ATLANTA — Three members of the street gang known as Mara Salvatrucha 13, or MS-13, were sentenced Friday for violent crimes they committed in the Atlanta metropolitan area, including the murder of one man and the shootings of two others, one of whom was a 14-year-old boy.
This case was investigated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Gwinnett County Police Department and DeKalb County Police Department.
“The gratuitous acts of violence these now-convicted gang members committed were intended to spread fear of their gang throughout the community,” said Acting United States Attorney John Horn. “Gangs like MS-13 have worked to establish a foothold in counties outside of Atlanta for years, and this case reveals the worst of the senseless violence that can arise from their activities—shooting at cars on the highway, or firing a gun into a group of middle school students playing basketball. This case also highlights the difficulties faced by youths who try to escape from the gang culture, as a murder occurred simply because a gang member wanted to drop out. Our strategy in cases like this is to decimate the entire gang structure, and eradicate the gang activity so that our citizens can go about their lives safely.”
J. Britt Johnson, special agent in charge, FBI Atlanta Field Office, stated: “The lengthy federal prison sentences handed down to these three violent members of MS-13, a Central American based gang known for its violence, will not only make our community safer but will send a message to other gang members that the FBI and its law enforcement partners will aggressively continue its efforts to disrupt and dismantle these organized crime groups such as MS-13.”
According to information presented in court: MS-13 is an international gang that has operated in the greater Atlanta area since at least 2005. During the course of this investigation, which ended in 2010, more than 75 MS-13 members were 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, often 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 rivals. The clique leaders collected dues from the gang members, which they used to buy guns and post bail for jailed gang members. Clique leaders often sent money back to MS-13 leaders in their home countries of El Salvador and Honduras, and clique leaders often reported back to MS-13 leaders in their home countries about MS-13 activities in the Atlanta area. The gang members staked out Gwinnett and DeKalb counties as their home territory, where they committed murders, attempted murders and armed robberies.
The evidence gathered during the investigation reflected that Miguel Guevara, aka Blacky, was a member of MS-13 in 2006. He decided that he wanted to become less active in the gang and sought permission to “calm down” from the leader of his clique, Miguel Alvarado-Linares, aka Joker. Alvarado-Linares discussed this with other members at a meeting of the clique Dec. 23, 2006. Everyone agreed that Guevara would have to shoot at a suspected rival gang member before he could become inactive. They went to the nightclub El Chaparral in DeKalb County, where they waited outside looking for suspected rival gang members.
In the early morning hours of Dec. 24, 2006, they saw Celso Villalobos and Angel Gonzales walk out of the nightclub and drive away in a Toyota Corolla. As the Corolla pulled out of the parking lot, multiple MS-13 members began following it. The Corolla got onto Interstate 85 and headed north. Guevara was in the passenger side of a Ford truck following the Corolla. The Ford truck pulled alongside the Corolla as it exited I-85 onto Highway 316 in Gwinnett County. At that moment, Guevara fired multiple shots. He hit the passenger, Angel Gonzales, in the head. He also struck the driver, Celso Villalobos, in the arm. Villalobos drove Gonzales to the Gwinnett County Medical Center, where he died of the gunshot wound to the head.
The evidence gathered during the investigation also showed that Irvin Mejia Cruz, aka Triste, and Walter Aldana, aka Goofy, belonged to the same clique of MS-13. On Aug. 21, 2008, Mejia Cruz told Aldana that he would have to shoot someone if he wanted to earn more respect within the gang. Mejia Cruz then gave a gun to Aldana. Aldana left Mejia Cruz’s house and went a short distance where he saw a group of 13- and 14-year-olds gathered, some of whom were playing basketball. Aldana asked, “Who do you claim?” (that is, what gang do you belong to?). Without waiting for an answer, he started firing into the crowd and struck a 14-year-old boy in the back. Aldana then called out “Mara Salvatrucha” as he fled on foot. He returned the firearm to Mejia Cruz. The 14-year-old boy underwent surgery to have the bullet removed.
Guevara, 31, of Fort Walton Beach, Florida, has been sentenced to 30 years in prison to be followed by five years of supervised release. Guevara pleaded guilty to RICO conspiracy and using a firearm to commit murder Oct. 29, 2013.
Aldana, 24, of Norcross, has been sentenced to ten years in prison to be followed by five years of supervised release. Aldana pleaded guilty Oct. 21, 2013, to RICO conspiracy for the attempted murder of the 14-year-old boy he shot.
Mejia Cruz, 24, of Duluth has been sentenced to nine years in prison to be followed by five years of supervised release. He also pleaded guilty to RICO conspiracy Oct. 21, 2013, for providing the gun to Aldana.
To date, 22 defendants have been convicted of RICO conspiracy for their participation in the violent activities of MS-13. Sixteen of the 22 defendants have already been sentenced. An additional 14 members of MS-13 were charged in separate indictments and have already been convicted and sentenced in federal court for their crimes as gang members.
Assistant United States Attorney Paul R. Jones and U.S. Department of Justice, Organized Crime and Gang Section, Trial Attorney Joseph K. Wheatley prosecuted the case.