WASHINGTON — Three leaders of MS-13 in Washington were found guilty Tuesday of conspiring to participate in racketeering activity and other charges stemming from their roles in murders, extortion and other violent crimes in the Washington area. The verdicts, which followed a month-long trial, followed an investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Washington, with assistance from the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).
Yester Ayala, 22, aka Freeway and Daddy Yankee, of Washington; Noe Machado-Erazo, 30 aka Gallo of Wheaton, Md.; and Jose Martinez-Amaya, 26, aka Crimen of Brentwood, Md., were each found guilty in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia. At sentencing scheduled for Nov. 4 each faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
"This verdict represents the consequences for the decisions made and the lifestyle choices of the three convicted gang members," said HSI Special Agent in Charge John Torres. "Investigating violent crimes committed by transnational gang members is a priority for HSI."
Ayala was found guilty of one count of conspiracy to participate in racketeering activity, two counts of murder in aid of racketeering, one count of first-degree premeditated murder and one count of second-degree murder. Machado-Erazo was found guilty of conspiracy to participate in racketeering activity, murder in aid of racketeering and possession of a firearm during a crime of violence. Martinez-Amaya was found guilty of conspiracy to participate in racketeering activity, murder in aid of racketeering and possession of a firearm during a crime of violence.
Evidence showed that MS-13 engages in racketeering activity including murder, narcotics distribution, extortion, robberies, obstruction of justice and other crimes. The gang has numerous rules, such as enduring a beating of 13 seconds before becoming a member, killing rival gang members and staying unfailingly loyal.
Machado-Erazo was a member and Martinez-Amaya was a leader of the Normandie clique, one of a number of smaller MS-13 groups operating in the Washington area. Ayala was a leader of the Sailors, another clique. The local cliques often act together, and evidence showed that Machado-Erazo was the leader of a program of cliques that worked together.
The three defendants are among numerous people indicted by a grand jury in 2010 following a federal investigation. Twelve others have pleaded guilty to charges in the case. The range of criminal activity alleged in the indictment includes acts committed from 2008 through 2010 in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia and other states.
The local MS-13 cliques act in accordance with the international MS-13's strictures and have frequent contact with MS-13 leadership in El Salvador. Two of the murders were committed on orders from MS-13 leadership in El Salvador. Ayala was convicted of taking part in two murders in 2008, and Machado-Erazo and Martinez-Amaya were convicted of taking part in the murder of another victim.
Ayala helped carry out orders to murder Louis Alberto Membreno-Zelaya, a fellow MS-13 member who had removed his gang tattoos. Membreno-Zelaya, 27, was stabbed at least 20 times, according to evidence presented in court. His body was found on Nov. 6, 2008, in northwest Washington.
The second murder took place in the late afternoon of Dec. 12, 2008. Ayala joined in on an attack against Giovanni Sanchez, 14, near the Columbia Heights Metro station in Washington. The teen had 11 stab wounds, and witnesses identified Ayala as one of the assailants.
Machado-Erazo and Martinez-Amaya also took part in the killing of Felipe Enriquez, 25, whose body was found on March 31, 2010, in Montgomery County. Enriquez, another fellow MS-13 member, was fatally shot. Machado-Erazao provided the gun and Martinez-Amaya committed the shooting.
This enforcement operation was part of HSI's Operation Community Shield initiative and is administered by HSI's National Gang Unit (NGU). 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 NGU's goal is to deter, disrupt and dismantle 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 nationwide have arrested more than 30,672 street gang members and associates linked to more than 2,300 different gangs. At least 40 percent of those arrested had a violent criminal history. More than 394 of those arrested were gang leaders and more than 4,265 were MS-13 gang members or associates. Through this initiative nationally, HSI has seized more than 4,597 firearms.