Greenbelt, Maryland – U.S. District Judge Paula Xinis sentenced Hernan Yanes-Rivera, a/k/a “Recio,” age 22, of Adelphi, Maryland, on July 28, 2023, to 22 years in federal prison, and sentenced Agustino Eugenio Rivas Rodriguez, a/k/a “Terrible,” age 26, of Silver Spring, Maryland, today to 16 years in federal prison, each followed by three years of supervised release, for their participation in a racketeering conspiracy, including murder, related to their activities as part of the MS-13 gang. On July 25, 2023, Judge Xinis sentenced co-defendant Brian Samir Zelaya Mejia, a/k/a “Chispa,” age 25, of Hyattsville, Maryland, to six years in federal prison for his role in the MS-13 enterprise. Judge Xinis ordered that Rivas Rodriguez must also pay restitution in the full amount of the victims’ losses, including any funeral costs incurred by Victim 1 and Victim 4’s estates.
The sentences 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 Thomas J. Sobocinski of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office; Special Agent in Charge James C. Harris of Homeland Security Investigations Baltimore; and Chief Malik Aziz of the Prince George’s County Police Department.
According to court documents, the 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, and Frederick County, and throughout the United States. In Maryland and elsewhere, MS-13 members are organized into “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, Rivas Rodriguez, Yanes-Rivera and Zelaya Mejia were members and associates of Weedams Locos Salvatrucha, (WLS), an MS-13 clique operating primarily in Adelphi, Maryland. Rivas Rodriguez was the clique’s second in command.
On February 23, 2020, at the direction of MS-13 leaders Brayan Alexander Torres and Rivas Rodriguez, Yanes-Rivera and co-defendant MS-13 member Franklyn Sanchez shot and killed Victim 1, a former WLS member, in retaliation for the victim’s suspected cooperation with law enforcement. In the weeks prior to the murder, Victim 1 had been in touch with WLS members over social media, text messages and voice calls. Records show that WLS members told Victim 1 that if he met with gang members to make amends, his cooperation would be forgiven. Victim 1 was instructed to wait on the side of a road at a location in or near Adelphi, Maryland, on February 23, 2020. A junior WLS member drove Yanes-Rivera and Sanchez to the location, where they picked up Victim 1. They drove to a location in or near Hyattsville, Maryland. Yanes-Rivera, Sanchez and Victim 1 got out of the car and walked into a wooded area, where Yanes-Rivera and Sanchez shot Victim 1. Victim 1 died from his gunshot wounds. As a result of his participation in the murder, Yanes-Rivera was promoted within the hierarchy of MS-13.
On August 8, 2020, WLS members, including Franklyn Sanchez, were gathered at a park in Prince George’s County, Maryland. Sanchez and several of the WLS members agreed to the murder of Victim 4, who was suspected of cooperating with law enforcement and to whom Sanchez owed a debt. Sanchez and another MS-13 member murdered Victim 4, then WLS members dragged Victim 4’s body to a stream and left it there. As he was leaving the woods, Sanchez was concerned that his DNA may have been left on the body. To prevent the discovery of DNA or other evidence and to hinder the investigation and prosecution of Victim 4’s murder, Rivas Rodriguez, Zelaya Mejia and other WLS members were called and ordered to bring shovels to the wooded area, where they dug a hole and buried Victim 4’s body. Victim 4’s body was later recovered with a bullet wound to the head.
Rivas Rodriguez also conspired with other MS-13 members to kill a female member of the rival 18th Street gang. Rivas Rodriguez and the WLS leader ordered subordinate members of the gang to track the female to a house and kill her. The group of MS-13 subordinates gathered with guns and were preparing to follow their orders, when police arrived on scene and stopped the plan from coming to fruition.
Yanes-Rivera, Rivas Rodriguez and Zelaya Mejia were also responsible for collecting extortion payments, or “rents,” from at least two extortion victims on behalf of WLS, knowing that the victims making extortion payments did so under the threat of death or bodily injury by members of WLS. For example, gang members used baseball bats to impose rents and sometimes collected rent while flashing firearms or otherwise making it known that they were carrying weapons.
Finally, Yanes-Rivera also participated in money laundering by transferring gang funds obtained through its extortion activities to MS-13 members and associates in El Salvador.
Torres, a/k/a “Spooky,” age 29, of Adelphi, Maryland, is expected to be sentenced to 28 years in federal prison at his sentencing on September 13, 2023. Torres will also be required to pay restitution in the full amount of the victims’ losses, including any funeral costs incurred by Victim 4’s estate. On May 19, 2023, Judge Xinis sentenced Franklyn Edgardo Sanchez, a/k/a “Freddy,” “Magic,” “Miclo,” and “Delinquente,” age 26, of Adelphi, Maryland, to 28 years in federal prison and ordered that Sanchez must pay restitution in the full amount of the victims’ losses, including any funeral costs incurred by Victim 1 and Victim 4’s estates.
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 and Assistant Attorney General Polite commended the FBI, HSI and the Prince George’s County Police Department for their work in the investigation and thanked U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Enforcement and Removal Operations and the Montgomery County Police Department for their assistance. Mr. Barron thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Crespo, and Trial Attorney Christopher Taylor of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section, 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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