WASHINGTON - Three members of MS-13, a notorious and violent gang, were convicted on Tuesday by a jury on numerous federal racketeering charges for a series of crimes, including a murder, which took place in the Washington, D.C. area in 2006 and 2007. This investigation was conducted by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security (HSI).
"MS-13 has used violence to spread fear throughout our community," said John P. Torres, special agent in charge of the ICE HSI office in Washington, D.C. "As demonstrated by this trial, local members of the MS-13 gang operated with of level of brutality alarming even by street gang standards. Today's convictions send a clear message that ICE HSI will continue to work with its partners to rein in violent gangs like MS-13 to protect everyone from their cold-blooded conduct."
The defendants were convicted following a trial that began October 26, 2010. They included William Cordova, 26, also known as "Centinella" or "Mario;" Jose Gutierrez, 21, also known as "Astuto" or "Marco," and Melvin Sorto, 24, also known as "Killer" or "Fantasma." Among other crimes, they were convicted of taking part in a conspiracy that culminated in the murder of Edwin Ventura, 18, on April 22, 2007.
"MS-13 is a ruthless street gang with international reach, but today's verdicts make clear that its brand of urban warfare will not be tolerated in the District of Columbia," said U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Ronald C. Machen, Jr. "This case demonstrated that MS-13 is willing to inflict violence on both rival gangs and innocent citizens. These convictions demonstrate that law enforcement and the community are united in our commitment to fight back and drive gang violence out of our neighborhoods."
The men, all from the District of Columbia, were convicted of charges including murder in aid of racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, maiming in aid of racketeering, assaults with dangerous weapons in aid of racketeering, threats in aid of racketeering, first degree murder while armed, assaults with intent to kill and other related offenses.
A sentencing date was scheduled for March 15, 2011. All three defendants face a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment without parole. According to court records, Cordova was convicted of 19 counts. Gutierrez was convicted of 16 counts, and Sorto was convicted of nine counts.
At trial, the government presented evidence of the defendants' membership in a criminal organization known as La Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13. Additionally, evidence was introduced that showed a conspiracy by the defendants and the MS-13 organization to commit numerous violent crimes in aid of racketeering activity. The evidence included crimes of assaults, threats, maiming, extortion, witness intimidation, assaults with intent to kill and the murder of all rival gang members and persons that threatened the MS-13 Enterprise.
In reaching their verdicts, the jury found Cordova guilty of the assaults with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering of Dennis Diaz-Gutierrez, Josue Levia, and Jhosimar Alvarez- Torrez, on July 30, 2006, in the City of Alexandria, Virginia. The victims were shot numerous times at they sat inside a car, stationary, at a traffic light. In addition, the jury found Cordova, Gutierrez, and Sorto guilty of the murder of Ventura and the assault with intent to kill of Nelson Maldonado, on April 22, 2007, in the 2900 block of Sherman Avenue NW, Washington D.C. The victims were shot numerous times in retaliation for an ongoing feud with MS-13 members.
Cordova and Gutierrez were also convicted of the maiming and assault with intent to kill of Feliciana Flores-Esquina Flores, on June 1, 2007, in the 3000 block of Georgia Avenue NW, Washington D.C. The victim was shot two times in the head as she stood at a bus stop.The jury also found all three defendants guilty of numerous local District of Columbia related offenses.
ICE HSI was assisted in this investigation with Metropolitan Police Department, the Capitol Area Regional Fugitive Task Force, the City of Alexandria Police Department and Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA).
Across the nation, trans-national street gangs have significant numbers of foreign-national members and many times are involved in a variety of crimes including human smuggling and trafficking; narcotics smuggling and distribution; identity theft and benefit fraud; money laundering and bulk cash smuggling; weapons smuggling and arms trafficking; cyber crimes; export violations; and other crimes with a nexus to the border.
Like any street gang, these transnational gangs also have a propensity toward violence. In the Northern Virginia area, gang members are most likely to commit violent crimes directed towards other gang members and engage in assault and property crimes.
The National Gang Unit at ICE identifies violent street gangs and develops intelligence on their membership, associates, criminal activities and international movements to deter, disrupt and dismantle gang operations by tracing and seizing cash, weapons and other assets derived from criminal activities.
Operation Community Shield partners with existing federal, state and local anti-gang efforts to share intelligence on gang organizations and their leadership, share resources and combine legal authorities to arrest, prosecute, imprison and/or deport transnational gang members.
Since inception through September 1, 2009, ICE agents working in conjunction with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies nationwide have arrested 18,925 street gang members and associates. These apprehensions include 8,575 criminal arrests and 10,350 administrative immigration arrests. 226 of those arrested were gang leaders and 3,219 were MS-13 members or associates and 6,831 of the arrested suspects had violent criminal histories. Through this initiative, ICE has seized 1,310 firearms.