WASHINGTON – Seven members of the gang known as La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, were sentenced to prison Tuesday for their participation in a racketeering enterprise, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Anne M. Tompkins for the Western District of North Carolina.
All seven defendants were sentenced by Chief U.S. District Judge Robert J. Conrad Jr. of the Western District of North Carolina.
· Heverth Ulises Castellon, aka “Misterio” and “Sailor,” was sentenced to 240 months in prison and five years of supervised release;
· Jaime Sandoval, aka “Pelon,” was sentenced to 222 months in prison and five years of supervised release;
· Jose Efrain Ayala-Urbina, aka “Peligroso,” was sentenced to 168 months in prison and five years of supervised release;
· Santos Canales-Reyes, aka “Chicago,” was sentenced to 144 months in prison and five years of supervised release;
· Alexi Ricardo Ramos, aka “Pajaro,” was sentenced to 108 months in prison and five years of supervised release;
· Mario Guarjardo-Garcia, aka “Speedy,” “Iran Guerrero-Gomez,” and “Luis Angel Galindo,” was sentenced to 94 months in prison and five years of supervised release; and
· Nelson Hernandez-Ayala, aka “Sixteen,” was sentenced to 42 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
“These prison sentences send a strong message that participating in a gang like MS-13 will have serious consequences,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. “The Department of Justice and our partners in state and local law enforcement will continue aggressively to prosecute and seek significant prison sentences for individuals who participate in violent, criminal organizations.”
“The impact of gang-related criminal activities on a community like Charlotte is a major concern of law enforcement and residents. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, along with our law enforcement partners, pledges to continue with our swift and thorough response to gangs who persist as substantial threats to our public safety,” said U.S. Attorney Tompkins.
On May 18, 2010, four other MS-13 members were sentenced to prison for their participation in the same conspiracy.
· Yelson Olider Castro-Licona, aka “Diablo,” was sentenced to 75 months in prison and three years of supervised release;
· Oscar Manuel Moral-Hernandez, aka “Truchon,” was sentenced to 34 months in prison and three years of supervised release;
· Manuel Cruz, aka “Silencioso,” was sentenced to 27 months in prison and three years of supervised release; and
· Javier Molina, aka “Big Psycho” and “Gringo,” was sentenced to time served and three years of supervised release.
All 11 defendants previously pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy (RICO) charge, admitting that they conspired to participate in a pattern of racketeering activity with others involved in the MS-13 gang in the Western District of North Carolina and elsewhere from approximately 2003 until July 27, 2009. This activity included murder, robbery, extortion, witness tampering, obstruction of justice, distribution and possession with intent to distribute cocaine and marijuana, and various federal firearms violations.
The RICO count to which all eleven defendants pleaded guilty charged that each defendant, along with others, were involved in the MS-13 gang throughout North Carolina, including Mecklenburg, Guilford, Wake, and Durham counties, and elsewhere. According to court documents, each of the individuals was required to complete an initiation process, often referred to as being “jumped in” or “beat in,” in order to join MS-13. Court documents further describe that each member engaged in criminal activity and was sometimes required to commit acts of violence to maintain membership and discipline within the gang, including violence against rival gangs. Gang members were responsible for preserving and protecting the power, territory, reputation and profits of the gang through the use of intimidation, violence, threats of violence, assaults and murder.
The RICO conspiracy charge was part of an indictment originally returned by a federal grand jury in Charlotte, N.C., in June 2008. The indictment charged 26 members of MS-13 with conspiring to participate in the affairs of a racketeering enterprise and the related criminal charges. Six of the 26 members were convicted in January 2010 by a federal jury in Charlotte of criminal charges including the RICO conspiracy, murder, attempted murder, assault, cocaine trafficking and numerous related federal firearms offenses. Those six defendants are currently in federal custody awaiting sentencing.
According to the indictment, the MS-13 gang is a violent international criminal organization composed primarily of immigrants or descendants of immigrants from El Salvador. The purpose of the racketeering enterprise and conspiracy was to preserve and protect the power, territory and profits of the MS-13 enterprise through violent assault, murder, threats of violence and intimidation.
On April 19, 2010, a federal jury found Alejandro Enrique Ramirez Umana guilty of the RICO count; two counts of murder in aid of MS-13; two counts of murder resulting from the use of a gun in a violent crime; possession of a firearm by an illegal alien; one count of extortion; and two criminal counts associated with witness tampering or intimidation. On April 28, 2010, the federal jury voted unanimously to impose the death penalty against Umana. Umana is also currently in federal custody awaiting a July 27, 2010, formal sentencing hearing.
The long-term investigation was initiated by the FBI’s North Carolina “Safe Streets” Gang Task Force when a witness came forward with information about the violent operations of a single MS-13 cell operating out of the Charlotte area. The Task Force is composed of the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, and the Gastonia, N.C., Police Department. The FBI’s MS-13 National Gang Task Force played a significant role in coordinating the international aspects of the investigation, and additional critical assistance was provided by the Transnational Anti-Gang (TAG) Center. Additional investigative support was provided by the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, as well as the Greensboro Police Department and the Durham Police Department. Substantial assistance has been afforded by the U.S. Marshals Service for the Western District of North Carolina. The investigation of the wide-sweeping enterprise resulted in the prosecution of 26 MS-13 members. Eighteen of the defendants have pleaded guilty to the RICO conspiracy in the indictment. Eleven of those defendants have now been sentenced and seven other defendants who have pleaded guilty await sentencing.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kevin Zolot, Jill Rose and Adam Morris from the U.S. Attorney’s office for the Western District of North Carolina, and Trial Attorney Sam Nazzaro from the Criminal Division’s Gang Unit.