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Transnational Gangs
07/15/2020

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HSI-led MS-13 takedown announced by White House: Gang members included national MS-13 leadership, indictments for firearms, drug distribution, "Kingpin" statute, other offenses

HSI-led MS-13 takedown announced by White House: Gang members included national MS-13 leadership, indictments for firearms, drug distribution, "Kingpin" statute, other offenses

WASHINGTON – An investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Las Vegas resulted in the criminal arrest of 11 members and associates of MS-13 Tuesday in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Los Angeles, California. Another six MS-13 members and associates were also arrested on administrative charges, with criminal charges pending in five of the six cases, for a total of 17 MS-13 arrests made Tuesday in the two cities. HSI was greatly assisted by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The indictment of 13 individuals was unsealed Wednesday in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada.

During the operation, HSI seized five pounds of methamphetamine, $28,000 in cash, 14 firearms (9 long arms and five handguns), and six suppressors.

President Donald J. Trump announced the results of this multiyear investigation in the Oval Office Wednesday with the heads of various law enforcement agencies, including ICE Deputy Director and Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Director Matthew Albence, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Chad Wolf.

The 21-count indictment charged the 13 leaders, members, and associates with violation of the federal "Kingpin" statute and multiple drugs and firearms offenses, including transporting bulk quantities of methamphetamine from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

The indictment was returned under seal July 8, by a federal grand jury sitting in Las Vegas. Tuesday morning, 11 of the 13 defendants were taken into criminal custody: five defendants were arrested in the Los Angeles area, and five defendants were arrested in Las Vegas, and one transferred from ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) custody to criminal custody in Tacoma, Washington.

"Gangs threaten the safety of our communities, not just in major metropolitan areas but in our suburbs and rural areas, too," said Francisco Burrola, special agent in charge for the HSI Las Vegas office. "Gang-related violence and criminal activity present an ongoing challenge for law enforcement everywhere. Our efforts to dismantle gangs are much more effective in areas where partnership with local law enforcement is strongest."

Two other defendants — Juan Angel Reyes (also known as "Angel" and "Mysterio") and Eder Cruz-Salguero (also known as "Edgar Manolo Ramirez-Salguero" and "Venado") — are considered fugitives and a warrant remains outstanding for their arrests.

"As a result of the hard work and substantial resources dedicated by our local and federal law enforcement partners, this collaborative effort has disrupted MS-13's leadership and significantly undermines the gang's ability to engage in violence and other criminal conduct in Nevada, California, and elsewhere throughout the country," said U.S. Attorney Trutanich. "Our office is proud to contribute to making our streets safer and stopping MS-13 from using a well-worn path between Los Angeles and Las Vegas to develop a greater presence in Las Vegas. We are grateful to HSI, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, and ATF: without their bravery, this prosecution would not be possible."

"The magnitude of this operation will have a huge ripple effect on this criminal enterprise. Dangerous gangs like these contribute to the decay of our communities by bringing drugs and other violent crime to our streets. They threaten the safety of our neighborhoods and our way of life. These arrests are a real victory against gang violence," said Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo.

"Gangs are one of the nation's key distributors of narcotics and are flagrant in their use of firearms to carry out violence and intimidation," said Special Agent in Charge Patrick Gorman, San Francisco Field Division, ATF. "Through ATF's collaborative Crime Gun Intelligence Model, local, state, and federal partners diligently pursue violent criminals and the sources of their crime guns to remove them from our communities. Throughout this investigation, ATF has worked side by side with our partners to fulfill ATF's mission of protecting the public by investigating the criminal misuse and trafficking of firearms in Las Vegas. ATF remains committed to working hard and doing our part to make this city a safer place."

As detailed in the indictment, MS-13 originated in Los Angeles and has since spread across the country. MS-13 is organized by subsets known as "cliques," such as "Hollywood Locos" and "Fulton." In the southwestern United States, the Hollywood Locos clique operates in several major cities, including Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

The organizational hierarchy of MS-13 cliques in Nevada is generally composed of different ranks. A "Homeboy" is a fully initiated gang member who has undergone a "jumping-in" ceremony. That ceremony involves passing a "beating test" where the prospective MS-13 member must survive a group of existing gang members beating him for 13 seconds. Once jumped in, MS-13 members are expected to participate in the gang's criminal activities. Certain "Homeboys" also operate as "Palabreros" or "shot callers," making the ultimate decisions affecting the clique.

The indictment charges three defendants who were "Homeboys" in the MS-13 Hollywood Locos and Fulton cliques:

  • Adali Arnulfo Escalante-Trujillo, also known as "Buchaca," 43, of Las Vegas, is charged with one count of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise (commonly referred to as the "Kingpin" statute), one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, 16 counts of distribution of a controlled substance, and one count of conspiracy to deal in firearms without a license.

    As alleged, Escalante-Trujillo was the Las Vegas-based "shot caller" of the Hollywood Locos clique, leading the Las Vegas sector of the gang, which was involved in narcotics and firearms distribution. He bragged about the violent acts committed by MS-13, boasted of connections between MS-13 and the Mexican Mafia, and bragged that MS-13 had come to work with nearly all Mexican Cartels. Reflecting his senior position within MS-13's hierarchy, Escalante-Trujillo was in direct contact with an MS-13 founding member living in El Salvador.

