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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of New Mexico

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Federal Jury Convicts Syndicato De Nuevo Mexico Prison Gang Associate on Racketeering and Murder Charges

ALBUQUERQUE – A federal jury sitting in Albuquerque, N.M., returned a verdict today finding Anthony Cordova, 53, of Albuquerque, guilty of racketeering and murder charges following a two-and-a-half-week trial before U.S. District Judge James O. Browning. 

Cordova and 11 co-defendants were charged with racketeering offenses in a four-count indictment filed in April 2016.  Thereafter, three defendants entered guilty pleas.  In March 2017, Cordova and nine co-defendants were charged in a three-count superseding indictment. 

The superseding indictment charged the ten defendants with participating in a criminal organization known as the Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico (SNM) Prison Gang that engaged in acts of violence and other criminal activities, including murder, kidnapping, attempted murder, conspiracy to manufacture and distribute narcotics, and firearms trafficking.  The superseding indictment alleged that the defendants were members and associates of the SNM Prison Gang, a state-wide gang operating in New Mexico prisons and in communities throughout the state.  According to the superseding indictment, the SNM Prison Gang was formed in the early 1980s at the Penitentiary of New Mexico after the prison riot in Feb. 1980, and expanded throughout the New Mexico penal system.  Gang members and associates allegedly are expected to remain loyal to the Gang and work to further its objectives after they have completed their prison sentences and those who do not are allegedly subject to violent forms of discipline.  The superseding indictment alleged that significant goals of the SNM Prison Gang included controlling and profiting from drug trafficking both within and outside the penal system; intimidating and influencing other gangs for the purpose of expanding the network for its illegal activities; and engaging in violence to assert its gang identity and protect its territory.

The superseding indictment also charged Cordova and Christopher Garcia, 43, of Albuquerque, with committing murder in aid of the racketeering enterprise on Feb. 4, 2005, and Cordova with using a firearm to cause a death on Feb. 4, 2005.  The superseding indictment charged Cordova and his co-defendants with committing the crimes charged in Bernalillo County, N.M., and other locations in New Mexico for the purpose of gaining entrance into and maintaining and increasing their stature within the SNM Prison Gang.

Trial on the two charges in the superseding indictment against Cordova began on July 9, 2018, and concluded this afternoon when the jury returned guilty verdicts against Cordova on the offenses of committing murder in aid of a racketeering enterprise and using a firearm to commit that murder. 

Testimony at trial established how the SNM Prison Gang was born out of one of the bloodiest prison riots in U.S. history.  In the 1980s, the Gang grew until it became the largest prison gang in New Mexico and controlled the prisons through acts of violence including murder, assault, acts of extortion, and drug trafficking.  Jurors learned that the Gang’s main rule is that the SNM Prison Gang comes first regardless, and if someone disrespects a Gang member in any way, the SNM Prison Gang must retaliate.  The penalty for violating the SNM Prison Gang’s rules – including cooperating with law enforcement, being a member of a rival gang, or disrespecting an SNM gang member – is death.  Jurors learned that the importance of drugs, power, and respect of the SNM Prison Gang is not confined within prison walls, but extend beyond those walls.    

The jury also learned about the SNM Prison Gang’s structure from several SNM Prison Gang members and former members who testified during the trial.  They learned about “associates” like Cordova, who are non-gang members who associate with the Gang and help the Gang’s cause by running drugs for SNM drug dealers and sending drugs and money to SNM Prison Gang members serving prison sentences.  “Prospects” of the SNM Prison Gang are individuals interested in becoming members of the Gang.  “Soldiers” are Gang members who commit the violence and enforce the rules at the direction of Gang leaders.  “Hitters” are members who traffic drugs for the SNM Prison Gang, supply members with drugs and use drugs as a means of controlling individuals, including corrections officials.  “Key holders” are those at each prison facility who are control and call the shots within the facility.  The main leader is in charge of the entire SNM Prison Gang and gang members carry out his orders. 

Jurors heard from law enforcement officers and cooperating Gang members that when an SNM member is released from prison, they are expected to continue to support the Gang through criminal activity, including by drug trafficking.  Garcia was the main drug dealer and supplier for the SNM Prison Gang and held significant power outside of prison.  SNM members released from prison were sent to Garcia for their “starter kit” of drugs to start dealing.  The victim in this case, “S.D.,” was a problem for the SNM Prison Gang beginning in approximately 2001, and in Feb. 2004, he made the fatal mistake of disrespecting Garcia, a SNM Prison Gang member, by shooting him in the stomach.  SNM had to retaliate against that disrespect and a bounty was placed for the murder of “S.D.”

Testimony at trial established that in Feb. 2005, Cordova and another individual agreed with Garcia to murder “S.D.”  Garcia planned a trip to Las Vegas, Nev., so that he would have an alibi, and provided Cordova with firearms to use in murdering “S.D.”  Evidence established that on the evening of Feb. 4, 2005, Cordova and the other individual drove to a gas station where “S.D.” was known to sell drugs, and Cordova told the other individual to kill “S.D.”  The other individual did not ultimately shoot “S.D.,” so Cordova took it upon himself to commit the murder.  Cordova followed “S.D.,” on a secluded road, and fired five shots, killing “S.D.,” by shooting him in the neck and chest.  Testimony established that Cordova killed “S.D.,” in exchange for payment in money and drugs from Garcia in retaliation for “S.D.,” disrespecting SNM when he shot Garcia.   

The jury deliberated approximately seven hours before returning the guilty verdict.          

At sentencing, Cordova faces a statutory mandatory penalty of life imprisonment.  Cordova has been in custody since his arrest in May 2016, and will remain detained pending a sentencing hearing which has yet to be scheduled.

Cordova’s nine co-defendants in the superseding indictment have pleaded guilty or have been convicted in related prosecutions to the SNM prison gang.

This case was investigated by Albuquerque Division of the FBI with assistance from the New Mexico Corrections Department, New Mexico State Police, Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office, Metropolitan Correctional Center, Albuquerque Police Department, U.S. Marshals Service, and the El Paso, Phoenix, Denver, Las Vegas and Knoxville FBI Divisions.  Assistant U.S. Attorneys of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Mexico are prosecuting the case.

Violent Crime
Updated July 24, 2018