Federal Jury Finds Las Cruces Man Guilty on Conspiracy and Explosives Charges
ALBUQUERQUE—A federal jury found Clifford Salas, 38, of Las Cruces, N.M., guilty late this afternoon on a four-count superseding indictment charging him with conspiracy, explosives and firearms charges, including a charge that requires the imposition of mandatory 30-year prison sentence. The guilty plea was announced by U.S. Attorney Damon P. Martinez, Special Agent in Charge Carol K.O. Lee of the Albuquerque Division of the FBI, and Las Cruces Police Chief Jaime Montoya.
Salas and co-defendants Conrad Vazquez Salazar (Salazar), 43, and Andres Linares-Baca, 32, both of Las Cruces, and Thomas Vazquez Salazar (Vazquez Salazar), 39, of Odessa, Tex., were charged in a series of complaints and indictments, the first of which was filed in Sept. 2012, with violating the federal conspiracy, explosives and narcotics laws. Salas, Salazar and Vazquez Salazar were charged with conspiracy and explosives charges that arose out of the firebombing of a tattoo parlor in Las Cruces on Aug. 31, 2012.
In Sept. 2013, Vazquez Salazar entered a guilty plea to the conspiracy and an explosives charge and Linares-Baca pled guilty to conspiracy to distribute heroin and a heroin distribution charge. Proceedings against Salazar were delayed by competency proceedings, and in Oct. 2014, the court found him incompetent to stand trial and committed him to hospitalization to determine whether he can be restored to competency.
Salas elected to exercise his right to a jury trial on a superseding indictment charging him with participating in a conspiracy between July 15, 20112 and Aug. 31, 2012, to commit arson by maliciously damaging and destroying the Irish Ink Tattoo, located at 2245 South Main Street in Las Cruces. The indictment also charged Salas with maliciously damaging and destroying the Irish Ink Tattoo on Aug. 31, 2012, by throwing at least one Molotov cocktail into the building, using a destructive device in furtherance of an act of violence; and being a felon in possession of an explosive. Trial against Salas began on March 9, 2015 and concluded late this afternoon when the jury returned a verdict of guilty on all four counts of the superseding indictment.
The evidence at trial established that in May 2012, Salazar opened up a tattoo shop in Las Cruces. Shortly thereafter Salazar experienced legal troubles and his business struggled. As a result, two of Salazar’s tattoo artists left with the intention of opening their own tattoo shop, the Irish Ink Tattoo. When Salazar learned of these plans, he threatened to burn down Irish Ink Tattoo. As promised, after the two tattoo artists opened the Irish Ink Tattoo, Salazar arranged for Salas and Vazquez Salazar to throw Molotov cocktails at the Irish Ink Tattoo and burn it down. After midnight and after obtaining the Molotov cocktails from Salazar, Vazquez Salazar drove Salas to the Irish Ink Tattoo. Salas broke a window of the Irish Ink Tattoo with a metal bar and set the building on fire by throwing Molotov cocktails into the building. The evidence at trial included a recorded statement made by Salazar approximately three weeks after the Irish Ink Tattoo was firebombed in which Salazar claimed that Salas “went and firebombed that shop for me.”
The jury deliberated approximately 34 minutes before returning its guilty verdict.
Salas remains in federal custody pending his sentencing hearing which has yet to be scheduled. Salas faces a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on the conspiracy charge; a statutory maximum penalty of ten years in prison for causing malicious damage and destruction with an explosive; and a statutory maximum penalty of ten years in prison for being a felon in possession of an explosive device. Salas also faces a mandatory minimum 30 years in prison for using an explosive device to commit a crime of violence which must be served consecutive to any sentence imposed on the other charges of conviction.
Co-defendant Salazar has entered a not guilty plea to the charges in this case. Charges in criminal complaints and indictments are merely accusations and defendants are presumed innocent unless found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
This case was investigated by the Las Cruces office of the FBI and the Las Cruces Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Aaron O. Jordan and Marisa A. Lizarraga are prosecuting the case.