LOS ANGELES – An investigation by federal and local authorities has resulted in a federal racketeering case that charges 22 people linked to the MS-13 transnational gang, most of whom allegedly participated in a series of murders, including several slayings in which victims were hacked to death with machetes in the Angeles National Forest.
A 12-count indictment unsealed Monday afternoon alleges that members and associates of the gang murdered seven people over the last two years. The indictment charges gang leaders who allegedly authorized and coordinated the murders. Also charged are gang members who allegedly murdered and attempted to murder rival gang members, those who were perceived to be cooperating with law enforcement, and, in one instance, a homeless man who was temporarily living in a park controlled by the gang.
The indictment focuses on a particularly violent subset of the gang known as the Fulton clique, which operates in the San Fernando Valley and has recently seen an influx of young immigrants from Central America. Under the influence of these young gangsters, younger associates who wanted to become members of MS-13 were “required to kill an MS-13 rival or someone perceived to be adverse to MS-13 to be initiated into MS-13,” according to the indictment.
In one murder detailed in the indictment, several MS-13 members allegedly targeted a rival gang member who was believed to have defaced MS-13 graffiti. On March 6, 2017, according to the indictment, the rival gang member was abducted, choked, and driven to a remote location in the Angeles National Forest, where six people attacked him with a machete. The victim was dismembered, and his body parts were thrown into a canyon after one of the defendants allegedly cut the heart out of the victim’s body.
The federal RICO case – which was unsealed Monday during arraignments for three defendants who were taken into custody over the past several days in the Los Angeles area – is the product of an investigation by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Task Force on Violent Gangs, which is made up of special agents with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, officers with the Los Angeles Police Department, and deputies with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. A fourth defendant was arrested over the weekend in Oklahoma.
Over the past year, the other 18 defendants named in the indictment were taken into custody, some on state charges and some on federal charges previously filed. The superseding indictment announced today, which was returned by a federal grand jury on July 9, adds 15 defendants to an indictment filed in March.
“We have now taken off the streets nearly two dozen people associated with the most violent arm of MS-13 in Los Angeles, where the gang is believed to have killed 24 people over the past two years,” said United States Attorney Nick Hanna. “This investigation has been an unqualified success. The collaborative law enforcement effort solved several murder cases and dealt a severe blow to members of the gang who engaged in acts of brutality not seen in the region for over 20 years. The prosecution of these defendants would not have been possible without the backing of local law enforcement, including District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who has supported our efforts every step of the way and has dedicated substantial resources to ensure that all of these defendants get the justice they deserve.”
“Taking violent offenders off the street should send a message to MS-13 members and their associates that medieval-style violence and senseless murder will not be tolerated in Los Angeles,” said Paul Delacourt, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “Working with our local partners, we expect to impact MS-13’s influence in gang-occupied communities.”
“The greatest tragedy in these cases is that these young victims likely left their homelands hopeful that in the United States they would find safety and prosperity,” Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said. “Instead, these victims had the misfortune of crossing paths with violent gang members who preyed on the vulnerabilities of their immigrant experience. My office will vigorously prosecute these defendants and continue to work with other agencies to enhance public safety in the communities where MS-13 and other brutal gangs operate.”
“Today’s charges are the product of diligent work and a steadfast resolve that we will not let violent criminals continue to victimize our residents,” said Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore. “It can only be accomplished through the shared vision of our state, local, and federal law enforcement partners.”
“The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is always willing to work with our local, state and federal law enforcement counterparts to ensure public safety,” said Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
The 78-page indictment charges all but one of the 22 defendants with conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. The RICO charge alleges nearly 200 “overt acts,” beginning with the transportation of $1.22 million in narcotics proceeds that were seized in Nebraska in 2010. As part of the RICO conspiracy, members of the gang allegedly committed murders in 2014 and 2015, the second of which is part of a previous racketeering case against the leadership of MS-13 in Los Angeles.
The majority of the conduct outlined in the indictment – including seven murders – started in 2017 and continued into this year. While the indictment focuses on murders committed to increase the gang’s membership, expand the gang’s power and intimidate outsiders, the RICO charge also alleges drug-trafficking activities, including the sale of narcotics to the Fulton clique in Maryland.
In addition to the conspiracy charge, the indictment contains four counts of first-degree murder related to machete, knife and baseball bat killings in the Angeles National Forest, which is within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States. Those four murders – along with a fifth that occurred in the Malibu hills and a sixth in that was committed in the Fulton clique’s stronghold of Whitsett Fields Park in North Hollywood – are also charged as violent crimes committed in aid of racketeering (VICAR), and those six counts allege that the victims were killed “for the purpose of gaining entry to and maintaining and increasing position in MS-13 Los Angeles.”
The indictment also contains allegations that the six VICAR murders were committed “in an especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner in that [they] involved torture or serious physical abuse to the victim.” The 16 defendants charged in relation to those six murders are eligible for the federal death penalty, although the government has not indicated whether it will seek such a sentence for any of the defendants if they are convicted.
In addition to the RICO case announced today, there are two under-seal cases pending against juvenile defendants in United States District Court.
In 2017, as the result of another investigation by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Task Force on Violent Gangs, a federal grand jury issued a RICO indictment that targeted MS-13’s leadership across the Los Angeles region. That indictment, which alleged three murders attributed to the Fulton clique, charged 34 defendants, 14 of whom have pleaded guilty. Nineteen of the defendants are currently scheduled for trial on September 24. One defendant in that case – Sergio Alexander Galindo, also known as “Killer” – remains a fugitive.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
The federal RICO case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Joanna Curtis of the Violent and Organized Crime Section and Deputy District Attorneys Eric W. Siddall and Carmelia Mejia, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorneys who have been designated as Special Assistant United States Attorneys.