WASHINGTON – Seven MS-13 members and leaders of La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, have been sentenced to prison this week, after being convicted or pleading guilty to criminal charges that include racketeering, murder, attempted murder, assault, cocaine trafficking and numerous related federal firearms offenses. The sentences were announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Anne M. Tompkins for the Western District of North Carolina.
To date, 25 of the 26 defendants originally charged in the June 2008 indictment have been sentenced for their roles in the racketeering activities of MS-13, a national and international criminal enterprise.
“These sentences reflect the severity of the defendants’ crimes, which included murder, attempted murder and racketeering,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. “As we have done in this case, we will continue to target the leaders and most violent members of street gangs like MS-13. We refuse to let these violent groups terrorize our communities and, as these defendants have learned, we will seek stiff prison sentences for their crimes.”
“Today we saw that organized crime is no match for law enforcement. The thugs of MS-13 preyed on the most vulnerable and defenseless amongst us,” said U.S. Attorney Tompkins. “Due to the combined efforts of local, state and federal law enforcement, the threat posed by this criminal enterprise has been neutralized. The sentences today demonstrate that criminal gangs can expect swift justice and harsh punishment. MS-13 and other gangs have my full attention.”
“We are steadily disrupting MS-13’s grip on communities in Charlotte, dismantling the leadership and significantly impacting its ability to operate. Not only are these gang leaders going to prison for extended periods of their lives, the ability to replace them will be made difficult by our persistent interagency investigative efforts,” said Joseph S. Campbell, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in North Carolina. “This case was successfully investigated by dedicated prosecutors and law enforcement personnel, and has become groundbreaking in scope.”
Chief U.S. District Judge Robert J. Conrad Jr. sentenced the following defendants this week:
All of these defendants, except Ferufino-Bonilla, were convicted at trial in January 2010 of conspiring to engage in a racketeering enterprise in the Western District of North Carolina, El Salvador and elsewhere, beginning at least in January 2003 and continuing through July 27, 2009. The evidence at trial showed that the MS-13 enterprise planned and committed various criminal acts, including robbery and extortion, obstruction of justice, tampering with witnesses, conspiring to distribute and possessing cocaine and marijuana, distributing and possessing with intent to distribute cocaine, illegally using communication facilities, murder and conspiring to commit murder. Testimony and evidence introduced during the trial showed that the enterprise also communicated with its leadership in El Salvador, protected its territory, enforced discipline among members, and collected debts through a pattern of racketeering activities that included the murders of seven people in North Carolina and Los Angeles, attempted murder, assaults and threats of violence. MS-13 member Alejandro Umana was previously convicted at trial and sentenced to receive the death penalty for five of the murders in North Carolina and Los Angeles.
Fernandez-Gradis was convicted of two charges involving the shooting and killing of 17-year-old Ulisses Mayo-De La Torre in South Charlotte, N.C., on April 12, 2008. Evidence at trial showed that Fernandez-Gradis killed Mayo-De La Torre because his cousin was wearing a red shirt, the color of a rival gang. Fernandez-Gradis fired multiple shots into the vehicle where the victim was merely a passenger, killing Mayo-De La Torre . Caballero Fernandez, who the evidence at trial showed was present at the shooting, was convicted of being an accessory after the fact to the murder. The evidence at trial showed that Caballero Fernandez helped Fernandez-Gradis escape and took the murder weapon the next day. Caballero Fernandez was found with the murder weapon approximately one month after the murder. Both Fernandez-Gradis and Caballero Fernandez were also convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm by an illegal alien, as well as other charges.
Rosales Lopez, one of the gang’s leaders whom the evidence showed was sent by MS-13 leaders in El Salvador to run what members called “The Program” in the Charlotte and Greensboro, N.C.-areas, was convicted of robbing a victim whom he suspected of dealing drugs in a Charlotte nightclub controlled by MS-13. Rosales Lopez was also convicted of being an accessory after the fact to a double homicide perpetrated by Umana in a restaurant in Greensboro in 2007. In addition, Rosales Lopez was convicted of conspiracy to commit extortion.
Villalobos, whom the evidence at trial showed was the one of the main drug suppliers for the gang and keeper of many of its guns, was convicted of a variety of drug and gun crimes in connection with his MS-13 membership, as well as conspiracy to commit extortion. The evidence at trial showed that Villalobos “controlled” the Mi Cabana and El Vaquero nightclubs in Charlotte on behalf of MS-13.
Gonzalez was convicted of RICO conspiracy. In connection with that charge, the jury found that Gonzalez participated in and was responsible for a robbery-murder of Yonni Alexander Morales Maradiaga, who was shot and killed by another MS-13 member during the robbery in East Charlotte, N.C., in early August 2005.
Figueroa Pineda was convicted of RICO conspiracy, drug conspiracy, two counts of possession with intent to distribute marijuana and possessing a gun during one of those drug crimes. In connection with the RICO conspiracy charge, the court found him responsible for the attempted murder of a victim by use of a vehicle, causing permanent brain injury.
Ferufino-Bonilla pleaded guilty on July 10, 2009, to RICO c onspiracy involving multiple armed robberies, extortion and possession of a firearm by illegal alien.
Four additional defendants have also been sentenced since June 2010, when prison sentences were announced for 11 of the 26 defendants:
· Cesar Yoaldo Castillo, 23, aka “Chino,” was sentenced on Jan. 4, 2011, to 392 months in prison;
· Michael Steven Mena, 24, aka “Cholo,” was sentenced on Oct. 5, 2010, to 127 months in prison.
· Jose Amilcar Garcia-Bonilla, 27, aka “Psicopata,” “Sicario,” ‘Lucio Caesario” and “Jose Luis Ferufino” was sentenced on Oct. 4, 2010, to 78 months in prison; and
· Mario Melgar-Diaz, 32, aka “Nino,” was sentenced on Oct. 5, 2010, to 68 months in prison.
Evidence presented at the January 2010 trial showed that the long-term investigation of four of the murders was initiated by the FBI’s “Safe Streets” Gang Task Force from North Carolina when a witness came forward and explained how the killings were part of the violent operation 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 (ATF), U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), 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) Unit. Additional law enforcement 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, especially with regard to security during the two-week jury trial.
The cases were 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.