WASHINGTON — A former leader of La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, pleaded guilty today in federal court in San Francisco to racketeering (RICO) conspiracy, conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, and the use or possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag for the Northern District of California.
Ivan Cerna, aka “Tigre,” 34, admitted that since at least the late 1990s, he was a member of MS-13 in the San Francisco Bay area. Cerna admitted that he agreed with other MS-13 members that the gang would engage in acts involving murder, including the murder of rival gang members and others who defied or betrayed MS-13, such as individuals who cooperated with law enforcement against the gang. In 2004, following the murder of the then-leader of MS-13’s San Francisco clique, Cerna assumed the leadership of MS-13 in San Francisco and held this position until roughly 2006. As the leader, according to court documents, Cerna exhorted members of the gang to defend their turf by attacking rival gang members as well as to avenge attacks by rival gang members committed on members of MS-13. Cerna also possessed guns and directed others to arm themselves with guns in order to further the activities of MS-13.
In addition, two MS-13 members pleaded guilty on Jan. 7, 2011, to similar charges. Aristides Carcamo, aka “Indio,” 32, pleaded guilty to RICO conspiracy, conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, and conspiracy to commit robbery affecting interstate commerce. Carcamo admitted that he had been a member of MS-13 since roughly 2004 and that he agreed with other MS-13 members to commit crimes to further the goals of the gang, including acts involving murder, narcotics trafficking, robbery affecting interstate commerce and extortion. Carcamo also admitted that he possessed firearms related to and in furtherance of his membership in MS-13. Carcamo also admitted that between Oct. 10, 2008, and Oct. 22, 2008, he agreed with others, including another MS-13 member, to rob a jewelry merchant.
In addition, Jose Quinteros, aka “Fantasma,” 25, pleaded guilty to RICO conspiracy and conspiracy to commit assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering, also arising from his involvement in MS-13.
The maximum prison term for the RICO conspiracy charge is life for Cerna and Carcamo, and 20 years for Quinteros. RICO conspiracy also carries a maximum fine of $250,000. The maximum penalties for the conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering are 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, while the maximum penalties for the conspiracy to commit assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering are three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence charge carries a mandatory minimum prison term of five years and a maximum term of life in prison, as well as a fine of up to $250,000. The robbery conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing for Cerna is scheduled for March 29, 2011. Carcamo is scheduled to be sentenced on March 22, 2011, and Quinteros is scheduled to be sentenced on April 5, 2011.
These guilty pleas are the most recent in a series of pleas by members of MS-13, a transnational gang, 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. Cerna, Carcamo and Quinteros 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. Thirteen defendants are still awaiting trial, which is 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 Y. Wong, and Trial Attorney Theryn G. Gibbons of the Criminal Division’s Gang Unit. The case was investigated by ICE Homeland Security Investigations.