Baltimore Man Pleads Guilty to Participating in a Violent Racketeering Conspiracy, Including a Murder
Baltimore, Maryland – Oscar Efrain Zavala Urrea, age 23, an El Salvadoran national residing in Silver Spring, Maryland, pleaded guilty to his participation in a racketeering conspiracy, including a murder, related to his activities as part of the MS-13 gang.
The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron; Acting Special Agent in Charge R. Joseph Rothrock of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office; Special Agent in Charge James C. Harris of Homeland Security Investigations Baltimore; Chief Marcus Jones of the Montgomery County Police Department and Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy.
According to court documents, La Mara Salvatrucha gang, also known as “MS-13,” is an international criminal organization composed primarily of immigrants or descendants of immigrants from El Salvador, with members operating in the State of Maryland, including Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, Frederick County, and throughout the United States. In Maryland and elsewhere, MS-13 members are organized in “cliques,” smaller groups that operate in a specific city or region. MS-13 members are required to commit acts of violence, both to maintain membership and discipline within the gang and against rival gangs. One of the principal rules of MS-13 is that its members must attack and kill rivals, known as “chavalas,” whenever possible. Participation in criminal activity by a member, particularly in violent acts directed at rival gangs or as directed by gang leadership, increases the respect accorded to that member, resulting in that member maintaining or increasing his position in the gang, and opens the door to promotion to a leadership position.
As detailed in the plea agreement, from at least January 2020, Zavala Urrea was a member or associate of the MS-13 Fulton Locos Salvatruchas (“FLS”) clique and agreed with members of MS-13 to conduct and participate in the gang’s affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity that included murder, conspiracy to commit murder, extortion and drug distribution.
In the Spring of 2020, a MS-13 member, who was a former roommate of Victim 20, was assaulted by Victim 20 and others because they believed that MS-13 member had stolen property from Victim 20. After being told of the assault, MS-13 members indicated that the gang would have to retaliate against Victim 20 to maintain its standing. MS-13 gang members also believed that Victim 20 was associated with the rival 18th Street gang, which was another sufficient reason to kill him.
According to the plea agreement, over the course of several weeks Zavala Urrea and other MS-13 members met to plan the murder of Victim 20, including discussing what role each participant would play, conducted surveillance to determine when Victim 20 left the apartment, and obtained guns to be used in the murder. The night of May 25, 2020, Zavala Urrea and other MS-13 gang members gathered in a park in Silver Spring, Maryland and Zavala Urrea met with each gang member to discuss the plan to murder of Victim 20, which was to happen the next morning.
As detailed in court documents, on May 26, 2020, at approximately 7:05 a.m., two FLS MS-13 gang members approached Victim 20 as he left his apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland and fired handguns at him repeatedly, hitting him eight times. Victim 20 died as a result of the gun shots.
Following the murder, Zavala Urrea and a co-conspirator traveled to Annapolis where they met a third MS-13 gang member. Zavala Urrea and the co-conspirator changed their clothes and disposed of the old clothing. They gave the third gang member a backpack containing two firearms for safe keeping. A few days later, Maryland State Police stopped the third gang member who had the backpack containing the two firearms.
Zavala Urrea admitted that, to assist the gang to raise money, he also participated in the sale of marijuana and the collection of extortion money from brothels and other businesses, providing the proceeds to gang leadership.
The government and the defendant have agreed to recommend that, if the Court accepts the plea, Zavala Urrea should be sentenced to between 20 and 25 years in federal prison. Chief U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar has scheduled sentencing for March 19, 2024 at 2:00 p.m.
Anyone with information about MS-13 is encouraged to provide their tips to law enforcement. The FBI and Homeland Security Investigations both have nationwide tiplines that you can call to report what you know. You can reach the FBI at 1-866-STP-MS13 (1-866-787-6713), or you can call HSI at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE.
This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (“PSN”), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. PSN, an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime, is the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.
This case is also part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (“OCDETF”) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.
United States Attorney Barron commended the FBI, HSI, Montgomery County Police Department, and the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office for their work in the investigation and prosecution. Mr. Barron thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kenneth S. Clark and Anatoly Smolkin, who are prosecuting the federal case.
For more information on the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office, its priorities, and resources available to help the community, please visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-md/project-safe-neighborhoods-psnexile and https://www.justice.gov/usao-md/community-outreach.
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