SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) arrests in Santa Cruz, California, resulted in MS-13 gang members receiving a 30-year prison sentence and a 27-year sentence.
The transnational street gang La Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, has local chapters, or cliques, throughout the world, including El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, and the United States. MS-13 members and associates engage in crimes such as murder, narcotics trafficking, extortion, and obstruction of justice. MS-13 members enforce gang rules and protect gang territory with violence, including murder. The Santa Cruz Salvatrucha Locos (SCSL) is an MS-13 clique that operates in and around Santa Cruz, California.
On June 18, 2020, MS-13 gang member Alexander Martinez-Flores, a.k.a. “Pocar,” was sentenced in the Northern District of California to 30 years of incarceration for using a firearm to cause murder, conspiracy to commit murder and extortion, and racketeering conspiracy. Martinez, 29, is a citizen of El Salvador.
Martinez, who was living in Santa Cruz, was a member of the SCSL clique of the MS-13 gang from at least January 2013 to February 2017, and the first-in-command from about February to August 2014. Martinez and SCSL members engaged in violence, drug trafficking and extortion. Martinez coordinated with MS-13 members in El Salvador and other places to carry out the directives of the gang’s leadership in and around Santa Cruz. Martinez directed how SCSL money was maintained and spent.
Along with other gang members, Martinez patrolled SCSL’s claimed gang territory in Santa Cruz with firearms and knives and assaulted, stabbed, threatened or shot rival gang members to maintain control over this “turf.” Martinez hunted for rivals to kill on multiple occasions.
Martinez admitted that he was one of the shooters in a murder committed by SCSL gang members and that in April 2016 the gang discussed seeking approval from El Salvador to kill a suspected rival gang member. The murder was approved, and Martinez was one of the gang members tasked with killing the victim. On Sept. 22, 2016, the victim was shot and killed, and Martinez was one of the shooters. He then celebrated the murder with other MS-13 members.
According to a plea agreement, Martinez had a role in supporting SCSL’s extortion and drug trafficking activities. On one occasion in July 2016, Martinez-Flores collected an extortion payment, the “monthly fee due to SCSL,” from a local drug dealer.
On June 29, Tomas Rivera, a.k.a. “Jonas Portillo Escobar,” a.k.a. “Profugo,” a.k.a. “Caballo,” was sentenced to 27 years in prison for conspiring to engage in racketeering, extortion by force, and murder in aid of racketeering in connection with his role as a leader of the local Santa Cruz-based MS-13 gang clique.
Rivera, 27, of El Salvador, arrived in Santa Cruz in April of 2016, where he quickly stepped in as second in command of the SCSL clique of the MS-13 gang. Rivera admitted he played a key role in a murder committed by SCSL gang members. Specifically, Rivera admitted that in April 2016 he discussed seeking approval from El Salvador to kill a suspected rival gang member. The murder was committed by Martinez-Flores and other SCSL members Sept. 22, 2016, and Rivera collected the murder weapons. Rivera, Martinez and other SCSL members then celebrated the murder. At an October 2016 SCSL meeting, Rivera took charge of organizing the day-to-day efforts of SCSL members to kill additional rivals. Rivera also had a role in burning clothing and a car involved in another murder by MS-13 members.
From April 2016 through January 2017, Rivera and SCSL members engaged in drug trafficking and extortion. Rivera coordinated with MS-13 members in El Salvador and other places to carry out the directives of the gang’s leadership in and around Santa Cruz. Rivera acknowledged he pushed for strict adherence to MS-13 rules, including the rule that required all people who wanted to join the gang to commit a murder to qualify for membership.
Additionally, Rivera had a role in patrolling the area over which SCSL gang members asserted their control. Rivera admitted in the plea agreement that on one occasion he and other SCSL members assaulted a suspected rival gang member they found in their territory. On another occasion, Rivera and other MS-13 members were in a car, when they spotted people they suspected of being rival gang members. One of the MS-13 members shot at and attempted to kill a member of the group.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office Organized Crime Strike Force prosecuted the cases. These sentencings are the results of a joint HSI San Jose and Santa Cruz Police Department investigation into MS-13 criminal street gang members operating in the greater Santa Cruz, California area.
“The Santa Cruz Police are grateful to HSI for assistance in investigating and convicting very violent members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang. It will make our community safer,” said Santa Cruz Chief of Police Andrew Mills.
U.S. District Court Judge Edward J. Davila handed down the sentences. Judge Davila also sentenced the defendants to a 5-year period of supervised release.
Eight of the other charged defendants have already pleaded guilty for their roles in the SCSL and MS-13 criminal enterprise.
In fiscal year 2019, HSI agents made nearly 4,000 arrests of transnational gang members; of those, more than 300 were tied to MS-13.
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 at https://www.ice.gov/webform/hsi-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.
Electronic court filings and further procedural and docket information are available at https://ecf.cand.uscourts.gov/cgi-bin/login.pl.