WASHINGTON – A member of La Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 pleaded guilty today in federal court in San Francisco to racketeering (RICO) conspiracy and conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag for the Northern District of California.
Wilbert Castillo, aka "Cypress," 29, admitted in his guilty plea that he has been associated with or a member of MS-13 since approximately 2004. Castillo admitted that he agreed with others that a conspirator would commit crimes to further the goals of the gang, including attacking and killing rival Norteño gang members and others who defied or challenged MS-13. Castillo also admitted that in September 2004, he was driving other MS-13 members in San Francisco when one of the other MS-13 members directed Castillo to stop because he saw some Norteños on the street. Castillo did as directed, and the other MS-13 member exited the vehicle with a gun and fired several shots. Later, Castillo drove onto a freeway, where the same MS-13 gunman riding in Castillo’s car fired several shots at a nearby car he believed was being driven by a Norteño gang member.
On Nov. 15, 2010, two other MS-13 members — Walter Chinchilla-Linar, aka "Demonio," 24, and Cesar Alvarado, aka "Momia," 20 — pleaded guilty to RICO conspiracy and conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering. Chinchilla-Linar and Alvarado each admitted to being part of a group of MS-13 gang members who went "hunting," or looking for, Norteño gang members during the early morning of July 31, 2008. The group of MS-13 members eventually found and surrounded three teenagers in the vicinity of Persia and Madrid Streets in San Francisco’s Excelsior District. Alvarado admitted that he and others surroundedthe three teenagers and held them at knife point, questioning two of the teenage boys about their gang affiliation and checking them for gang symbols , while Chinchilla-Linar admitted to acting as a look-out. Chinchilla-Linar and Alvarado both admitted that one teenager then ran away and that two of their fellow MS-13 members pursued the teenager, caught up with him, and then stabbed and killed him.
The maximum penalty for the RICO conspiracy charge is life in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for the conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing for Chinchilla-Linar and Alvarado is scheduled for Feb. 8, 2011. Sentencing for Castillo is scheduled for March 29, 2011.
These guilty pleas are the most recent in a series of pleas by MS-13 gang members to racketeering charges arising out of a multi-year investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations, called "Operation Devil Horns," which targeted MS-13 gang members in the San Francisco Bay area. Castillo, Chinchilla-Linar and Alvarado were previously indicted along with 26 other individuals as part of Operation Devil Horns. Since the original charges against MS-13 were unsealed on Oct. 22, 2008, three superseding indictments have been returned charging additional defendants as well as additional crimes. Sixteen defendants are still pending trial, currently scheduled to begin on March 7, 2011.
An indictment contains merely allegations and the remaining defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys W.S. Wilson Leung, Wil Frentzen and Christine Wong, and Trial Attorney Theryn G. Gibbons of the Criminal Division’s Gang Unit. The case was investigated by ICE Homeland Security Investigations.