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Transnational Gangs


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3 MS-13 leaders sentenced to decades in prison for racketeering, violent crimes

12 others have pleaded guilty in this case

WASHINGTON – Three MS-13 leaders in Washington, D.C., were sentenced Tuesday to decades in federal prison for 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 case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD). 

The defendants were found guilty of various federal offenses in August 2013 following a month-long trial in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Noe Machado-Erazo, aka “Gallo,” 32, of Wheaton, Maryland, was sentenced to life in prison plus 10 years. Jose Martinez-Amaya, 28, aka “Crimen,” of Brentwood, Maryland, was sentenced to life in prison plus 10 years. Yester Ayala, 24, aka “Freeway” or “Daddy Yankee,” of Washington, D.C., was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

“This prosecution shows our commitment to purging MS-13’s bloody brand of violence from the District of Columbia,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Vincent Cohen. “These killers brought lawless vengeance to our community and left a 14-year-old boy dead.  These gang members will now have decades in prison to reflect on their heinous crimes.” 

“MS-13 is a brutally violent gang that has plagued communities in many parts of this country, including Washington, D.C.,” said Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell.  “The lengthy sentences imposed on the MS-13 leaders convicted in this case reflect the vicious and calculated nature of the murders they committed and the gang they led.”

“HSI continuously targets transnational gangs that wreak havoc on our American communities,” said HSI Special Agent in Charge Clark Settles. “Today’s sentences are testament to the strong investigative work of our HSI special agents and the Metropolitan Police Department.”

“The action by the courts today further exemplifies our message to persons engaging in criminal gang activity: you will find no place for your activities here in Washington, D.C.,” said MPD Chief Cathy Lanier. “We will work as long as necessary to ensure this city, and the capital area, are free from the violence and harm gang activity brings into our communities.  The agents, officers, and attorneys have done a tremendous job bringing this case to a successful end.”

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. 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.

Evidence showed that MS-13, a large gang that operates in the U.S. and Central America, engaged in racketeering activity including murder, narcotics distribution, extortion, robberies, obstruction of justice and other crimes. The gang had 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. According to evidence presented in court, the local MS-13 cliques acted in accordance with the international MS-13’s strictures and had frequent contact with MS-13 leadership in El Salvador. Evidence showed that two of the murders were committed on orders from MS-13 leadership in El Salvador.

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, as well as 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.

The government presented evidence that 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 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. Giovanni 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 March 31, 2010, in Montgomery County, Maryland. After being lured to a remote park there, Enriquez, another fellow MS-13 member, was fatally shot. Evidence presented during trial showed that Machado-Erazo provided the gun and Martinez-Amaya committed the shooting.

The Montgomery County Police Department, the Prince George’s County Police Department, the Riverdale Park Police Department, the Fairfax County Police Department, the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, the State’s Attorney’s Office for Montgomery County, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia also provided assistance with this case.


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Last Reviewed/Updated: 06/24/2015