SAN FRANCISCO — After a five-month trial, a federal jury Tuesday convicted six members of La Mara Salvatrucha, MS-13, of racketeering (RICO) conspiracy and related charges stemming from a long-term investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). A seventh defendant was acquitted of the charges against him.
The evidence presented during the trial showed the defendants were part of the violent, transnational gang known as MS-13, which claimed part of San Francisco's Mission District as its territory and has operated in the Bay Area since the 1990s. MS-13 members warred with rival gang members and sought to extort payments from other criminals in their territory. Beginning in 2007, under the leadership of Marvin Carcamo, Angel Noel Guevara, and later, Moris Flores, the violence increased dramatically as the gang sought to expand its reach. Prosecutors presented evidence of more than a dozen shootings and stabbings carried out by the gang in the years leading up to Oct. 22, 2008, when the majority of the gang's members were arrested. The evidence showed how the defendants, with others, conspired to commit a variety of crimes to further the goals of the gang, including attacking and killing rival gang members and others who defied or challenged MS-13.
"These defendants committed senseless acts of violence and spread fear throughout San Francisco, all in the name of MS-13," said Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department's Criminal Division. "Above all else, they showed allegiance to their murderous gang. Today's guilty verdicts, coming after five months of trial, are evidence of our relentless efforts to stop violence in its tracks, and put an end to MS-13's brutal reign. These convictions, together with prior guilty pleas, have substantially impacted the gang's ability to operate in San Francisco. We will continue to investigate and prosecute violent street gangs wherever we find them."
"Today's verdicts should send a strong message to anyone who thinks gang membership gives them the power to intimidate, threaten, steal or kill," said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag. "Acts of senseless violence will not be tolerated. You will be caught and you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
"The jury's verdict sends a resounding message about the shared resolve of law enforcement and the public to protect our communities from the crime and violence perpetrated by transnational gangs such as MS-13," said ICE Director John Morton. "Our goal in these enforcement actions is to disrupt a gang's illegal activities, dismantle the organization, and stop them from further organized and vicious violence. With this investigation and resulting prosecutions, we've crippled this criminal enterprise and defused much of the threat posed by what was once one of the Bay Area's most dangerous street gangs."
The defendants convicted Tuesday are Marvin Carcamo, 31, aka "Cyco" and "Psycho;" Angel Noel Guevara, 30, aka "Peloncito;" Moris Flores, 22, aka "Slow" and "Slow Pain;" Guillermo Herrera, 22, aka "Sparky" and "Shorty;" Jonathon Cruz-Ramirez, 22, aka "Soldado;" and Erick Lopez, 23, aka "Spooky." These defendants were among an initial group of 29 individuals charged in an indictment unsealed Oct. 22, 2008, alleging various racketeering, narcotics and firearms-related offenses.
Among other charges, Lopez was convicted of the racketeering murders of Ernad Joldic and Phillip Ng that occurred in the early morning hours on March 29, 2008. The evidence presented at trial established that Lopez, seeking to retaliate for the shooting of a fellow MS-13 member earlier that night, shot and killed Ng and Joldic, mistakenly believing that the victims were rival NorteÅo gang members.
Among the other charges, Herrera and Cruz-Ramirez were convicted of the July 11, 2008, racketeering murder of Armando Estrada near 20th and Mission Streets. Herrera was identified as the gunman by an eyewitness, who testified the gunman pulled down the bandana covering his face immediately after the shooting and laughed. Cruz-Ramirez was also convicted for helping plan the murder and serving as the getaway driver for Herrera. The evidence showed that Estrada was a "niero," or someone who sold counterfeit identification and other items, and that Herrera and Cruz-Ramirez killed Estrada as a result of MS-13's attempts to extort protection money from "nieros" in the gang's territory.
Lopez, Herrera and Cruz-Ramirez each face mandatory minimum sentences of life in prison on the racketeering murder convictions.
Lopez, Herrera and Cruz-Ramirez were also convicted of three racketeering-related conspiracies in addition to various firearms offenses, as were the three other convicted defendants – Marvin Carcamo, Moris Flores and Angel Noel Guevara. These three defendants were each leaders of MS-13 in San Francisco in 2007 or 2008 and were linked to different murders committed by the gang. Carcamo and Guevara, who led the gang in 2007 until their arrest late that year, were linked to the May 2, 2007, murder of David Pollock in San Francisco, with the murder weapon recovered from Carcamo's home. Flores, who was leader of MS-13 following the arrests of Carcamo and Guevara, was involved in Lopez's retaliatory hunt for rival gang murders that led to the murder of Ng and Joldic. In addition, Flores also helped coordinate Herrera and Cruz-Ramirez's flight from the scene of Estrada's murder, as well as the destruction of evidence after that murder. Evidence at trial also showed that Flores ordered younger members to "hunt" for rival gang members on July 31, 2008, which led to the stabbing death of 14-year-old Ivan Miranda.
In addition, Guevara was convicted of three racketeering attempted murders that occurred Dec. 26, 2007, when he and an accomplice attacked three separate individuals with knives during a 30-minute violence spree that began at 24th and Shotwell Streets and ended at Silver Avenue and Mission Street.
Flores, Guevara and Carcamo each face a maximum penalty of life in prison as well as a mandatory minimum of five years in prison, which would be served consecutively to the prison term on the RICO conspiracy charge. Sentencing for all six defendants is scheduled for November 30 before U.S. District Judge William Alsup.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys W.S. Wilson Leung, William Frentzen and Christine Wong of the Organized Crime Strike Force of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of California, and Trial Attorney Theryn G. Gibbons of the Criminal Division's Organized Crime and Gang Section. The San Francisco Police Department provided substantial assistance with the investigation.