Operator of Central California Bio-Lab Indicted for Distributing Adulterated and Misbranded COVID-19 Tests and Lying to Authorities
Murder, Kidnapping, and Assault Indictments Against MS-13 Members also Unsealed
FRESNO, Calif. — As part of a multi-agency operation, 25 individuals associated with Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) were arrested in California on federal and state charges in connection with their gang activities, including assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering and conspiracy to distribute and possess with intent to distribute controlled substances. Additionally, two federal indictments were unsealed today: one charging two MS-13 gang members with kidnapping and murder in aid of racketeering and another charging three MS-13 gang members with conspiracy and assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering.
The charges were announced by U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division Brian Benczkowski, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan of the FBI’s Sacramento Field Office, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Ryan L. Spradlin, Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp, and Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims.
The investigation leading to today’s arrests began after reports that MS-13 had established a presence in Fresno County. The investigation centered in and around the City of Mendota, a Central Valley town 35 miles west of Fresno. Investigators found evidence of broad criminal activity, including murder, assault, firearms possession and drug trafficking activity.
“MS-13 is a brutal transnational criminal organization that has wreaked havoc in communities across the United States,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski. “The gang engages in indiscriminate and senseless acts of violence, as demonstrated by the charges announced today, which allege murder, attempted murder, and drug trafficking in the State of California. Dismantling MS-13 and other violent gangs that terrorize our streets will remain a top priority of the Department of Justice. Today’s announcement is the result of comprehensive and coordinated federal, state, and local law enforcement action, and I commend the Eastern District of California and all of our partners for their hard work on this case. It is precisely this kind of coordinated effort that allows us to most effectively protect our communities and hold MS-13 members accountable for their heinous crimes.”
U.S. Attorney McGregor W. Scott stated, “The operation leading to today’s arrests reflects the incredible teamwork between our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, and our shared commitment to keeping our communities safe from violent criminal gangs like MS-13. This investigation had a strong impact not only in Fresno County, but across the state and country as we were able to provide information and leads to law enforcement in Los Angeles, Nevada, Texas, New York, and elsewhere to help prevent and solve serious crimes, including murder. Criminal enterprises like MS-13 will not be tolerated in any of our towns, no matter how small.”
“When you terrorize communities, you must pay the price,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Today’s announced operation will lead to the vigorous prosecution and, I believe, conviction of violent criminal gang members. Operation Blue Inferno is a successful display of the dedication and hard work of our combined law enforcement personnel. We will continue working alongside our federal and local law enforcement partners to ensure safety and security for every California family.”
Fresno County District Attorney Smittcamp stated: “Operation Blue Inferno is an example of what happens when law enforcement agencies from the federal, state and local levels work together to eradicate criminal street gangs. MS 13’s cell in Fresno County is now destroyed, and we will continue to work together to keep them out of our communities. The Fresno County District Attorney’s Office is proud to have been an essential part of Operation Blue Inferno and is grateful to all our law enforcement partners who made these arrests possible.”
Fresno County Sheriff Mims stated: “This multi-agency operation will result in the disruption of MS-13 activity across the Nation. I appreciate the cooperation of all agencies involved to work together to help dismantle this extremely violent transnational gang. I am confident that our work will restore a stronger sense of safety for people living in the communities these gang members have been terrorizing.”
“The FBI is committed to aggressively investigating and disrupting gang activity. Through the Safe Streets Task Force and the Transnational Anti-Gang Initiative, the FBI leverages resources to target MS-13 — the first and only street gang to be designated by the United States government as a transnational criminal organization — by focusing on the gang’s structure and leadership,” said Special Agent in Charge Sean Ragan of the FBI Sacramento Field Office. “To ensure success, the FBI it committed to working in close cooperation with federal, state, local and foreign law enforcements partners to coordinate operations and share information.”
“Global criminal organizations like the MS-13 strike fear into our local communities here in the United States by committing violent and often brutal crimes in our backyards; but by all levels of law enforcement working together, their vicious and dangerous acts will not go unpunished,” said Ryan L. Spradlin, HSI Special Agent in Charge for northern California and northern Nevada. “While transnational gangs may have tentacles that reach globally, Homeland Security Investigations does as well and is well‑equipped to intercept these threats to our national security.”
The first federal charges filed as a result of the investigation were filed in January but were not unsealed until now. That indictment alleges that on December 18, 2017, two MS-13 gang members operating out of Mendota – Israel Rivas Gomez and John Doe (aka Marcos Castro) – kidnapped and murdered a man in Fresno County in furtherance of MS-13’s criminal gang enterprise. Another indictment filed in April and unsealed now alleges that on May 5, 2017, Luis Reynaldo Reyes Castillo and Nilson Israel Reyes Mendoza committed an assault with dangerous weapons for the purpose of maintaining MS-13’s presence in the community and to gain status within MS-13.
Several other MS-13 gang members were arrested today based on a complaint filed this week. The complaint charges 16 individuals affiliated with MS-13 in Fresno County with various crimes, including two separate, gang-related assaults and drug trafficking activity to support the gang’s activity. Those documents allege that on August 12, 2018, Lorenzo Amador, along with two others, stabbed a rival gang member in the back at an intersection in Mendota. The victim was transported to the hospital, underwent surgery, and survived. Court documents also allege that on May 14, 2018, Denis Barrera-Palma, Ever Membreno, and Edgar Torres-Amador participated in a gang-related assault of a man walking near an elementary school, in which one gang member beat the victim with a metal pipe.
Additionally, the complaint alleges that between May 2017 and August 2018, 16 members of the MS-13 enterprise participated in a drug trafficking conspiracy in both Fresno County and Los Angeles. These defendants allegedly obtained, sold, and profited from street‑level drug dealing, and used the proceeds to further MS-13’s criminal objectives.
As part of this operation, 19 federal and four state search warrants were served in Mendota, Kerman, and Los Angeles. Guns, knives, and machetes were found and seized as a result of these searches. Additionally, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation conducted searches of 37 cells in 11 state prisons in California on individuals related to this investigation. Among the items seized in the prisons were cellphones, drugs and weapons.
The investigation was conducted by the California Department of Justice and California Highway Patrol Special Operations Unit, the Multi-Agency Gang Enforcement Consortium (MAGEC), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Fresno County District Attorney’s Office, the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation Special Services Unit (SSU). The CHP Special Operations Unit is a collaborative investigative effort between the California Department of Justice and California Highway Patrol that provides statewide enforcement to combat violent career criminals, gangs, and organized crime groups, along with intrastate drug traffickers.
Assisting in the arrests were the U.S. Marshals Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Clovis Police Department.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kimberly A. Sanchez, Kathleen A. Servatius, Ross Pearson, Angela Scott; Trial Attorney Marianne Shelvey from the Department of Justice, Criminal Division, Organized Crime and Gang Section; and Fresno County Senior Deputy District Attorney Dennis Lewis are handling the prosecutions.
The charges are only allegations; the defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.