U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow today sentenced Roberto Antonio Argueta, aka "Alex Antonio Cruz," aka "Buda," 29, of Hyattsville, Md., to life in prison, plus an additional 35 years, for ordering the murder of Nancy Diaz and the attempted murder of another juvenile girl. A 12-person federal jury voted today to impose a sentence of life in prison without parole on Argueta.
The conviction and sentence were announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Special Agent in Charge Theresa R. Stoop of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives - Baltimore Field Division; Chief Roberto L. Hylton of the Prince George’s County Police Department; Special Agent in Charge Richard A. McFeely of the FBI; Special Agent in Charge William Winter of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement; Chief J. Thomas Manger of the Montgomery County Police Department; and Chief Darien L. Manley of the Maryland National Capital Park Police.
On March 4, 2010, the jury found Argueta guilty of conspiracy to commit murder in aid of a racketeering enterprise known as MS-13; conspiracy to participate in racketeering; murder in aid of racketeering; murder resulting from the use of a gun in a violent crime; two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering; and two counts of using a gun during a violent crime.
According to testimony presented during the eight-week trial, Argueta was a leader of the Langley Park Salvatruchos (LPS) clique of La Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13. The gang is composed primarily of immigrants or descendants of immigrants from El Salvador, with members operating throughout Prince George’s County and Montgomery County, Md., and elsewhere inside and outside of the United States.
Witnesses testified at trial that on Sept. 17, 2004, Argueta and other MS-13 gang members stabbed a rival gang member with broken bottles and knives outside a nightclub in Langley Park, Md. Trial evidence established that in October 2004 Argueta led a gang meeting in Prince George’s County in which he and other gang members discussed plans to kill Nancy Diaz. The jury found, based on the evidence presented at trial and during the penalty phase, that Argueta ordered the murder of Nancy Diaz. On Oct. 25, 2004, two other MS-13 members drove Diaz and another juvenile female to the George Washington Cemetery in Adelphi, Md. According to testimony, another MS-13 member shot and killed Nancy Diaz, and shot the other girl in the face and stabbed her twice in the chest to attempt to make sure she was dead. The victim survived and she later identified her assailants.
Israel Ernesto Palacios, aka "Homie," 32, of Silver Spring, Md., was sentenced on Nov. 10, 2008, to life in prison for his role in the murder and attempted murder. James Guillen, aka "Toro," 23, of Hyattsville, Md., who drove the MS-13 members and victims to the cemetery, pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and was sentenced on Jan. 11, 2008, to 262 months in prison. Jeffrey Villatoro, one of the murderers of Nancy Diaz, was prosecuted in the Circuit Court of Prince George’s County and received a life sentence for his crimes. Another of the murderers, Jesus Canales, pleaded guilty in federal court to racketeering conspiracy, including the murder of Nancy Diaz. A sentencing date for Canales has not yet been set by the court.
To date, 51 MS-13 members have been charged in the District of Maryland with various federal offenses. Twenty-five MS-13 members have been convicted at trial or have pleaded guilty to racketeering charges and 19 have pleaded guilty to other charges, primarily immigration or gun violations. Four of these defendants have been sentenced to life in prison for their crimes. One remaining defendant faces a capital trial scheduled to begin in June 2010.
The case was prosecuted by Deputy Chief James M. Trusty and Trial Attorney Laura J. Gwinn of the Criminal Division’s Gang Unit, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur of the District of Maryland.
The case was investigated by members of the Regional Anti-Gang Enforcement (RAGE) Task Force. The Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Office and the Montgomery County State’s Attorney Office also provided assistance in the case.