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Gerardo  Lopez

Gerardo Lopez

Former MS-13 Gang Member


Gerardo Lopez, a.k.a., Clever, has been working in gang intervention since 1998. Formerly of the notorious MS-13 from Los Angeles, Lopez escaped gang life and works to keep at-risk youth from making the same mistakes. Read More >

Growing up in the Korea Town neighborhood of L.A, Lopez was exposed to gang life from an early age. Though Lopez is not Salvadoran, he joined the pronominally Salvadoran gang, MS13, which has been the target of many politicians and media pundits as late. The origins of MS13 are interesting; a misguided foreign policy of the United States caused an influx of refugees into Los Angeles. Upon arrival, Salvadorans received the cold shoulder, and formed the gang as a way to protect themselves.

After deciding to leave the gang, Lopez became involved with Homies Unidos in 1997. The organization works to end violence and promote peace through gang intervention and prevention. Concurrently, the Los Angeles Police Department was rocked by one of the largest scandals in its history. LAPD officer Rafael Perez was arrested for stealing 6 pounds of cocaine, which opened the door to countless stories of misconduct and harassment. In 2000, Lopez and three others sued the LAPD for having been searched without warrants, stopped on baseless charge, and being beaten by officers.

Two years into the lawsuit, Lopez, moved to Colorado to start over and get away from the ongoing harassment from the LAPD. In 2003 Lopez won the lawsuit, and had begun to establish himself and his young family in Colorado, receiving a degree in Criminal Justice and working with youth in halfway houses, and mental health institutions. But his new life came to a screeching halt one day in February of 2009, when he was indicted on federal drug conspiracy charges.

An LAPD officer accepted a lateral transfer to the Aurora P.D in Colorado, in 2002 shortly after Gerardo moved there from Los Angeles and he led the investigation. While spending two years in jail, Lopez studied his case and began representing himself through court motions. He analyzed thousands of his own wiretapped phone calls and was able to challenge the evidence obtained through the intercepted calls and presented evidence that prosecutors presented false and misleading evidence to the grand jury to get him indicted. The case was dismissed by the U.S. Attorney’s office and he was freed “in the interest of justice.”

Currently Gerardo serves as the Executive Director of Homies Unidos- Denver. He works with youth on a daily basis doing gang intervention/prevention and talking to them about his history with gang violence, and how he was able to overcome the odds and leave that life behind. For his work, Lopez was also featured on 9 news “Hispanic Heritage Month.” In 2022, he joined the "Public Safety Commitee for the Human Rights, & Community Partnerships- City & County of Denver."

In July of 2017, Lopez was appointed by Denver’s Mayor as Commissioner for the Denver Office of Strategic Partnerships and he sits on Denver’s District’s Attorney’s Law Enforcement and Community Relations Council. In May of 2018, Lopez was Mayor appointed to Denver’s Police Chief Search Committee, to search and identify candidates for that position. In November of 2018, Lopez was Faculty for the Administrative Office of the United States Courts and presented at the Federal Death Penalty Strategy Session for Defense Attorney’s. In September of 2019, Lopez was Faculty for the Administrative Office of the United States Courts and presented at the Fifth Annual Symposium on Race and Ethnicity for Defense Lawyers. In February of 2020, Lopez was Mayor appointed to the selection committee in Denver’s search for a new Sheriff.

He is also the subject of the award winning short documentary, Clever, which has played in film festivals in the U.S. and Mexico. In June of 2018, Lopez also performed a TEDx MileHigh talk, which now has over 5 million views.

Recently, Lopez has become a go-to expert on MS-13, as the gang has become an ongoing target of this administration. He has shared his story on NPR’s LatinoUSA, was featured on Telemundo’s Unknown Hero Segment, Denver’s NBC affiliate, KUSA and other media outlets. Gerardo has also spoken at Denver Public Schools, Adams 14, Jefferson County, Adams 12, Colorado Courts, City and County of Denver and guest lectured at the University of Denver, Metropolitan State University, University of Colorado Boulder and presented to Judges & Magistrates at the 2017 Colorado Juvenile Judicial Institute Conference Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

I was an MS-13 gang member. Here's how I got out. | Gerardo Lopez | TEDxMileHigh

Speech Topics

Gang Prevention/Intervention

Gang Awareness & Social Media Influence

Gang Leader to a Man on a Mission to Serve: Gerardo’s Life Story

An Inside Look at the Federal Criminal Justice System

The Beginning History of the MS-13 Gang & Strategies of Rehabilitation