WASHINGTON –Danilo Velasquez, aka “Triste,” a local leader of La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, was sentenced yesterday in federal court in San Francisco by U.S. District Judge William H. Alsup to life in prison, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag for the Northern District of California and Director John Morton of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Velasquez was convicted in November 2011 by a federal jury of racketeering-related charges. At sentencing, Judge Alsup described the defendant as a “vicious murderer.”
Velasquez was part of the violent, transnational gang known as MS-13, which claimed part of the Mission District of San Francisco as its territory and operated in the Bay Area since the 1990s. Velasquez joined the “20th Street” clique, or local MS-13 chapter, in 2004. Since its inception, MS-13 members have warred with rival gang members and sought to extort payments from other criminals in its territory. When the federal government indicted the majority of the 20th Street clique members on Oct. 22, 2008, Velasquez assumed leadership on the streets. T he evidence presented at trial showed how Velasquez, with others, conspired to commit a variety of crimes to further the goals of the gang, including attacking and killing rival gang members and others who defied or challenged MS-13.
During Velasquez’s trial, the government presented evidence of multiple murders committed by MS-13 members in 2008. Several of the victims were not involved in gangs or any illegal activity, including a 14-year-old, but were mistaken to be rival gang members by MS-13 members.
The evidence at trial showed that on Feb. 19, 2009, Velasquez and fellow gang members Luis Herrera, aka “Killer” and Jaime Balam, aka “Tweety,” went looking to kill rival gang members in the San Francisco Bay area. In the Excelsior District of San Francisco, they spotted a car of young Latino professionals – two were college graduates of UC Berkeley, one a law student at UC Hastings, one a bank employee and another a student at City College in San Francisco who was working his way through school at the time. According to evidence presented at trial, these victims were targeted because some of the men wore baseball caps in colors associated with rival gang members. None of the victims were gang members themselves.
Herrera, Velasquez and Balam followed the victims’ car into Daly City, Calif., boxed the car in at a red light, whereupon Velasquez and Balam flanked the victims’ car carrying semi-automatic handguns and began shooting. By the time they finished firing, they had severely wounded two of the passengers and murdered a third passenger, Moises Frias Jr. Frias, who was 21-years-old, suffered nine gunshot wounds, including several to the head. He died en route to the hospital.
Herrera pleaded guilty mid-trial to seven racketeering-related counts, including use of a firearm causing the death of Frias. As part of his plea, Herrera admitted that he was part of the MS-13 hunting party that followed the victims’ car and murdered Frias. Herrera was sentenced on Jan. 24, 2012, to 35 years in prison. Balam remains a fugitive.
Velasquez’s trial was the second of three consecutive federal trials of members of the 20th Street clique of MS-13. Six of Velasquez’s fellow MS-13 gang members were convicted in August 2011 after a five-month trial that involved more than 150 witnesses. The six gang members – Marvin Carcamo, aka “Psycho”; Angel Noel Guevara, aka “Peloncito”; Erick Lopez, aka “Spooky”; Moris Flores, aka “Slow Pain”; Jonathan Cruz-Ramirez, aka “Soldado”; and Luis Herrera’s brother Guillermo Herrera, aka “Sparky” – were each sentenced to life in prison in December 2011.
Today, a federal jury convicted the sole defendant in the third trial, Manuel Franco, aka “Dreamer,” on one count of violent crime in aid of racketeering (VICAR) conspiracy.
These cases were prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Wilson Leung, Wil Frentzen, Derek Owens, Andrew Scoble and David Hall of the Organized Crime Strike Force of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California, and Trial Attorney Theryn G. Gibbons of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section. These cases were investigated by Daly City Police Department, San Francisco Police Department and ICE Homeland Security Investigations.