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Transnational Gangs

5 MS-13 gang members, associates indicted for racketeering and drug trafficking

HOUSTON — An indictment was unsealed Thursday against five members or associates of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) street gang on racketeering, drug trafficking and firearms violations. These indictments were announced by U.S. Attorney Kenneth Magidson, Southern District of Texas, and Robert Rutt, special agent in charge of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Houston.

The arrests took place Wednesday throughout the Houston area by officers from the following law enforcement agencies: HSI; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Harris County Sheriff's Department, and the Houston Police Department. The arrests followed the conclusion of a two-year investigation.

The indictment was returned April 11; it was unsealed April 19 following the arrests of Rodney Zaid Mejia, Pedro Melendez and Hector Villarreal, all 20-year-olds from Houston. They will make their initial appearances Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Frances H. Stacy.

Two other defendants, Hector Abarca, 21, and Johnnie Sanchez, 31, also from Houston, were already in state custody and are expected to appear on these charges before a U.S. magistrate judge in the near future.

Those arrested April 18 are alleged members or associates of the MS-13 street gang. According to the indictment, the word "Mara" is the term used in El Salvador for gang, while the phrase "Salvatrucha" is a combination of the words "Salva" (an abbreviation for Salvadoran) and "trucha" (a slang term for the warning "fear us," "look out" or "heads up"). The gang allegedly makes money by trafficking in narcotics and protects its territory from rival gang members through violence.

The indictment alleges Mejia, Abarca and Melendez engaged in racketeering by attempting to commit murder to gain entry to or advance membership in MS-13. Sanchez and Villarreal allegedly participated in narcotics trafficking. The indictment also alleges various firearms charges.

If convicted of the racketeering charge, the defendants face up to 10 years imprisonment, a $250,000 fine, and three years of post-prison supervised release; the narcotics charges carry up to 20 years in prison. The firearms charge carries a term of up to 10 years imprisonment.

An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Tim S. Braley and Mark Donnelly, Southern District of Texas, are prosecuting the case.