HSI, FBI, DEA investigation lands MS-13 gang member life sentence for racketeering
GREENBELT, Md. — An investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore, the FBI’s Washington field office, the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Washington and New York divisions, and local law enforcement partners landed a 28-year-old Langley Park resident in federal prison for life for his part in a racketeering conspiracy involving murder and drug offenses. Bryan Contreras-Avalos received the extensive prison sentence Jan. 13 at the U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.
The investigation revealed that Contreras-Avalos aka “Anonimo,” “Humilde” and “Malia,” is a member of the notorious street gang known as La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, and participated in at least three murders.
The judge convicted Contreras-Avalos after a three-week trial with co-defendants Luis Flores-Reyes, aka “Maloso,” “Lobo” and “Viejo Lovvon,” age 42, of Arlington, Virginia, and Jairo Jacome, aka “Abuelo,” age 40, of Langley Park. Contreras-Avalos also received a concurrent five-year prison sentence for a drug distribution conspiracy.
The joint investigation revealed that Contreras-Avalos and his co-defendants participated in at least three murders and an additional attempted murder during the period of the conspiracy. In at least two instances, the victims were minors.
In June 2016, Contreras-Avalos and other members of MS-13 stabbed to death two homeless persons they believed to be members of the 18th Street gang. However, the investigation revealed no evidence that the victims were gang members.
Contreras-Avalos also sought to kill a different homeless man, but MS-13 leaders denied him permission. Later, leaders gave him permission to commit another, unrelated murder; in that case, his target survived the attack but an associate did not.
The investigation further revealed that the defendants ran an extortion scheme in and around Langley Park, extorting local businesses by charging them “rent” for the privilege of operating in MS-13 territory. Contreras-Avalos and Flores-Reyes also trafficked illegal drugs, including marijuana and cocaine. Using structured transactions and intermediaries to avoid law enforcement scrutiny, they sent a large share of their proceeds to gang leadership in El Salvador.
The courts convicted co-defendants Jacome and Flores-Reyes of racketeering conspiracy, murder in aid of racketeering, and extortion conspiracy. The two face mandatory life sentences. Flores-Reyes’ sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 22, and Jacome’s is scheduled the following day.
During this conspiracy, MS-13 leadership expected members protect the gang’s name, reputation and status and to use any means necessary to force respect from those who showed disrespect, including acts of intimidation and violence. MS-13 has mottos consistent with its rules, beliefs, expectations and reputation, including the Spanish “mata, viola, controla,” which translates to “kill, rape, control.” One of MS-13’s principal rules is that its members must attack and kill rivals, often referred to as “chavalas,” whenever possible.
MS-13, one of the largest street gangs in the United States, is composed primarily of immigrants or descendants of immigrants from El Salvador and other Central American countries. Branches or cliques of MS-13 operate throughout Maryland in Frederick County, Anne Arundel County, Prince George’s County, and Montgomery County. Contreras-Avalos and Flores-Reyes were leaders in the Sailors Clique, which holds territory in Maryland, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Texas and El Salvador. Jacome was the highest-ranking member of the local Langley Park Salvatrucha, or LPS, clique.
MS-13 members are required to commit acts of violence to maintain membership and discipline one another within the gang, as well as commit violence against rival gang members. Member participation in violent activity, particularly in violent acts directed at rival gangs or as directed by gang leadership, increases the respect other members accord to that member. That results in maintained or increased position within the gang, opening the door to promotion to a leadership position.
The joint investigation was conducted by HSI Baltimore, the FBI’s Washington field office and the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Washington, D.C. and New York divisions with significant assistance from the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland, the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division, the Prince George’s County Police Department and the Montgomery County Police Department.
This case is an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.
This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and gun violence, and to make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. On May 26, 2021, the Department of Justice launched a violent crime reduction strategy strengthening PSN based on these core principles: fostering trust and legitimacy in our communities, supporting community-based organizations that help prevent violence from occurring in the first place, setting focused and strategic enforcement priorities, and measuring the results.
Anyone with information about MS-13 is encouraged to provide their tips to law enforcement. Homeland Security Investigations has a nationwide tip line that members of the public can call to report what they know. You can reach HSI at 866-DHS-2423. The HSI tip line is manned 24 hours a day.
HSI is the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of more than 8,700 employees consists of more than 6,000 special agents assigned to 237 cities throughout the United States, and 93 overseas locations in 56 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.