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June 20, 2023Baltimore, MD, United StatesOrganized Crime

MS-13 gang member gets 26 years for racketeering conspiracy, murder and more after HSI Baltimore investigation

BALTIMORE— A joint investigation involving Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore landed a Salvadoran national 26 years in federal prison for his role in a racketeering conspiracy that included murder, drug distribution and firearms charges. Jose Lopez-Rivera, 27, of Elmont, New York, received the lengthy prison sentence May 31 at the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland in Baltimore.

Lopez-Rivera was convicted of racketeering conspiracy involving a violent murder connected to his participation in La Mara Salvatrucha, a transnational criminal enterprise also known as MS-13, and for possession with intent to distribute cocaine, possession of a firearm and ammunition by an illegal alien, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.

“As a member of MS-13, Jose Lopez-Rivera perpetuated a lifestyle ruled by drugs, intimidation and violence. He wreaked havoc throughout Maryland communities for far too long, and for that, his 26-year federal prison sentence is well deserved,” said HSI Baltimore Special Agent in Charge James C. Harris. “HSI Baltimore will continue to work with our partners to alleviate the destruction caused by the MS-13 and eliminate their presence from our schools and communities.”

In August 2015, while Lopez Rivera and other MS-13 gang members were drinking in Wheaton, Maryland, they saw a man wearing Nike Cortez sneakers. According to MS-13 rules, those shoes were only to be worn by MS-13 gang members. A MS-13 member had previously warned the victim about wearing those sneakers. As they walked past him, the victim spat on a gang member; the gang member punched the victim in the mouth. The man threw a beer at one of the gang members and ran. Lopez-Rivera and another gang member chased the man away from the coffee shop and stabbed him to death. Following the murder, the gang members told their leadership they had killed a rival gang member.

The investigation also revealed that in July 2021, investigators searched an apartment in Elmont, New York, where Lopez-Rivera was living. They recovered a shotgun, ammunition and a brick of packed white powder that tested positive for cocaine. Lopez-Rivera admitted that he possessed the cocaine to distribute it and possessed the firearm in furtherance of his drug distribution. Lopez Rivera knew that he was in the United States unlawfully and therefore was prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition.

More than 30 MS-13 gang members and associates have been convicted in this and related cases. MS-13 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, one of the largest street gangs in the United States, operate throughout Frederick County, Anne Arundel County, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County in Maryland.

Since at least 2015, Lopez-Rivera was a member of the Fulton Locos Salvatruchas MS-13 clique.

This case is an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation. The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement 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, a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and make neighborhoods safer for everyone. Project Safe Neighborhoods is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through Project Safe Neighborhoods, a broad spectrum of stakeholders works together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, Project Safe Neighborhoods 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 Homeland Security Investigations via the HSI Tip Line. The HSI Tip Line is open 24 hours a day and can be reached by calling 866-DHS-2423 (866-347-2423).

This joint investigation was conducted by HSI Baltimore; FBI Baltimore; ATF Baltimore; the Frederick Police Department; the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office; and the Anne Arundel, Montgomery, and Prince George’s County Police Departments. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland and the Anne Arundel, Frederick, Montgomery, and Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Offices provided significant assistance.

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.