handcuffs were removed, Enriquez revealed that he was serving two life sentences for murder, and that he was a former high-ranking member of La Eme."
Bustamante's report has raised serious questions about how and why the Los Angeles Police Department allowed Enriquez to leave jail to dispense his pearls of wisdom.
"There is a lot you can criticize," Julie Buchwald, the community relations coordinator in Bustamante's office, told VICE News.
But she wouldn't discuss the findings in the report. Her silence stems from the litigation that's likely to occur once the police department starts examining the details of Enriquez's speech.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Deputy Chief Michael Downing, a 32-year veteran of the force who oversees its counter-terrorism bureau, sent his lawyer to a police commission meeting on Tuesday to demand officials discuss Bustamante's report in private only. The report never mentions Downing, but officials clammed up anyway.
"The fact there was this lawyer at the commission yesterday, it shut down the whole discussion," said Buchwald.
The Los Angeles Police Department, Mayor Eric Garcetti, and members of the City Council didn't return calls for comment placed by VICE News.
At the police commission meeting, Police Chief Charlie Beck said he didn't know about the speech and was launching an investigation into it.
"I have said in the past, and I'll continue to say it: I have issues with the way the event was conducted," Beck said, according to the Times.
The investigation could take a year, Buchwald said.
A major issue in the investigation will be whether police could legally bring Enriquez to the speech. Technically, the police have custody of Enriquez, but they're only supposed to take him out of detention to testify as a court witness, the inspector general's report said. Beck claimed cops weren't breaking any rules.
In the meantime, the report provides a look into the bizarre world of 52-year-old Enriquez, who has been incarcerated for around 26 years. Police spent $22,000 and 60 hours planning the speech.
"Such a plan included identifying safe houses along the route in case the operation was compromised," the inspector general's report said.
The Young Presidents' Organization didn't return calls for comment. The group's invitation billed Enriquez' speech as a "once in a lifetime" event, according to the inspector general's report. "You will be… amazed, shocked, blown away, and maybe even a little scared," the invite stated.
Enriquez is no stranger to addressing crowds. Cops allow him to regularly help teach criminal justice courses at the University of California at Irvine via live video streaming. He's addressed police conferences, he's written books, and was the subject of a bestselling biography called The Black Hand.
And he likes his notoriety. "This has been a dream of mine," he said, according to the Times.
Enriquez has helped police understand Mexican criminal networks — making him a prime target for those gangs. Law enforcement officials even recommended he receive parole, but California Governor Jerry Brown rejected that idea in February.
It's not extraordinary for authorities to take convicts out of jail, Rutgers Criminologist Andres Rengifo told VICE News. Still, while Renfigo wasn't privy to details about Enriquez's speech, he felt something was amiss.
"The idea of people on the outside being exposed to an inmate is not necessarily a bad idea," Renfigo said today. "But who gets to decide when it is a good idea or a bad idea?"