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May 20, 2015Charlotte, NCUnited StatesTransnational Gangs

ICE joint operation results in 37 MS-13 gang arrests for murder, racketeering

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Thirty-seven members of the street gang “La Mara Salvatrucha,” or “MS-13,” were indicted on federal racketeering conspiracy charges Wednesday following a joint investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police and the Mecklenburg County District Attorney.

Twenty-two of the 37 MS-13 members indicted Wednesday also face other felony charges to include murder, attempted murder, assault and firearms violations. HSI and its law enforcement partners arrested 16 of the indicted gang members early Wednesday morning during a coordinated operation. Five indicted suspects remain at large; another 16 suspects were already in custody on various state charges.

“Transnational criminal gangs like MS-13 inflict untold damage in our communities by engaging in violence and trafficking in drugs, weapons and even human beings,” said Ryan L. Spradlin, Special Agent in Charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Atlanta. “This lengthy investigation has uncovered alleged crimes ranging from petty drug deals to capital murder. There is no doubt that North Carolina communities will be safer as a result of these arrests.”

According to the indictment, the defendants operated in Mecklenburg County since at least 2009 during which time they carried out a variety of criminal actions to protect the interests of the gang’s criminal enterprise to include drug distribution, armed robberies, extortion, illegal possession of weapons, the assault of individuals suspected of cooperating with law enforcement and murder. The indictment charges each of the 37 alleged gang members with one count of Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) conspiracy. In addition to the RICO conspiracy charge, three defendants face murder in aid of racketeering and related charges. Ten other defendants also face attempted murder in aid of racketeering and related charges.

Specifically, the indictment alleges that on December 18, 2013, the gang allegedly ordered the murder of Jose Orlando Ibarra in Charlotte, whom the gang believed to be a member of a rival gang, and another murder on or about June 6, 2014, also in Charlotte. According to the indictment, on April 23, 2011, gang members murdered Rigoberto Castillo in Rock Hill, S.C., and on June 23, 2013, the gang killed Alejandro Sebastian Alvarez, a rival gang member in Charlotte.

“The arrest of these MS-13 gang members is part of a coordinated law enforcement effort to eradicate gang violence in North Carolina. Innocent families should not suffer because of the callous and violent actions of others. The FBI will pursue those criminal offenders who impact the safety and stability of our neighborhoods, no matter their gang affiliation,” said John Strong, Special Agent in Charge of FBI Charlotte.

“The success of this roundup should be attributed to the strength of these law enforcement partnerships and send a clear message to gang members that all of us are working together in our pursuit to put the criminals out of business for the betterment of our communities,” said Mark Senter, NC Alcohol Law Enforcement branch head.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elizabeth Greene and William Miller are in charge of the prosecution on behalf of Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina Jill Westmoreland Rose.

“As outlined in today’s indictment, the alleged MS-13 gang members have committed numerous violent crimes, including armed robberies, assaults, and murders, for the benefit of the criminal enterprise. Today’s charges send a clear message to gangsters who think their gang affiliation puts them beyond the law’s reach. Prosecutors and law enforcement officers will continue to work hand-in-hand to identify and prosecute gang offenders whose violent acts create mayhem in our streets and devastate communities,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Rose.

The defendants arrested today have begun making their initial appearances in Charlotte before a U.S. Magistrate Judge. The defendants currently in state custody will be transferred to the custody of the U.S. Marshals to appear in court on the federal charges.

“The partnerships between my office, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and both federal and local law enforcement reflect our dedication to ensuring that collaborative investigations and prosecutions target violent crime on our streets,” said Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray. “We’ll continue to work together as we pursue justice for those affected by crime and protect the community from future harm.”

The charges contained in the indictment are allegations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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.

Updated: 05/20/2015