    Escalante-Trujillo brokered nearly every narcotics and gun trafficking charge alleged in the indictment. Among other things, Escalante-Trujillo hosted MS-13 members from Los Angeles at his Las Vegas home, to enable their transportation of bulk methamphetamine from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.
  • Jose Alfredo Ayala-Flores, also known as "Blackie," 39, of Inglewood, California, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, six counts of distribution of a controlled substance, and one count of being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm.

    As alleged, in addition to being a "Homeboy," Ayala-Flores is a "shot caller." He led the MS-13 "Los Angeles Program," a leadership group that seeks to unify MS-13 decision-making throughout the United States.

    In early 2020, Ayala-Flores and Escalante-Trujillo arranged numerous bulk methamphetamine deals in Las Vegas. Additionally, Ayala-Flores sent bulk pills, laced with fentanyl, through the mail. Ayala-Flores also possessed three rifles (bearing no serial numbers) illegally, due to his prior conviction for attempted murder.
  • Alvaro Ernesto Perez Carias, also known as "Toro," 50, of Los Angeles, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and one count of distribution of a controlled substance.

    As alleged, Perez Carias is a "shot caller" and a founding member of the Hollywood Locos clique. Due to supply issues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Perez Carias personally delivered large quantities of methamphetamine from Los Angeles to Las Vegas this year.

    Aside from Escalante-Trujillo, Ayala-Flores, and Perez Carias, the remaining ten defendants are charged with conspiring to distribute drugs (between July 2019 and the present) and conducting individual drug deals over the past 12 months.

The indictment also charges defendants with illegally possessing and selling silencers, semiautomatic rifles, and semiautomatic handguns:

  • Sebastian Ocadiz-Castro, 20, of Las Vegas, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, three counts of distribution of a controlled substance, and one count of conspiracy to deal in firearms without a license.
  • Juan Luis-Rico, also known as "Pelon," 46, of Las Vegas, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and one count of distribution of a controlled substance.
  • Juan Angel Reyes, also known as "Angel" and "Mysterio," 21, of Van Nuys, California, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and one count of distribution of a controlled substance.
  • Miguel Angel Nieto-Romero, also known as "Flaco," 26, of Los Angeles, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and three counts of distribution of a controlled substance.
  • Rosalio Andres Siguenza-Romero, also known as "Tweety," 40, of Las Vegas, is charged with one count of conspiracy to deal in firearms without a license, one count of dealing in firearms without a license, and one count of possession of an unregistered firearm.
  • Daniel Enrique Perez-Torres, also known as "Maliente," 30, of Las Vegas, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and two counts of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
  • Jose Gerardo Cortez-Diaz, also known as "Christian Axel Lopez-Cortez" and "Chiquilin," 20, of Los Angeles, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and one count of distribution of a controlled substance.
  • Eder Cruz-Salguero, also known as "Edgar Manolo Ramirez-Salguero" and "Venado," 26 (city of residence unknown), is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and one count of distribution of a controlled substance.
  • Carlos Lopez-Guzman, also known as "Troso," 41, of Los Angeles, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and three counts of distribution of a controlled substance.
  • Pedro Ernesto Montalvo, also known as "Cuba," 35, of Hawthorne, California, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and one count of distribution of a controlled substance.

All defendants except Angel Reyes and Cruz-Salguero are in federal custody and awaiting their respective initial appearances. The charges in the indictment are merely allegations, and each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shaheen Torgoley and Brett Ruff are prosecuting this case.

The maximum statutory sentences for each charge in the indictment are: (a) life imprisonment and a $2 million fine for engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise; (b) life imprisonment and a $10 million fine for distribution of controlled substance; (c) life imprisonment and a $10 million fine for conspiracy to distribute controlled substance; (d) five years imprisonment for conspiracy – deal in firearms without a license; (e) five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine for dealing in firearms without a license; (f) ten years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine for prohibited person in possession of a firearm; and (g) ten years imprisonment for possession of unregistered firearm. The maximum statutory sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only. If convicted of any federal offense, the sentencing of a defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory sentencing guidelines and other statutory factors.

This case was investigated as part of the ongoing efforts by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), a partnership that brings together the combined expertise of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and money laundering organizations, and those primarily responsible for the nation's illegal drug supply. The Southern Nevada High Impact Narcotics Task Force, comprised of members of HSI Las Vegas, the Henderson (NV) Police Department and LVMPD were significant partners in this investigation, to include Nevada's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas analytical support. Further, Nevada Highway Patrol, Clark County School Police, as well as the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Office of Air and Marine Operations and ICE's Enforcement and Removal Operations provided substantial assistance with the service of arrests and search warrants.

Over the last three years, HSI has arrested nearly 12,000 gang members, to include more than 1,600 MS-13 gang members.

Individuals across the world can report suspicious criminal activity to the HSI tip line 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Highly trained specialists take reports from both the public and law enforcement agencies on more than 400 laws enforced by HSI. Contact the toll-free tip line at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE or by completing its online tip form. Both are staffed around the clock. From outside the U.S. and Canada, callers should dial 802-872-6199. Hearing impaired users can call TTY 802-872-6196.

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Last Reviewed/Updated: 07/15/2020