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March 10, 2023Baltimore, MD, United StatesTransnational Gangs

Joint HSI-FBI investigation lands MS-13 member a life sentence for racketeering conspiracy, murder

Offender participated in the murder of a victim believed to be cooperating with law enforcement

BALTIMORE — An investigation conducted by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore and the FBI’s Washington field office resulted in a sentence of life in federal prison for a member of the notorious MS-13 street gang. On March 6, a federal judge sentenced Jose Domingo Ordonez-Zometa, 33, of Landover Hills, for racketeering and murder in aid of racketeering conspiracies, committing murder in aid of racketeering, and conspiracy to destroy and conceal evidence connected to his participation a transnational criminal enterprise.

Ordonez-Zometa was convicted Dec. 16, 2022, after a two-week trial, along with co-defendants Jose Rafael Ortega-Ayala, 30, of Greenbelt; and Jose Henry Hernandez-Garcia, 29, of Annandale, Virginia.

“Jose Domingo Ordonez-Zometa presented a horrific threat to the people of the Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia communities that he terrorized,” said HSI Baltimore Special Agent in Charge James C. Harris. “Working with our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, we brought Ordonez-Zometa to justice. HSI Baltimore will continue to pursue any organized criminal group that seeks to prey upon the communities that we have sworn to protect.”

The investigation revealed that between August 2018 and April 2019, Ordonez-Zometa and his co-defendants participated in the MS-13 criminal enterprise by engaging in acts of violence, including murder, the destruction of evidence, witness tampering and other crimes. The gang members committed the criminal acts to increase MS-13’s power in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, including Maryland and Virginia.

The investigation was a joint effort by HSI Baltimore and FBI Washington with significant assistance from the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland; the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office the Prince George’s County Police Department; and the Fairfax County Police Department.

MS-13, one of the largest street gangs in the United States, is a national and international gang composed primarily of immigrants or descendants from El Salvador and other central American countries. Branches or “cliques” of MS-13 operate throughout the United States, including in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. Ordonez-Zometa and his co-defendants were members and associates of the Los Ghettos Criminales Salvatruchas (“LGCS” or “Ghettos”) clique of MS-13.

As part of the conspiracy, members of MS-13 were expected to protect the name, reputation and status of the gang from rival gang members and others, using any means necessary to force respect from those who showed disrespect, including acts of intimidation and violence. One of the principal rules of MS-13 is that its members must attack and kill rivals, often referred to as “chavalas,” whenever possible. Participation in criminal activity increases respect for an MS-13 member, particularly when it involves violent acts directed at rival gangs or as directed by gang leadership. As a result, that member maintains or increases their position in the gang, which opens the door to promotion to a leadership position.

The investigation revealed Ordonez-Zometa was the leader of the LGCS clique. Ordonez-Zometa called a meeting of the LGCS clique at his house on March 8, 2019, to discuss clique matters, including recent contacts that an LGCS clique member (Victim 1) had with police. Ordonez-Zometa, Victim 1, the co-defendants and other MS-13 members participated in the meeting, during which Ordonez-Zometa questioned Victim 1 about their cooperation with police.

Investigators discovered that Ordonez-Zometa, his co-defendants and at least one other MS-13 member assaulted the victim based on incorrect suspicions that the victim was cooperating with law enforcement. They also assaulted another MS-13 member who attempted to defend the victim. The assault culminated with Ordonez-Zometa, as LGCS clique leader, ordering the victim’s murder. Ortega-Ayala, Hernandez-Garcia and other MS-13 members then stabbed and murdered the victim in Ordonez-Zometa’s basement.

According to the investigation, Ordonez-Zometa then ordered Ortega-Ayala, Hernandez-Garcia, and other LGCS clique members and co-conspirators to conceal and destroy evidence of the murder. Ortega-Ayala and others transported the victim’s body to a secluded location in Stafford County, Virginia, set it on fire, then destroyed and concealed evidence that remained in the vehicle used to transport the victim. Meanwhile, Ordonez-Zometa, Hernandez-Garcia and another MS-13 member stayed at the crime scene and attempted to remove, destroy and conceal evidence of the murder, including Victim 1’s blood.

Ortega-Ayala and Hernandez-Garcia face mandatory sentences of life in prison. Their sentencing dates have not been set.

This case is an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation. The task force identifies, disrupts and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multiagency 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 make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.

Anyone with information about MS-13 is encouraged to provide their tips to law enforcement. HSI has a nationwide tipline that members of the public can call to report any information regarding criminal activity. The HSI tipline number is 866-347-2423 and it’s staffed 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.

Learn more about HSI’s mission to fight organized crime in your community on Twitter @HSIBaltimore.