MS-13 Gang Leader Pleads Guilty To Racketeering
Defendant Admitted To Participating In Armed Robberies, One Of Which Resulted In The Murder Of A Store Employee
Earlier today, Francisco Ponce, a leader of La Mara Salvatrucha, also known as the MS-13 street gang ("MS-13"), pleaded guilty at the federal courthouse in Central Islip, New York, to racketeering, including predicate acts relating to the February 15, 2009, armed robbery of the Pollo Campero restaurant in Lindenhurst, New York, and the September 12, 2009, armed robbery of Los Hermanos Grocery in Brentwood, New York, which resulted in the murder of Miguel Peralta, an employee of that grocery. When sentenced, Ponce faces up to life in prison.
The guilty plea was announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and George Venizelos, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office.
"Ponce was in charge of the MS-13 "brand" in New York, and sought to strengthen it with acts of mayhem. Seeking funds to fuel their violent lifestyle in New York and abroad, he and his cohorts robbed and terrorized Long Island neighborhoods. Miguel Peralta fell victim to their thirst for blood and money when he unknowingly walked in on a robbery at the store at which he worked," stated United States Attorney Lynch. "This office and our law enforcement partners will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute gang members, especially those who terrorize our communities and, as demonstrated in the tragic murder of Mr. Peralta, kill innocent victims."
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Venizelos stated, "Rather than function as a productive member of society, the defendant instead chose a life of crime, intent on spreading fear and violence throughout our community. The FBI is committed to removing these violent criminals from our streets. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to dismantle MS-13 and bring to justice every gang member who victimizes the public."
According to court filings and facts presented during the plea proceeding, Ponce and two other MS-13 members, Joyser Velasquez, also known as "Baby Boy,"1 and Carlos Chicas, also known as "Flaco," carried out the September 12, 2009, armed robbery of Los Hermanos Grocery and the murder of Miguel Peralta. Shortly before midnight, Velasquez and Chicas, who were armed with semi-automatic handguns, entered the store, while Ponce waited as the getaway driver. Peralta, who was sweeping a storeroom in the back of the store, heard the commotion, entered the front of the store, and came face to face with Velasquez, who shot him once in the side. Peralta then ran down an aisle where he was confronted by Chicas, who shot him in the head. The robbers then rifled through the cash register, took cash and checks, and fled to the awaiting getaway car that was driven by Ponce.
Several months prior to the Peralta murder, Ponce, Velasquez, and two other MS-13 members, Wilmer Granillo, also known as "Chele," and Freddy Fuentes-Gonzalez, also known as "Pitufo,"2 committed an armed robbery of the Pollo Campero restaurant in Lindenhurst, New York. Specifically, on February 15, 2009, Velasquez, who was armed with a semi-automatic handgun, Granillo and Fuentes-Gonzalez entered the Pollo Campero restaurant, wearing hooded sweatshirts and ski masks, held the employees at gun-point and forced the manager to open the safe, by holding a knife to his throat. The MS-13 members stole approximately $15,000 from the safe and then fled to the car, where Ponce was waiting to drive them away.
Ponce’s conviction further demonstrates the strong connection between members of the MS-13 gang in New York, El Salvador, and elsewhere. As set forth in prior court filings and testimony introduced during two recent MS-13 racketeering trials, between 2009 and 2010, Ponce was the New York leader of "The Program," an initiative by the MS-13's leadership in El Salvador to exercise greater control over the international MS-13 enterprise, including the MS-13 cliques and members in New York, enforce discipline and adherence to the gang=s rules, and cause more money to be sent to MS-13 members in El Salvador and other parts of Central America. Ponce functioned as a liaison between the MS-13 clique leaders in New York and the gang’s hierarchy in El Salvador, organizing "universal meetings," which were meetings attended by the leaders of the New York cliques of the MS-13, and collecting money from the New York cliques to purchase firearms and ammunition, which were used in furtherance MS-13’s violent agenda, and to send money to gang leaders in El Salvador.
Chicas and Granillo, two of Ponce’s co-conspirators in the Peralta murder and Pollo Campero robbery, respectively, are believed to have fled the jurisdiction and remain fugitives.3 The FBI requests that anyone with information regarding their whereabouts telephone (212) 384-1000. Chicas and Granillo should be considered armed and dangerous.
Ponce’s conviction is the latest in a series of federal prosecutions by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York targeting members of the MS-13, a violent international street gang comprised primarily of immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. With numerous branches, or "cliques," the MS-13 is the largest street gang on Long Island. Since 2002, more than 200 MS-13 members, including more than two dozen clique leaders, have been convicted on federal felony charges in the Eastern District of New York. More than 100 of those MS-13 members have been convicted on federal racketeering charges. Since 2010 alone, this Office has convicted more than 30 members of the MS-13 on charges relating to their participation in one or more murders. These prosecutions are the product of investigations led by the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force, comprising agents and officers of the FBI, Nassau County Police Department, Nassau County Sheriff’s Department, Suffolk County Probation, Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, Rockville Centre Police Department, and Suffolk County Police Department.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys John J. Durham, Raymond A. Tierney, and Carrie N. Capwell.
FRANCISCO PONCE ("Spoiler")
Residence: Brentwood, NY
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 12-063 (JFB)
1 Velasquez is in custody pending trial. The charges in the indictment against Velasquez are merely allegations, and he is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
2 Fuentes-Gonzalez is in custody. He pled guilty and is facing life imprisonment when sentenced.
3 The charges in the indictment against Chicas and Granillo are merely allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.