Three MS-13 Gang Members Convicted of Racketeering Conspiracy Involving a Murder in Maryland
Trial Evidence Focused on the Defendants’ Participation in the Murder of a Victim They Believed to Be Cooperating with Law Enforcement and the Subsequent Cover-Up of the Murder
Baltimore, Maryland – A federal jury convicted Jose Domingo Ordonez-Zometa, a/k/a “Felon,” age 33, of Landover Hills, Maryland; Jose Rafael Ortega-Ayala, a/k/a Impaciente,” age 30, of Greenbelt, Maryland; and Jose Henry Hernandez-Garcia, a/k/a “Paciente,” age 29, of Annandale, Virginia, for racketeering and murder in aid of racketeering conspiracies, for committing murder in aid of racketeering, and for conspiracy to destroy and conceal evidence connected to their participation in La Mara Salvatrucha, a transnational criminal enterprise also known as MS-13.
The convictions were announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron; Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Special Agent in Charge Wayne Jacobs of the Federal Bureau of Investigation - Washington Field Office Criminal Division; Special Agent in Charge James C. Harris of Homeland Security Investigations, Baltimore Office; Stafford County Sheriff David P. Decatur; Chief Malik Aziz of the Prince George’s County Police Department; and Chief Kevin Davis of the Fairfax County Police Department.
MS-13, one of the largest street gangs in the United States, is a national and international gang composed primarily of immigrants or descendants from El Salvador and other central American countries. Branches or “cliques” of MS-13, operate throughout the United States, including in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. The defendants were members and associates of the Los Ghettos Criminales Salvatruchas (“LGCS” or “Ghettos”) clique of MS-13.
The evidence at the two-week trial established that between August 2018 and April 2019, the defendants participated in the MS-13 criminal enterprise by engaging in acts of violence, including murder, the destruction of evidence, and witness tampering, among other crimes. The criminal acts were committed by gang members to increase MS-13’s power in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, including Maryland and Virginia.
At all times of this conspiracy, members of MS-13 were expected to protect the name, reputation, and status of the gang from rival gang members and other persons. To protect the gang and to enhance its reputation, MS-13 members were expected to use any means necessary to force respect from those who showed disrespect, including acts of intimidation and violence. MS-13 had mottos consistent with its rules, beliefs, expectations and reputation including “mata, viola, controla,” which translates as, “kill, rape, control,” and “ver, oir y callar,” which means, “see nothing, hear nothing and say nothing.” One of the principal rules of MS-13 is that its members must attack and kill rivals, often referred to as “chavalas,” whenever possible.
MS-13 members are required to commit acts of violence both to maintain membership and discipline within the gang, as well as against rival gang members. 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 during the trial, Ordonez-Zometa was the leader of the LCGS clique. Ordonez-Zometa called a meeting of the LCGS clique at his house on March 8, 2019, to discuss clique matters, including recent contacts that an LCGS clique member (Victim 1) had with the police. The defendants, Victim 1, and other MS-13 members participated in the meeting, during which Ordonez-Zometa questioned Victim 1 about his/her cooperation with police.
During the questioning, the defendants and at least one other MS-13 member assaulted Victim 1, based on their incorrect suspicions that Victim 1 was cooperating with law enforcement. They also assaulted another MS-13 member who attempted to defend Victim 1. The assault culminated with Ordonez-Zometa, as LGCS clique leader, ordering that Victim 1 be killed. Ortega-Ayala, Hernandez-Garcia and other MS-13 members then stabbed and murdered Victim 1 in Ordonez-Zometa’s basement.
According to trial testimony, after the murder, Ordonez-Zometa ordered Ortega-Ayala, Hernandez-Garcia, and other LCGS clique members and co-conspirators, to conceal and destroy evidence of the murder. Ortega-Ayala and other MS-13 members transported the body of the victim to a secluded location in Stafford County, Virginia, and set the victim’s body on fire, then destroyed and concealed evidence of the murder from the vehicle used to transport the victim. Meanwhile, Ordonez-Zometa, Hernandez-Garcia, and another MS-13 member stayed at the crime scene and attempted to remove, destroy, and conceal evidence of the murder, including the blood of Victim 1.
The three defendants each face a mandatory sentence of life in prison. U.S. District Judge Paula Xinis has not yet scheduled a sentencing date for the defendants.
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. Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) is the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts. PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. 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 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.
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.
United States Attorney Erek L. Barron and Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. commended the FBI, HSI, the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office, the Prince George’s County Police Department, and the Fairfax County Police Department for their work in the investigation and thanked the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office for its assistance. Mr. Barron and Mr. Polite thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Morgan, Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Jared Engelking, and Trial Attorney Matthew Hoff of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division Organized Crime and Gang Section, who are prosecuting this 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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