ATLANTA - A federal indictment was unsealed today charging 26 members of the violent street gang called "Mara Salvatrucha" (MS-13) with federal racketeering and related crimes, including seven murders and 14 attempted murders, in metropolitan Atlanta.
This case is being investigated by special agents of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), with assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service, Gwinnett County Police Department, DeKalb County Police Department, Norcross Police Department, Chamblee Police Department, and the Gwinnett County Sheriff's Office.
"Gang members here in Georgia have become a growing problem which law enforcement has been tackling for the past several years and today's indictments represent a victory for the law enforcement community which has been working relentlessly to pursue them and ensure that they feel the full weight of the law," said Kenneth Smith, special agent in charge of the ICE Office of Investigations in Atlanta.
The twenty-nine-count indictment alleges that the defendants conspired to participate in the affairs of MS-13, an international violent criminal organization with approximately 10,000 members in various nations in North America, through a pattern of racketeering activity, which included multiple crimes of murder, attempted murder, kidnapping, and robbery in metropolitan Atlanta. It further alleges that the defendants conspired to preserve and enhance the power and reputation of the organization through acts of violence, to keep victims and community members in fear of the organization through acts and threats of violence, and to obstruct and prevent law enforcement officials from identifying, apprehending, and successfully prosecuting members of the gang for their violent criminal conduct.
"MS-13 is a ruthless street gang that has used violence to spread fear throughout our community," said Sally Quillian Yates, acting U.S. attorney. "These gang members seized every chance they had to kill, shoot and rob. They were not only devoted to wiping out rival gangs, but they showed no hesitation in robbing and shooting innocent victims. Now these gang members have to answer for their criminal behavior. Today's indictment is the product of tremendous cooperation between federal agents and local law enforcement officers. Because of our intensive collaboration to bring these violent gang members to justice, residents in Gwinnett and DeKalb Counties are safer."
"The case shows the value of collaborative efforts of state and federal agencies to bring to justice a dangerous street gang through our combined efforts," said Danny Porter, Gwinnett County District Attorney. "The Gwinnett County Police Department, working with ICE, was able to bring charges which led to statements which are integral to the pending federal case. My office moved the cases forward while protecting the integrity of the federal investigation. This type of coordination is becoming more necessary as we face these sophisticated criminal organizations."
"I applaud the efforts of United States Attorney Sally Yates, her staff and all of those involved in the bringing forward this important case. This indictment represents the sort of decisive action against criminal street gangs like MS-13 that is critical in protecting our community from criminal street gang violence," said Gwen Keyes Fleming, DeKalb County District Attorney. "My office remains prepared to provide the United States Attorney and her staff with whatever assistance and support they might need in bringing this case to a just conclusion."
Four defendants made their initial appearance in court today and were arraigned on the charges before United States Magistrate Judge Gerrilyn Brill. Nine more defendants are scheduled to make their initial appearance in court and be arraigned on the charges tomorrow. The remaining defendants will make their initial appearance and be arraigned over the next few weeks. The charges were announced at a news conference in Atlanta this afternoon.
According to Acting U.S. Attorney Yates, the charges and other information presented in court: MS-13 is an international criminal gang that has been present in the Atlanta area since at least 2005. At that time, MS-13 staked out Gwinnett and DeKalb Counties as their territory. MS-13 gang members held meetings where they discussed attacking and killing rival gang members, collected money, shared firearms, and disciplined members who broke gang rules. Sixteen of the indicted defendants are charged for their alleged roles in committing seven murders, including four killings of suspected rival gang members, two murders of robbery victims, and one killing of a fellow gang member. These sixteen defendants and others are also charged with shooting eleven suspected rival gang members as well as three persons who were not gang members.
Indicted on Feb. 24 were: Miguel Alvarado-Linares, Ernesto Escobar, Jose Delgado, Victor Pastor, Alex Ferrufino, Joseph Ivan Dias, Dimas Alfaro-Granados, Miguel Guevara, Kenedis Bonilla, Salvador Franco, Edwin Menjivar, William Espinoza, Omar Cubillos, Carlos Mendoza, Emmanual Hidalgo, Jairo Reyna Ozuna, Francisco Ramos, Jose Hernandez, Christopher Castro Ramirez, Enzo Baires, Irvin Mejia-Cruz, Walter Aldana, William Pineda, Elio Marroquin-Lopez, Alejandro Garcia, and Remberto Argueta.
Seven other members of MS-13 have also been charged in separate federal indictments. Francisco Tejada-Landaverde, Alden Onan Espana, Jose Roberto Salazar-Orellana, Ronald Escobar-Aguinada, and Juan Reynaldo Cordova, were indicted by the grand jury on Oct. 27, 2009, for committing five armed robberies of convenience stores in Gwinnett County in March of 2009. And on Feb. 24, 2010, the grand jury indicted Jerson Gomez and Elmer Rodriguez for committing an armed robbery of a taxicab driver on March 1, 2009.
In addition, through the course of this investigation, two other MS-13 members were charged with and sentenced for illegally reentering the United States without authorization. One other MS-13 member was charged with and sentenced for being an alien not lawfully admitted to this country who was in possession of a firearm.
Since October 2007, ICE officials have deported 19 members of MS-13 who were not lawfully present in this country. In addition to the above federal prosecutions, the state has charged and prosecuted 16 MS-13 members for their criminal gang activities.
Members of the public are reminded that the indictment contains only allegations. A defendant is presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government's burden to prove a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Todd Alley and Paul Jones are prosecuting the case.