News and Press Releases

Twenty-Six Members Of MS-13 Indicted On Racketeering, Narcotics, Extortion And Firearms Charges

June 24, 2008

Three Members Alleged to Have Committed Gang-Related Murders in Charlotte and Greensboro

Greensboro — A federal grand jury in Charlotte, N.C., charged 26 members of the violent gang known as MS-13 with federal racketeering and related crimes occurring in the United States and El Salvador, Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey and Assistant Director Kenneth W. Kaiser of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division announced today. U.S. Attorney Anna Mills Wagoner for the Middle District of North Carolina and Greensboro Chief of Police Tim Bellamy were also present in Charlotte for the announcement, as the group has significant ties to Greensboro and the Middle District.

The 55-count indictment returned on June 23, 2008, alleges that the defendants conspired to participate in a racketeering enterprise, called La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, in the United States and El Salvador. The indictment alleges that from 2003 to June 2008, the defendants conspired to operate as a gang; committed four murders; formed a drug trafficking conspiracy involving cocaine and marijuana; distributed narcotics; committed multiple robberies; illegally possessed firearms, including in connection with crimes of violence and narcotics offenses; committed acts of extortion and threats of violence; assaulted others, often with deadly weapons; and intimidated witnesses and obstructed justice. One of the gang’s leaders allegedly exercised a leadership role with respect to various MS-13 gang activities from prison in El Salvador, communicated with MS-13 gang members in the United States and on multiple occasions received money wired by various MS-13 members. The indictment was returned on June 23, 2008, and unsealed today.

As alleged in the indictment, two of the four murders committed by MS-13 members occurred in Greensboro. Specifically, the indictment alleges that on December 8, 2007, defendant Alejandro Enrique Ramirez Umana, aka “Wizard,” or “Lobo”, murdered Ruben Garcia Salinas and Manuel Garcia Salinas in Greensboro, and that Umana later escaped to Charlotte with the help of Cesar Castillo, aka “Chino”, Julio Cesar Rosales Lopez, aka “Stiler”, and others. The indictment also alleges that some of the defendants met in Greensboro on various occasions to discuss gang business.

“Criminal gangs such as MS-13 increasingly recognize no borders, which means that international cooperation is more important today than it ever was before,” said Attorney General Mukasey. “This case highlights the importance of, and the successes that flow from, such cooperation in the disruption and dismantling of violent international criminal organizations.”

“MS-13 and gangs like it use brutal violence and intimidation to control neighborhoods and further their illegal money-making activities,” said Assistant Director Kenneth W. Kaiser, FBI Criminal Investigative Division. “This indictment sends a resounding message that the MS-13 National Gang Task Force, the Transnational Anti-Gang Initiative, and other efforts of the FBI and our partners in the U.S. and overseas are proving to be effective tools in combating gang violence. Standing together, we are more formidable than any adversary.”

The 26 defendants named in the indictment include: Manuel de Jesus Ayala, aka “Chacua”; Alejandro Enrique Ramirez Umana, aka “Wizard,” “Lobo”; Heverth Ulises Castellon, aka “Misterio,” “Sailor”; Julio Cesar Rosales Lopez, aka “Stiler”; Juan Gilberto Villalobos, aka “Smoke,” “Smokey”; Elvin Pastor Fernandez-Gradis, aka “Tigre,” “Flaco,” “Juan Alberto Irias,” “Freddy”; Juan Ruben Vela Garcia, aka “Mariachi”; Jose Jamilcar Garcia-Bonilla, aka “Psicopata,” “Sicario”; Yelson Olider Castro-Licona, aka “Diablo”; Carlos Ferufino-Bonilla, aka “Tigre”; Nelson Hernandez-Ayala, aka “Sixteen”; Mario Melgar-Diaz, aka “Nino”; Alexi Ramos, aka “Pajaro”; Carlos Roberto Figueroa-Pineda, aka “Drogo”; Cesar Yoaldo Castillo, aka “Chino”; Alexander Granados, aka “Gorilon”; Michael Steven Mena, aka “Cholo”; Johnny Elias Gonzalez, aka “Solo”; Jaime Sandoval, aka “Pelon”; Santos Canales-Reyes, aka “Chicago”; Jose Efrain Ayala-Urbina, aka “Peligroso”; Oscar Manuel Moral-Hernandez, aka “Truchon”; Santos Anibal Caballero Fernandez, aka “Garra”; Manuel Cruz, aka “Silencioso”; Javier Molina, aka “Big Psycho,” “Gringo”; and Mario Guajardo-Garcia, aka “Speedy,” “Iran Guerro-Gomez.” Many of the defendants are unlawfully present in the United States. Fernandez-Gradis and Guajardo-Garcia have also been charged with returning to the United States unlawfully after having been deported.

The Middle District Safe Streets Task Force, formed three months ago and led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, assisted in arresting Alejandro Enrique Ramirez Umana, aka “Wizard,” in Rowan County. Defendant Julio Cesar Rosales Lopez, aka “Stiler” was already in federal custody in the Middle District pending other charges, and Jaime Sandoval, aka “Pelon,” Santos Canales-Reyes, aka “Chicago,” and Jose Efrain Ayala-Urbina, aka “Peligroso” are in state custody pending other charges.

“This indictment points out how mobile and far-reaching organized gangs have become, and highlights the need for cooperation between federal law enforcement and prosecutors and their state and local partners,” said Anna Mills Wagoner. “For that reason, the Safe Streets Task Forces are invaluable.”

If convicted, the defendants charged in the RICO conspiracy count face a maximum of 20 years in prison. Thirteen of the 26 defendants face enhanced penalties of up to life in prison as a result of their alleged participation in acts involving murder and drug trafficking that furthered the RICO conspiracy. The Hobbs Act robbery count, attempted robbery count and extortion conspiracy count each carry a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. Defendants convicted of tampering with a witness also face a maximum of 20 years in prison. The obstruction of justice charge carries a maximum 10 year prison sentence. Those charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice and tampering with witnesses face a maximum of five years in prison as do those charged with possession of a firearm in connection with a crime of violence. Defendants charged as aliens or felons in possession of a firearm or possession of a firearm and ammunition face a maximum prison sentence of 10 years on each count.

The charged counts of cocaine distribution and possession with intent to distribute each carry a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. The charge of conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute cocaine in excess of five kilograms and marijuana carries a penalty of 10 years to life in prison. The charge of being an accessory to assault with a deadly weapon in aid of racketeering carries a maximum 10 year prison sentence. Those defendants charged with assault with a deadly or dangerous weapon face a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and those charged with firearms offenses related to drug trafficking face a maximum prison sentence of five years in prison. Defendants convicted of illegal use of a communications facility face a maximum sentence of four years in prison. The defendants charged with illegally entering the United States after being deported face a maximum prison sentence of two years. The indictment also contains a forfeiture allegation.

The charges in this indictment span two countries, three states, four federal districts and several North Carolina cities. The charges stem from a long-term investigation initiated by the FBI “Safe Streets” Gang Task Force from North Carolina, which is composed of the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 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 this case, with additional critical assistance provided by the Transnational Anti-Gang (TAG) Center. TAG was created last year by the Department of Justice, including the FBI’s MS-13 National Gang Task Force and the El Salvador National Civilian Police (PNC) with funding provided by the Department of State. 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, N.C., Police Department. Substantial assistance has been afforded by the U.S. Marshals Service for the Western District of North Carolina, the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office, the Raleigh, N.C., Police Department, the Durham County Sheriff’s Office and the North Carolina Highway Patrol.

An indictment is not evidence of guilt. All persons charged with a crime are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

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