U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of North Carolina
(704) 344-6222
May 20, 2015

Thirty-Seven MS-13 Gang Members Indicted on Racketeering Conspiracy Charges; Some Also Charged with Murder, Attempted Murder, and Firearms Violations

CHARLOTE, NC—Thirty-seven members of the street gang “La Mara Salvatrucha,” or “MS-13,” have been indicted by a federal grand jury on racketeering conspiracy charges, announced Jill Westmoreland Rose, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina. Twenty-two defendants have also been charged variously with additional offenses, including murder, attempted murder, assault, and firearms violations.

This morning, law enforcement arrested 16 of the alleged gang members during an early morning round-up. Five remain at large and are subject to active arrest warrants. Another 16 are currently in state custody on various state charges.

John A. Strong, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Charlotte Division; Ryan L. Spradlin, Special Agent in Charge of ICE/Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Atlanta; Mark Senter, Branch Head of the North Carolina Alcohol Law Enforcement; Chief Rodney D. Monroe of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department; and Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray join Acting U.S. Attorney Rose in making today’s announcement.

“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 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.

“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.”

“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 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.

The indictment charges each of the 37 alleged gang members with one count of Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) conspiracy. The named defendants are:

  • Carlos Almote a/k/a “Rabioso,” 25, of Charlotte. (in state custody)
  • Jose Danny Argueta a/k/a “Shadow,” 23, of Charlotte. (in state custody)
  • Miriam Barilles-Escamilla a/k/a “Gata,” 26, of El Salvador. (not arrested)
  • Juan Bergamasco-Suarez a/k/a “Temper” or “Kilo,” 21, of Charlotte. (in state custody)
  • Milton Chavarria a/k/a “Syko,” 23, of Charlotte. (in state custody)
  • Raul Contreras a/k/a “Smoke,” 24, of Charlotte. (in state custody)
  • Luis Erazo a/k/a “Joker,” 24, of Honduras. (arrested)
  • Marvin Fuentes-Canales a/k/a “Crazy,” 22, of El Salvador. (not arrested)
  • Luis Funes-Rivera a/k/a “Demonio,” 20, of Charlotte. (in state custody)
  • Jorge Garcia a/k/a “Shorty,” 25, of Charlotte. (arrested)
  • Cesar Garcia-Perez a/k/a “Vikingo,” 35, of Charlotte. (in state custody)
  • Saul Gavidia a/k/a “Scrappy,” 20, of Landis, N.C. (arrested)
  • William Gavidia a/k/a “Duro,” 23, of Kannapolis, N.C. (arrested)
  • Raul Guardado a/k/a “Guanaco,” 42, of Charlotte. (arrested)
  • Neris Gutierrez a/k/a “Oso” or “Furioso,” 26, of Guatemala. (not arrested)
  • Angel Hernandez a/k/a “Taz” or “Magic,” 24, of Rock Hill, S.C. (arrested)
  • Jose Manuel Linares a/k/a “Chepito,” 21, of Charlotte. (arrested)
  • Rene Lopez-Ventura a/k/a “Mafioso,” 32, of Charlotte. (arrested)
  • Jose Moran-Celis a/k/a “Lil Silent,” 20, of Charlotte. (arrested)
  • Daniel Navarro a/k/a “Lunatico,” 21, of Charlotte. (in state custody)
  • Jonathan Noble a/k/a “Ghost,” 22, of Charlotte. (arrested)
  • Luis Ordonez-Vega a/k/a “Big Boy,” 36, of Concord, N.C. (in state custody)
  • Christian Pena a/k/a “Pitbull,” 19, of Charlotte. (in state custody)
  • Jorge Perez a/k/a “JP Bukie,” 30, of Charlotte. (arrested)
  • Victor Pineda a/k/a “Chele,” 23, of Charlotte. (arrested)
  • Rosendo Rivas a/k/a “Jester,” or “Demonio” or “Nene” 24, of Rock Hill. (in state custody)
  • Fec Rodriguez-Vareal a/k/a “Chelito,” 28, of Charlotte. (arrested)
  • Salvador Ruiz a/k/a “Chava,” 26, of Kannapolis. (not arrested)
  • Jorge Sosa a/k/a “Koki” or “Loco,” 23, of Charlotte. (in state custody)
  • Oscar Trejo a/k/a “Trigger” or “Maliente,” 23, of Charlotte. (in state custody)
  • Jaime Turcios a/k/a “Pitufo” or “Smurf,” 24, of Charlotte. (arrested)
  • Jose Vasquez a/k/a “Muneco,” 26, of El Salvador. (arrested)
  • Marlon Vasquez-Maldonado a/k/a “Gangster,” 23, of Charlotte. (in state custody)
  • Albert Vela-Garcia a/k/a “Conejo,” 25, of Landis. (arrested)
  • Luis Villalta a/k/a “Little Psycho,” 25, of El Salvador. (not arrested)
  • Alexis Villalta-Morales a/k/a “Rikichi,” 23, of Charlotte. (in state custody)
  • Miguel Zelaya a/k/a “Most Wanted,” 19, of Charlotte. (in state custody)

