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11/01/2016

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Charlotte-area MS-13 gang members sentenced to life in prison following ICE HSI investigation

31 gang members now sentenced for roles in North Carolina murder, racketeering conspiracy
Charlotte-area MS-13 gang members sentenced to life in prison following ICE HSI investigation

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Two Charlotte-area MS-13 gang members were sentenced to life in federal prison Monday for murder, racketeering and other charges following a joint investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the FBI, along with North Carolina’s Alcohol Law Enforcement and the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

Miguel Zelaya, 22, an unlawfully present Honduran national, and Luis Ordonez-Vega, 37, a Guatemalan national, were both sentenced to life in prison Monday by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Conrad Jr. A federal jury in Charlotte previously convicted both men in April on conspiracy to participate in racketeering activity (RICO), murder in aid of racketeering, use or carry of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence resulting in death.

“ICE Homeland Security Investigations will continue to prioritize investigations such as this that bring to justice members of violent gangs and other transnational criminal organizations,” said Special Agent in Charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations Atlanta Nick S. Annan. “These criminal conspiracies threaten the safety and security of the law-abiding public, and HSI will continue to work with our federal, state and local partners to identify and seek prosecution of these dangerous individuals.”

A third MS-13 gang member, Jorge Garcia, 27, was also sentenced Monday to 70 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to RICO conspiracy and attempted murder in aid of racketeering charges.

According to court documents, from at least 2009 until May 2015, the three defendants along with 34 others named in a federal indictment were members of the MS-13 gang - a criminal organization with more than 6,000 members in the United States and 30,000 members internationally.

MS-13 originated in Los Angeles, and has spread to multiple states across the country including North Carolina. The gang’s members are mostly immigrants or descendants of immigrants from El Salvador and other Latin American countries. Members of MS-13 in Charlotte participated in multiple meetings at various times to discuss gang-related matters and to plan the commission of future crimes for the benefit of the gang. They were also responsible for numerous criminal acts including murder and attempted murder.

On Dec. 18, 2013, Zelaya shot and killed Jose Orlando Ibarra, a member of rival gang “The Latin Kings.” Zelaya admitted to law enforcement that he shot Ibarra because Ibarra owed him money for a gun and because Ibarra and his brother, another Latin King member, had been looking for one of Zelaya’s associates with a shotgun.

On June 6, 2013, Ordonez-Vega shot and killed Noel Navarro Hernandez in a Charlotte strip-mall parking lot. Ordonez-Vega and other MS-13 members targeted Navarro because they believed that Navarro was a rival gang member.

Twenty-nine additional MS-13 gang members have previously been sentenced in connection with this case:

  • Raul Contreras was sentenced to 360 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
  • Oscar Trejo was sentenced to 300 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
  • Cesar Garcia-Perez was sentenced to 276 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
  • Daniel Navarro was sentenced to 240 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
  • Jose Danny Argueta was sentenced to 228 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
  • Milton Chavarria was sentenced to 228 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
  • Alexis Villalta-Morales was sentenced to 204 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
  • Christian Pena was sentenced to 180 months in prison.
  • Carlos Almonte was sentenced to 144 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
  • Luis Funes-Rivera was sentenced to 144 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
  • Albert Vela-Garcia was sentenced to 78 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
  • Jose Moran-Celis was sentenced to 72 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
  • Marlon Vasquez-Maldonado was sentenced to 72 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
  • Rene Lopez-Ventura was sentenced to 66 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
  • Jose Manuel Linares was sentenced to 60 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
  • Juan Bergamasco-Suarez was sentenced to 57 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
  • Neris Gutierrez was sentenced to 51 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
  • Jose Vasquez was sentenced to 46 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
  • Luis Erazo was sentenced to 37 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
  • Raul Guardado was sentenced to 36 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
  • Jonathan Noble was sentenced to 36 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
  • Jaime Turcios was sentenced to 36 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
  • Rosendo Rivas was sentenced to 30 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
  • Jorge Perez was sentenced to 27 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
  • Marvin Fuentes-Canales was sentenced to 24 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
  • Saul Gavidia was sentenced to 21 months in prison and three years of supervised release.
  • Victor Pineda was sentenced to 21 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
  • Angel Hernandez was sentenced to 21 months in prison.
  • Fec Rodriguez-Vareal was sentenced to 15 months in prison and one year of supervised release.

Two more defendants, Jorge Sosa and William Gavidia, were previously convicted at trial and are currently awaiting sentencing. Sosa was convicted of RICO conspiracy, attempted murder in aid of racketeering, use or carry of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. Gavidia was convicted of RICO conspiracy.

Three other indicted MS-13 gang members remain at large as fugitives. They are Miriam Barilles-Escamilla, Salvador Ruiz and Luis Villalta.

This prosecution is part of an extensive investigation by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF). OCDETF is a joint federal, state and local cooperative approach to combat drug trafficking and is the nation’s primary tool for disrupting and dismantling major drug trafficking organizations, targeting national and regional level drug trafficking organizations and coordinating the necessary law enforcement entities and resources to disrupt or dismantle the targeted criminal organization and seize their assets.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elizabeth Greene and William Miller of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Charlotte prosecuted this case on behalf of U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina Jill Westmoreland Rose.

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 11/07/2016