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June 28, 2011

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Jury Convicts Four Hermanos Pistoleros Latinos Gang Members of Drug and Firearms Charges

LAREDO, Texas – Late yesterday afternoon a federal jury convicted four members of the Hermanos Pistoleros Latinos (HPL) street gang of various charges arising from a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) sting operation, United States Attorney José Angel Moreno announced today.

Mark Anthony Milan, 26, Cristobal Cervantes, 28, and Luis Eduardo Alvarez, 27, all of Laredo, were found guilty of conspiracy with intent to distribute 25 kilograms of cocaine and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. A fourth defendant, Michael Porras-Castillo, 25, also of Laredo, along with Milan and Cervantes, were found guilty of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. All four defendants have been remanded into the custody of the United States Marshals Service pending their sentencing on Oct. 11, 2011.  All four defendants are self-professed members of the HPL.    

During trial before U.S. District Judge Micaela Alvarez, the jury heard testimony from ATF agents that Milan came to the attention of the ATF last year when Milan attempted to buy 25 machine guns he intended to sell in Mexico from an undercover ATF agent. That deal was called off by the ATF agent when the money was not timely produced.

However, ATF initiated a separate investigation into Milan after learning that Milan had expressed an interest in committing home invasions to a confidential source. In February 2011, Milan met with a second undercover ATF agent (UC) on three separate occasions. Each time Milan was accompanied by Cervantes. During each meeting, the UC, who posed as a disgruntled truck driver, Milan and Cervantes discussed burglarizing a residence purportedly containing 25 kilograms of cocaine. The UC was to receive five kilograms of the contraband for the information. It was agreed that the burglary would take place on March 9, 2011, and a final meeting between the UC and the defendants was set to occur on that date in advance of the operation.

On March 9, 2011, at their final meeting before executing the planned home invasion, Milan and Cervantes were accompanied by co-defendants Porras-Castillo and Alvarez. All four of the defendants were dressed all in black, with Russain SKS assault weapons, body armor, gloves, handcuffs and ski masks. The UC spoke with the four defendants briefly as they sat in their vehicle and briefly reviewed the planned invasion and drugs to be taken. As planned, before the “home invasion” could occur, other ATF agents observing the planned meeting, moved in and arrested all four defendants.

During trial, Milan and Cervantes attempted to convince the jury they had been entrapped by the UC, that is, they claimed they would not have been involved in the conspiracy had the UC not suggested it. Their attempt proved unveiling as the jury found them both guilty of conspiring to possess with intent to distribute the 25 kilograms of purported cocaine. Porras and Alvarez claimed they had been recruited to commit a home invasion to collect money which was owed and denied any knowledge of cocaine. The claim proved unavailing for Alvarez who was convicted of the drug conspiracy charge. Porras, who claimed a limited understanding of the English language, was acquitted of the drug conspiracy, but found guilty along with Milan and Cervantes of being a felon in possession of a firearm. Convicted felons are prohibited by law from possessing firearms or ammunition.  

Assistant United States Attorney James Ustynoski represented the United States at trial and is prosecuting the case.