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Press Release

South Bay Residents Charged With Conspiracy To Commit Extortion By Force, Drug Trafficking

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Northern District of California

SAN JOSE- A federal grand jury indicted ten South Bay residents for conspiring to commit extortion by force and conspiring to engage in drug trafficking, announced United States Attorney Brian J. Stretch and Homeland Security Investigations (“HSI”) Special Agent in Charge Ryan Spradlin.  According to the indictment unsealed today, seven of the defendants conspired to extort drug dealers while the other three defendants conspired to engage in trafficking methamphetamine. 

According to the indictment, the following defendants conspired to engage in extortion:

  • Velarmino Escobar-Ayala (aka Meduza)
  • Tomas Rivera (aka Profugo, aka Caballo)
  • Ismael Alvarenga-Rivera (aka Casper)
  • Willfredo Edgardo-Ayala (aka Chino)
  • Jose David Abrego-Galdamez (aka Largo)
  • Melvin Lopez (aka Sharky)
  • Alexander Martinez-Flores (aka Pocar)

In addition, the indictment alleges that these defendants conspired to obtain property from drug dealers in Santa Cruz by threatening violence against the dealers and other persons close to them.  Further, the indictment alleges the defendants had a plan and purpose to engage in the extortion and threatened force, violence, and fear to obtain money that was demanded.  The seven defendants have been charged with conspiracy to commit extortion by force in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1951(a).

Also, the indictment alleges defendants Gerber Morales (aka Choco), Emilio Escobar-Albarnga (aka Diablo), and Josue Alcedis Escobar-Cerritos (aka Penguino) were engaged in a conspiracy engage in drug trafficking.  According to the indictment, from March of 2015 until the present, the three defendants conspired to possess with intent to distribute 50 grams of more of a mixture of substance containing a detectable amount of methamphetamine, in violation of 21 U.S.C. §§ 846, 841(a)(1), and 841(b)(1)(B)(viii).

According to additional court papers filed by the government today, the current charges in this case stem from a multi-year investigation into the activities of a violent Santa Cruz street gang known as Santa Cruz Salvatrucha Locos 13 (SCSL13).  The government’s papers state that “SCSL13 is a subset of the larger Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13) gang organization.”  According to the government, the defendants all are alleged to be either active members or recruits performing criminal tasks on behalf of SCSL13. 

The defendants were arrested this morning as part of a criminal enforcement operation that included more than 200 local and federal law enforcement personnel.  The coordinated arrests and searches took place in three cities – Santa Cruz, Watsonville, and Daly City.  Defendants made appearances before the Honorable Nathanael Cousins, U.S. Magistrate Judge. 

An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  The maximum statutory sentence for a conviction of conspiracy to commit extortion is 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.  A conviction for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute 50 grams or more of methamphetamine carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison, a maximum prison term of 40 years, and a maximum fine of $5,000,000.  However, any sentence following conviction would be imposed by the court after consideration of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and the federal statute governing the imposition of a sentence, 18 U.S.C. § 3553. 

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Alioto and William Edelman are prosecuting the case.  The prosecution is the result of an investigation by the HSI. 

Updated February 22, 2017

Drug Trafficking
Violent Crime