Federal Jury Delivers Guilty Verdicts Against Four MS-13 Gang Members
Defendants Committed Multiple Acts of Violence, Including Murder and Attempted Murder, to Benefit the Criminal Enterprise
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – A federal jury delivered guilty verdicts today against four members of the street gang “La Mara Salvatrucha,” or “MS-13,” who were on trial for participating in a racketeering conspiracy, announced Jill Westmoreland Rose, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. The convictions stem from the multiple acts of violence committed by the defendants for the benefit of the criminal enterprise, including murder and attempted murder. U.S. District Judge Robert J. Conrad Jr. presided over the trial.
Miguel Zelaya, 20, of Charlotte, Luis Ordonez-Vega, 36, of Concord, N.C., Jorge Sosa, 24, of Charlotte, and William Gavidia, 23, of Kannapolis, N.C. were each convicted of one count of conspiracy to participate in racketeering activity (RICO).
Zelaya was also convicted of murder in aid of racketeering and use or carry of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence resulting in the death of Jose Orlando Ibarra.
Ordonez-Vega was also convicted of murder in aid of racketeering and use or carry of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence resulting in the death of Noel Navarro Hernandez.
Sosa was convicted of attempted murder in aid of racketeering and use or carry of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, that being attempted murder in aid of racketeering.
According to filed court documents, witness testimony, trial evidence and statements made in court:
From at least in or about 2009 to about May 2015, the four defendants along with 33 others named in a federal indictment, were members of the MS-13 gang, a criminal organization with over 6,000 members in the United States and 30,000 members internationally. MS-13 originated in Los Angeles, California, and has spread to states across the country, including in North Carolina. The gang’s members are mostly immigrants or descendants of immigrants from El Salvador and other Central and Latin American countries. In North Carolina, some of the active MS-13 members are divided into different groups, or “cliques,” which include the “Trece Locos Salvatrucha,” the “Hollywood Locos Salvatrucha,” the “Charlotte Locotes Salvatrucha,” the “Centrales Locos Salvatrucha,” and the “Coronados Little Cycos Salvatrucha,” among others. The different cliques work together to carry out criminal acts, to protect the interests of the criminal enterprise, and to assist each other in avoiding law enforcement detection.
MS-13 members adhere to a set of gang rules and pay dues which fund the gang’s criminal activities and support other gang members or their families in the U.S and abroad. Gang members are also expected to protect the name, reputation, and status of the gang and its members, and to punish through acts of violence and intimidation those who disrespect the gang. Some MS-13 members signify their affiliation with the gang by wearing blue, black and white color clothing and certain “Mara Salvatrucha,” or “MS-13” tattoos.
Members of MS-13 in Charlotte participated in multiple meetings at various times to discuss gang-related matters and to plan the commission of future crimes for the benefit of the gang. They were also responsible for numerous criminal acts including murder and attempted murder.
Zelaya, a/k/a “Most Wanted” and “Ne Ne”, is a member of the “Coronados Little Cycos Salvatrucha” clique. On December 18, 2013, Zelaya shot and killed Jose Orlando Ibarra, an associate of a rival gang, “The Latin Kings.” According to trial evidence and testimony, Zelaya admitted to law enforcement that he shot Jose Ibarra because Ibarra owed him money for a gun and because Ibarra and his brother, a Latin King member, had been looking for one of Zelaya’s “homies” with a shotgun.
Ordonez-Vega, a/k/a “Big Boy,” is a self-admitted member of MS-13 from Nassau County, New York, and a member of the “Brentwood Locos Salvatrucha” clique. Ordonez-Vega has “MS” tattooed across his stomach and “La Mara Salvatrucha” tattooed across his chest. On June 6, 2013, Ordonez-Vega shot and killed Noel Navarro Hernandez in a strip mall parking lot in Charlotte. Evidence presented at trial showed that Ordonez-Vega and other MS-13 members targeted Navarro because they believed that Navarro was a rival gang member because of the way he talked, wore red, and his haircut.
Sosa, a/k/a “Koki” and “Loco” is a member of the “Charlotte Locotes Salvatrucha” clique. According to trial evidence, Sosa has been involved in multiple gang-related incidents on numerous occasions. For example, on February 1, 2008, Sosa flashed MS-13 gang hand signs at a rival gang member’s mother and pointed a handgun at her while they were stopped in traffic. On October 15, 2011, Sosa warned a man who asked him to leave a party that he would return with other MS-13 gang members to shoot the victim. Also, on July 5, 2013, Sosa and other MS-13 members tried to break into a vehicle then attempted to run over with a car the officers who tried to arrest them. And on June 30, 2013, Sosa was involved in a gang-related shooting, when he and another person followed their victims in a neighborhood in Charlotte and opened fire with a high caliber rifle.
Gavidia, a/k/a “Duro,” is also a member of the “Coronados Little Cycos Salvatrucha” clique. According to evidence presented at trial and witness testimony, Gavidia has carried out criminal acts in support of the gang and has often fought rival gang members in clubs. For example, Gavidia admitted that he taxed drug dealers in MS-13 dominated clubs. Gavidia was also involved in a shooting on August 11, 2013, when another MS-13 gang member and indicted co-conspirator, Albert Vela-Garcia, shot a victim in the back following a bar fight started by Gavidia. Gavidia has also attacked a victim for falsely claiming to be a member of MS-13.
“A federal jury has rightfully convicted four gang members responsible for committing multiple acts of violence, including murder,” said U.S. Attorney Rose in making this announcement. “Today’s guilty verdicts underscore that even though gang membership may in some ways ‘protect’ gangsters from outsiders, it certainly won’t protect them from the vast reach of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and our law enforcement partners. Together, we will continue to identify and prosecute gang offenders who carry out violent acts for the benefit of their criminal enterprise,” said U.S. Attorney Rose.
The four defendants convicted today will remain in federal custody until their sentencing, which has not been set.
Thirty of the 37 MS-13 gang members previously charged with RICO conspiracy by federal criminal indictment in connection with this case have entered guilty pleas and are currently awaiting sentencing. They are: Carlos Almonte, Jose Danny Argueta, Juan Bergamasco-Suarez, Milton Chavarria, Raul Contreras, Luis Erazo, Marvin Fuentes-Canales, Luis Funes-Rivera, Jorge Garcia, Cesar Garcia-Perez, Saul Gavidia, Raul Guardado, Angel Hernandez, Jose Manuel Linares, Rene Lopez-Ventura, Jose Moran-Celis, Daniel Navarro, Jonathan Noble, Christian Pena, Jorge Perez, Victor Pineda, Rosendo Rivas, Fec Rodriguez-Vareal, Oscar Trejo, Jaime Turcios, Jose Vasquez, Marlon Vasquez-Maldonado, Albert Vela-Garcia, and Alexis Villalta-Morales. Four others remain fugitives. They are: Neris Gutierrez, Salvador Ruiz, Luis Villalta, and Miriam Barilles-Escamilla.
Following today’s guilty verdicts, U.S. Attorney Rose commended the Charlotte Division of the FBI, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and thanked them for working together to investigate this case.
This prosecution is part of an extensive investigation by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). OCDETF is a joint federal, state and local cooperative approach to combat drug trafficking and is the nation’s primary tool for disrupting and dismantling major drug trafficking organizations, targeting national and regional level drug trafficking organizations and coordinating the necessary law enforcement entities and resources to disrupt or dismantle the targeted criminal organization and seize their assets.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elizabeth Greene and William Miller are in charge of the prosecution.