ATLANTA – After a four-week trial, a federal jury has convicted four metropolitan Atlanta gang members of committing multiple murders, attempted murders, armed robberies and firearms offenses in Gwinnett and DeKalb counties.
Miguel Alvarado-Linares, Ernesto Escobar, Dimas Alfaro-Granados, and Jairo Reyna-Ozuna were arrested as part of a multi-agency gang investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the FBI, with assistance from the U.S. Marshals Service, Gwinnett County Police Department, DeKalb County Police Department, Norcross Police Department, Chamblee Police Department and Gwinnett County Sheriff’s Office.
"These defendants were the leaders of MS-13, a national gang known for its gratuitous murders," said U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. "They spread fear throughout the community by killing suspected rival gang members and innocents who crossed their path. While Atlanta has generally not experienced the same level of violent gang activity as some other large cities, as this case demonstrates, we are not immune."
"The defendants in this case indiscriminately brought murderous violence against rival gang members and innocent civilians alike," said Brock D. Nicholson, special agent in charge of HSI Atlanta. "HSI is proud to continue to partner with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office to target violent transnational gang members who threaten the safety of Atlanta communities."
"Removing these violent gang members from the streets of metro Atlanta not only makes for a safer community but further weakens the Southeastern U.S. roots of this international criminal enterprise known as MS-13. The FBI will continue to work with its various law enforcement partners in targeting this group, and others like them, in a unified and effective manner," said Mark F. Giuliano, special agent in charge of the FBI Atlanta Field Office.
According to information presented in court, MS-13 is an international gang that has operated in the Atlanta area since at least 2005. During the course of this investigation, which ended in 2010, more than 75 MS-13 members have been arrested, charged, and/or deported. MS-13 members were organized into "cliques," or groups, but they operated under the larger umbrella of MS-13. Each clique had a leader, usually referred to as "the first word," who conducted weekly meetings. At these meetings, members discussed their crimes against rival gang members and their plans to retaliate against their rivals. The clique leader collected dues from the gang members. The leaders used the money to buy guns and post bail for jailed members. Some of the money was sent back to the MS-13 leaders in El Salvador and Honduras. Clique leaders communicated with MS-13 leaders in their home countries to update them on gang activities in the Atlanta area. The gang members staked out Gwinnett and DeKalb Counties as their home territory, where they committed murders and attempted murders and armed robberies. They also sold cocaine as part of their gang activity. The evidence presented at trial demonstrated that the defendants committed the following crimes:
- Alvarado-Linares and Alfaro-Granados, along with another gang member, killed Lal Ko in October 2006. Ko was a fellow MS-13 member, but Alvarado-Linares, one of the gang leaders, thought that Ko was cooperating with police and ordered his murder.
- In December 2006, when another MS-13 gang member wanted to quit the gang, Alvarado-Linares and Alfaro-Granados ordered him to kill a rival gang member as a condition of leaving MS-13. On Christmas Eve 2006, that gang member, following orders, shot at a car on Georgia Highway 316 that he believed contained rival gang members. The passenger, Angel Gonzalez, was murdered. He was 20 years old.
- On New Year’s Eve 2006, Alvarado-Linares was at an apartment complex where he exchanged gang hand signs and insults with two members of the rival gang SUR-13. Alvarado-Linares pulled out a gun and shot the men.
- A few weeks after the New Year’s Eve incident, Alfaro-Granados got into a fight with a suspected rival gang member at a nightclub. Alvarado-Linares, Alfaro-Granados, and Escobar later returned to the club, where Escobar shot a man walking through the parking lot.
- In August 2007, Escobar got into a scuffle with two teenagers at a gas station in Gwinnett County. Escobar reported the incident to Reyna-Ozuna, who was the gang leader at the time. Reyna-Ozuna gave Escobar a .45 caliber semi-automatic handgun to retaliate. Escobar went back to the station and shot one of the teenagers as he was painting lines in the parking lot. The victim, David Hernandez, was only 16 years old.
- In October 2007, Alvarado-Linares was in Gwinnett County and came across a suspected 18th Street member. Alvarado fired a shotgun and killed Pablo Archila-Baires. Archila-Baires was only 15 years old.
Sentencing hearings for Alvarado-Linares, aka Joker, 24, of Norcross, Ga.; Escobar, aka Pink Panther, 30, of Norcross, Ga.; Alfaro-Granados, aka Toro, 30, of Duluth, Ga.; and Reyna-Ozuna, aka Flaco, 28, of Norcross, Ga., will be scheduled at a later date before U.S. District Judge Richard W. Story.
Alvarado-Linares, Escobar and Alfaro-Granados were convicted of racketeering influenced corrupt organizations (RICO) conspiracy involving murder, which carries a sentence up to and including life. Reyna-Ozuna was convicted of RICO conspiracy, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years. Alvarado-Linares, Escobar and Alfaro-Granados were also convicted of committing violent crime in aid of racketeering, which carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison. All of the defendants were convicted of firearms offenses, which carry sentences up to life in prison. Parole has been abolished in the federal system.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul R. Jones and Kim S. Dammers and U.S. Department of Justice Organized Crime and Gang Section Trial Attorney Joseph K. Wheatley are prosecuting the case.