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Press Release

California MS-13 leader who participated in 3 Columbus murders sentenced to serve life in prison without chance of release

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Southern District of Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A Santa Maria, Calif. man was sentenced in federal court in Columbus today to spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of release.


Jose Bonilla-Mejia (a/k/a Espia), 31, participated in the 2015 murders of two men who were stabbed and beat to death and buried in shallow graves at Innis Park. Bonilla-Mejia also played a role in planning a 2016 murder at an apartment complex at Melroy Avenue and Kelburn Road in Columbus.


Namely, Bonilla-Mejia took part in the murders of Carlos Serrano-Ramos, Wilson Villeda and Salvador Martinez-Diaz.


Bonilla-Mejia pleaded guilty in August 2019 to participating in a racketeering conspiracy and two counts of murder in aid of racketeering.


The defendant is one of 23 individuals charged in a February 2018 second superseding indictment who are alleged to be members and associates of MS-13 in Columbus.

“This is a violent transnational criminal organization that victimizes the citizens of the United States and Central America,” U.S. Attorney David M. DeVillers said. “Mr. Bonilla-Mejia personally participated in the murders and mutilations of victims with the purpose of sending a message from MS-13. With this sentence, we are sending a message back.  Mr. Bonilla-Mejia and many of his coconspirators will die in prison.”


The defendants are charged in a racketeering conspiracy, which includes five murders as well as attempted murder, extortion, money laundering, drug trafficking, assault, obstruction of justice, witness intimidation, weapons offenses and immigration-related violations.

The second superseding indictment alleges that the defendants committed a host of overt acts in furtherance of the conspiracy, including: 1) the December 2006 murder of Jose Mendez, a suspected confidential informant, in Perry County; 2) the November 2008 murder of Ramon Ramos on Lockbourne Road in Columbus; 3) the mid-2015 murder of Carlos Serrano-Ramos, a suspected rival gang member, near Innis Road in Columbus; 4) the November 2015 murder of Wilson Villeda near Innis Road in Columbus; and 5) the December 2016 murder of Salvador Martinez-Diaz, a suspected rival gang member, on Melroy Avenue in Columbus.

The murders often involved defendants using weapons like machetes, knives and hammers to attack and beat their victims to death.


In March 2016, law enforcement officers arrested Bonilla-Mejia in Akron, Ohio in connection with an outstanding warrant issued in California. Shortly thereafter, he was transported to California and detained in the Santa Barbara County Jail before returning to Ohio to face his federal charges.


David M. DeVillers, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio; Chris Hoffman, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Cincinnati Division; Rebecca Adducci, Detroit Field Office Director, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations; Franklin County Sheriff Dallas Baldwin; and Columbus Police Chief Thomas Quinlan announced the sentence imposed today by U.S. District Judge Edmund A. Sargus, Jr. U.S. Attorney DeVillers commended the assistance of Santa Barbara County District Attorney Joyce E. Dudley’s office.


Deputy Criminal Chief Brian J. Martinez and Assistant United States Attorney Noah R. Litton are representing the United States in this case.



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Updated May 13, 2020

Violent Crime