SAN FRANCISCO - A member of the La Mara Salvatrucha gang, commonly known as MS-13, pleaded guilty in federal court to racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder, the third MS-13 gang member in as many months to plead guilty to serious charges stemming from a far-reaching investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).
In pleading guilty Tuesday, Wilbert "Cypress" Castillo, 29, admitted being a member or associated with MS-13 since approximately 2004, and agreed that a conspirator would commit crimes that furthered the goals of the gang, even if that meant attacking and killing rival Norteño gang members and others who defied or challenged MS-13.
Castillo also admitted that while driving other gang members in San Francisco in September 2004, he followed one of the member's directives to stop when some rival gang members were spotted on the street. When he stopped, the other MS-13 member got out of the vehicle with a gun and fired several shots. Subsequently, Castillo drove onto a freeway, where the same MS-13 gunman riding in Castillo's car fired several shots at another nearby vehicle because he believed it was driven by a rival gang member.
On Nov. 15, 2010, two other MS-13 members - Walter Chinchilla-Linar, aka "Demonio," 24, and Cesar Alvarado, aka "Momia," 20 - pleaded guilty to RICO conspiracy and conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering. Chinchilla-Linar and Alvarado each admitted being part of a group of MS-13 gang members who went "hunting," looking for Norteño gang members during the early morning of July 31, 2008. The group of MS-13 members eventually found and surrounded three teenagers in the vicinity of Persia and Madrid Streets in San Francisco's Excelsior District.
Alvarado admitted that he and others surrounded the three teenagers and held them at knife point, questioning two of the teenage boys about their gang affiliation and checking them for gang symbols, while Chinchilla-Linar admitted to acting as a look-out. Chinchilla-Linar and Alvarado both admitted that one teenager then ran away and that two of their fellow MS-13 members pursued the teenager, caught up with him, then stabbed and killed him.
These guilty pleas are the most recent in a series of pleas by MS-13 gang members to racketeering charges arising from ICE HSI's "Operation Devil Horns," which targeted MS-13 gang members in the San Francisco Bay area. Castillo, Chinchilla-Linar and Alvarado were previously indicted along with 26 other individuals as part of the investigation. Since the original charges in the case were unsealed in Oct. 2008, three superseding indictments have been returned charging additional defendants and crimes. Sixteen defendants are still pending trial that is currently scheduled to begin March 7.
The maximum penalty for the RICO conspiracy charge is life in prison and a $250,000 fine. The maximum penalty for the conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering is 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The sentencing for Chinchilla-Linar and Alvarado is scheduled for Feb. 8. Castillo's sentencing is set for March 29.