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Transnational Gangs
04/27/2011

MS-13 members sentenced to life in prison on federal racketeering charges

Crimes included murder of one victim, maiming of another

WASHINGTON - Melvin Sorto, 24, also known as Killer, or Fantasma, was sentenced today to a prison term of life plus 45 years for his role in a series of crimes, including a murder, committed by the MS-13 gang in the Washington, D.C. area in 2006 and 2007 following an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

"The sentences handed down in these cases are a message that violent gang activity such as that perpetrated by MS-13 will be dealt with strongly," said John P. Torres, ICE HSI special agent in charge. "ICE HSI is committed to enhancing the public safety of the residents in the National Capitol Region by attacking and dismantling transnational gangs such as MS-13."

Sorto is the third and final defendant to be sentenced on federal racketeering charges in a case that revealed how the MS-13 members conspired to attack rival gang members as well as potential witnesses. Jose Gutierrez, 22, also known as Astuto or Marco, was sentenced on April 26, 2011 to a life prison term plus 125 years. William Cordova, 26, also known as Centinella or Mario, was sentenced on March 24, 2011 to a life prison term plus 150 years.

All three men were convicted by a jury in December 2010. They were sentenced by the Honorable Richard J. Leon in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The men, all from the District of Columbia, were convicted of 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.

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. All told, Sorto was convicted of nine counts. Gutierrez was convicted of 16 counts and Cordova was convicted of 19 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. The government presented evidence of 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 Alexandria, Virginia. The victims were shot numerous times as they sat inside a car at a traffic light.

In addition, the jury found Sorto, Gutierrez, and Cordova guilty of the murder of Ventura and assault with intent to kill 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.

Gutierrez and Cordova a 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. She is now blind as a result of the shooting.

The jury also found all three defendants guilty of numerous local District of Columbia related offenses.

"Melvin Sorto is the third defendant to be sentenced in this case - and like the others, he was given a life prison term plus dozens of years," said Ronald C. Machen, U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. "The question that young men and women have to ask themselves in the District of Columbia is whether engaging in gang violence is worth spending the rest of their lives behind bars and away from their family and friends. We are committed to aggressively and proactively prosecuting MS-13 and other violent gangs that threaten our community."

"Today, we sent a strong message to those who wish to create havoc in our communities," said Cathy L. Lanier, chief of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). "MPD remains committed and will continue to work along with our law enforcement partners, pursuing, arresting and successfully bringing swift justice, to those involved in gang and criminal activity."

The prosecution is the result of an investigation led by ICE HSI's Washington office and ICE's Attaché office in El Salvador, along with MPD, the Capitol Area Regional Fugitive Task Force, the City of Alexandria Police Department, and the 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

For more information, visit www.ice.gov.