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Transnational Gangs
06/17/2014

4 additional alleged MS-13 members charged in violent racketeering conspiracy

Gang members allegedly committed murders, kidnappings, extortion, witness tampering

GREENBELT, Md. — A federal grand jury returned a second superseding indictment charging four Maryland men in connection with a conspiracy to participate in murder in aid of a racketeering enterprise known as the La Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13.

The following Hyattsville residents were named in the indictment: Hector Daniel Villanueva-Cortez, aka Muertito, 24; Roni Arriola-Palma, aka Maniako, 24; Luiz Guzman-Ventura, aka Casper or Chele, 20; and Jose Rodriguez-Nunez, aka El Killer, 25.

"Attacking and dismantling violent criminal enterprises like MS-13 is one of HSI's highest enforcement priorities," said William Winter, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore. "Our investigation revealed that MS-13 is an enterprise that participates in criminal acts, such as murder, attempted murder, violent assaults, witness intimidation and retaliation, and extortion. HSI special agents will continue to work with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to target MS-13 members and other transnational criminal street gangs that are a rising public safety threat in our communities."

The second superseding indictment was returned June 16 under seal and unsealed at the June 17 initial appearance for Arriola-Palma in federal court in Greenbelt. Arriola-Palma was arrested June 17 by HSI special agents with assistance provided by the Prince George's County Sheriff's Office. Charges remain pending against eight of the original defendants listed below. A ninth original defendant, Francisco Hernandez, aka Chicle, 21, of Silver Spring, has pleaded guilty to his participation in the conspiracy. All of the defendants are in custody.

MS-13 is a national and international gang composed primarily of immigrants or descendants from El Salvador. Branches or cliques of MS-13, one of the largest street gangs in the United States, operate throughout Prince George's County and Montgomery County.

The 12-count indictment alleges from prior to 2009 to February 2014, the defendants were members and associates of MS-13 who planned and committed murders, attempted murders, kidnappings, assaults and robberies in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. Gang members also allegedly committed extortion and witness tampering, among other crimes.

More specifically, the second superseding indictment alleges Jan. 3, 2010, co-defendant Wilmer Argueta and other MS-13 members attempted to kidnap and assault two victims in the area of East West Highway and Riggs Road. After the two victims fled in different directions, several MS-13 members allegedly caught one of the victims in a nearby wooded area and sexually assaulted her as retribution for associating with a rival gang.

The second superseding indictment alleges that Jan. 13, 2011, Arriola-Palma drove a van containing Argueta, Carlos Beltran-Flores and Miguel Angel Manjivar. They passed a victim walking on the side of the road near the Fort Totten Metro Station. After getting out of the vehicle, they sprayed the victim with pepper spray, dragged him into the van and held him on the van floor, kicking and stabbing him while they drove to the area of Chillum Manor Road in Hyattsville. The defendants allegedly attempted to murder the victim by strangling him with a belt, stripping him of his clothes and stabbing him repeatedly. The defendants took the victim's belongings and left him naked and unconscious in the woods, believing he was dead.

According to the second superseding indictment, from around September to November 2011, Argueta ordered a "greenlight," which is an order to kill, from inside Prince George County Corrections Facility on a victim who planned to testify against him in Circuit Court for Prince George's County. The indictment also alleges that Dec. 4, 2013, Villanueva-Cortez and another MS-13 member attempted to murder a suspected rival gang member.

The indictment further alleges that Dec. 5, 2012, Rodriguez-Nunez and Guzman-Ventura were driving in the area of 23rd and Sheridan Avenue in Hyattsville when they spotted four individuals crossing a street frequented by rival gang members. After waiting for the individuals to pass, Rodriguez-Nunez and Guzman-Ventura fired several shots at the group, killing one of the victims and attempting to murder the other three.

The indictment also alleges that March 9, while in custody in Washington, D.C., Minor Perez-Chach and Melvin Marquez-Sanchez attacked and stabbed another inmate when that person refused their demands to join MS-13.

All four additional defendants face a maximum sentence of life in prison for conspiring to participate in a racketeering enterprise. Villanueva-Cortez also faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering. Villanueva-Cortez, Guzman-Ventura and Rodriguez-Nunez are expected to have their initial appearances in the next week in federal court in Greenbelt.

The following defendants were named in the superseding indictment, and charges remain pending against them in the second superseding indictment: Jorge Enrique Moreno-Aguilar, aka Flaco or Castigato, 20, of District Heights; Juan Alberto Ortiz-Orellana, aka Chele or Furia, 25, of District Heights; Melvin Marquez-Sanchez, aka Demente, 19, formerly of New York; Carlos Beltran-Flores, aka Joker, 22, of Hyattsville; Wilmer Argueta, aka Chengo or Happy, 22, of Hyattsville; Eric Antonio Mejia-Ramos, aka Flaco, 20, of Hyattsville; Minor Perez-Chach, aka Minor Chach-Perez, Little Bad or Bryant Sacarias, 23, of Hyattsville; and Miguel Angel Manjivar, aka Garra or Masflow, 22, of Hyattsville.

This enforcement operation is part of HSI's Operation Community Shield Task Force. Operation Community Shield partners with existing federal, state and local anti-gang efforts to identify violent street gangs and develop intelligence on gang members and associates, gang criminal activities and international movements to arrest, prosecute, imprison and/or deport transnational gang members. HSI's National Gang Unit deters, disrupts and dismantles gang operations by tracing and seizing cash, weapons and other assets derived from criminal activities.

Since the inception of Operation Community Shield in February 2005, HSI special agents working in conjunction with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies across the nation have arrested more than 33,000 street gang members and associates linked to more than 2,600 different gangs. At least 43 percent of those arrested had a violent criminal history. More than 438 of those arrested were gang leaders, and more than 4,500 were MS-13 gang members or associates. Through this initiative, HSI has seized more than 5,615 firearms nationally.

The investigation was led by HSI Baltimore along with the Prince George's County and Montgomery County police departments, Prince George's County State's Attorney's Office, the Takoma Park Police Department and the Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office. The Prince George's County Sheriff's Office, the Prince George's County Department of Corrections and the Maryland Department of Corrections Intelligence Unit assisted in this investigation.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S Attorneys William D. Moomau and Kevin L. Rosenberg, a trial attorney with the Justice Department Criminal Division's Organized Crime and Gang Section.

An indictment is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by indictment is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.