MS-13 Member Pleads Guilty In Violent Racketeering Conspiracy
Admitted his Participation in an Assault, Attempted Murder and Extortion
Greenbelt, Maryland –Wilmer Argueta, a/k/a “Chengo,” age 23, of Hyattsville, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise known as La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, including an assault, attempted murder and extortion.
The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Rod J. Rosenstein; Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Special Agent in Charge William Winter of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Chief Mark A. Magaw of the Prince George’s County Police Department; Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks; Chief J. Thomas Manger of the Montgomery County Police Department; Chief Alan Goldberg of the Takoma Park Police Department; and Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy.
MS-13 is a national and international gang composed primarily of immigrants or descendants from El Salvador. Branches or “cliques” of MS-13, one of the largest street gangs in the United States, operate throughout Prince George’s County and Montgomery County, Maryland. MS-13 members are required to commit acts of violence both to maintain membership and discipline within the gang and against rival gangs.
According to the statement of facts filed with his plea agreement, from 2009 until at least 2012, Argueta was a member and leader of the Peajes Locos Salvatrucha clique of MS-13. Argueta and MS-13 members in the Peajes clique and other MS-13 cliques committed crimes to further the interests of the gang, including murder, assault, robbery, extortion by threat of violence, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and witness retaliation.
Argueta admitted that on January 3, 2010, he and other MS-13 members attempted to kidnap and assault two victims in the area of East-West Highway and Riggs Road. After the two victims fled in different directions, several MS-13 members allegedly caught one of the victims in a nearby wooded area and sexually assaulted her as retribution for associating with a rival gang.
According to the plea agreement, on January 13, 2011, Argueta attended a Peajes clique meeting with co-defendant Roni Arriola-Palma and other MS-13 members near the Greenbelt Metro Station. Another MS-13 member spoke at the meeting, criticizing members of the clique for not committing enough violent crimes on behalf of MS-13, and encouraging clique members to find rival gang members and commit acts of violence against them.
After the meeting ended, Argueta and other MS-13 members got into a mini-van being driven by Arriola-Palma. Near the Fort Totten Metro Station, they saw a person they believed was an associate of a rival gang. Argueta and other MS-13 members attacked the victim and dragged him back into the mini-van, where they continued to assault him. Arriola-Palma drove the mini-van around Hyattsville, eventually parking near a dead end in the vicinity of Chillum Manor Road. After Arriola-Palma stopped the mini-van, Argueta and several other MS-13 members kicked, stabbed and choked the victim. Since the victim was wearing heavy winter clothing, Argueta, Arriola-Palma and other MS-13 members forcefully stripped the victim of all clothing, in order to stab the victim. After the assault, two MS-13 members dragged the victim into the woods, where one of the gang members strangled the victim with his belt. When they returned from the woods, they informed the other members that the victim was dead. Arriola-Palma then drove the group of MS-13 members away from the scene. The victim survived the attack.
From March to November, 2011, members of the Peajes clique threatened to kill a fellow MS-13 gang member unless he paid them a weekly or bi-weekly “rent” or “tax,” which gang members collected from the victim. Argueta admitted that he ordered other MS-13 associates to relay the death threats to the victim, and contacted the victim himself on multiple occasions to arrange extortion payments. Argueta picked up payments himself, and sent other MS-13 members, including Arriola-Palma, to pick up extortion payments on his behalf. Argueta also used “Facebook,” “Gmail,” and text messaging to relay the extortion demands to the victim.
According to his plea, from September to November 2011, Argueta ordered a “greenlight,” which is an order to kill, from inside Prince George’s County Corrections Facility on a victim who planned to testify against him in Circuit Court for Prince George’s County. During the conspiracy, Argueta contacted co-defendant Francisco Hernandez from the Prince George’s County Corrections Facility and instructed Hernandez to relay to other MS-13 members that the victim now had a “greenlight” on him. Members of the Peajes Clique of MS-13 acted on this “greenlight,” shooting the victim on November 15, 2011.
Argueta faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. U.S. District Judge Roger W. Titus has scheduled sentencing for August 4, 2015, at 2:00 p.m. Argueta remains detained pending sentencing.
Francisco Hernandez, age 21, and Roni Arriola-Palma, age 24, both of Hyattsville, previously pleaded guilty for their roles in the racketeering conspiracy and are scheduled to be sentenced at 10:00 a.m. on June 29 and June 30, 2015, respectively.
United States Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein commended HSI Baltimore, the Prince George’s County and Montgomery County Police Departments, the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Takoma Park Police Department and the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office for their work in the investigation. Mr. Rosenstein also recognized the Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Office, HSI Baltimore’s Operation Community Shield Task Force and the Maryland Department of Corrections Intelligence Unit for their assistance. Mr. Rosenstein thanked Assistant United States Attorneys William D. Moomau, Lindsay Eyler Kaplan, and Trial Attorney Kevin L. Rosenberg with the Justice Department Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section, who are prosecuting this case