In addition to the RICO conspiracy charge, three defendants face murder in aid of racketeering and related charges, Zelaya for the murder of Jose Orlando Ibarra, and Ordonez- Vega and Pena for the murder of Noel Navarro Hernandez. Ten defendants – Argueta, Garcia, Linares, Funes-Rivera, Ruiz, Sosa, Trejo, Vasquez, Vela-Garcia, and Villalta-Morales – are also charged with attempted murder in aid of racketeering and related charges.

According to the allegations contained in the 41-count indictment:

From at least in or about 2009 to present in Mecklenburg County and elsewhere, the defendants were members of the MS-13 gang, a criminal organization with over 6,000 members in the United States and 30,000 members internationally. MS-13 originated in Los Angeles, California, and has spread to states across the country, including in North Carolina. The gang’s members are mostly immigrants or descendants of immigrants from El Salvador and other Central and Latin American countries. MS-13 in North Carolina is divided into different groups, or “cliques,” identified by names such as “Charlotte Locotes Salvatrucha,” and “Centralles,” among others. The different cliques work together to carry out criminal acts, to protect the interests of the criminal enterprise, and to assist each other in avoiding law enforcement detection. The group leaders are often called “shot callers” or “voices,” and they are tasked with passing down information and orders from leaders higher in the gang hierarchy. Group leaders also act to resolve disputes, address organizational issues, and to participate in gang decisions, including the assault or murder of those suspected of cooperating with law enforcement, known as “green light.”

MS-13 members adhere to a set of gang rules and pay dues which fund the gang’s criminal activities and support other gang members or their families in the U.S and abroad. Gang members are also expected to protect the name, reputation, and status of the gang and its members, and to punish through acts of violence and intimidation those who disrespect the gang. Some MS-13 members signify their affiliation with the gang by wearing blue, black and white color clothing and certain “Mara Salvatrucha,” or “MS-13” tattoos.

As alleged members of MS-13, the defendants charged in the indictment held multiple meetings at various times, to discuss gang-related matters and to plan the commission of future crimes for the benefit of the gang. As outlined in the indictment, over the relevant time period, the defendants allegedly were responsible for numerous criminal acts including drug distribution, armed robberies, extortion, illegal possession of weapons, the assault of individuals suspected of cooperating with law enforcement and murder.

Specifically, the indictment alleges that on December 18, 2013, Zelaya allegedly murdered Jose Orlando Ibarra in Charlotte, whom he believed to be a member of a rival gang, and on or about June 6, 2014, also in Charlotte, Pena and Ordonez-Vega allegedly murdered Noel Navarro Hernandez. According to the indictment, on April 23, 2011, Contreras murdered Rigoberto Castillo in Rock Hill, S.C., and on June 23, 2013, in Charlotte, Garcia-Perez shot and killed Alejandro Sebastian Alvarez, a rival gang member. Contreras and Garcia-Perez were prosecuted on state charges for those murders.

The indictment contains a notice of special sentencing factors, which provides for a greater sentence for those defendants charged with offenses related to the murders. A chart identifying each defendant’s charges and maximum penalties is attached below. The defendants’ sentences will be determined by the Court, after considering the federal sentencing guidelines and statutory sentencing factors.

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 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.

Acting U.S. Attorney Rose praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI, HSI, CMPD and ALE and noted that the investigation is still ongoing. Ms. Rose also thanked the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office for their continued support and cooperation with this case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Elizabeth Greene and William Miller are in charge of the prosecution.

Individual Charges and Statutory Maximum Penalties

COUNT

DEFENDANT

STATUTORY VIOLATION(s)

MINIMUM

MAXIMUM

FINE and/or SUPER. RELEASE

1

All defendants

18 U.S.C. 1962(d)

Conspiracy to Participate in Racketeering Activity (RICO)

None

20 years or life if the violation is based on a racketeering activity for which the maximum penalty includes life imprisonment.*

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

2

(37) Miguel Zelaya

18 U.S.C. 1959(a)(1) and 2

Murder in Aid of Racketeering (Jose Orlando Ibarra)

Life

Death

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

3

(37) MIGUEL ZELAYA

18 U.S.C. ‘’924(c) and 924(j)

Use or Carry Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence Resulting in the Death of Jose Orlando Ibarra

5 years

7 years

10 years

Death

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

4

  • LUIS ORDONEZ-VEGA
  • CHRISTIAN PENA

18 U.S.C. 1959(a)(1) and 2

Murder in Aid of Racketeering (Noel Navarro Hernandez)

Life

Death

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

5

  • LUIS ORDONEZ-VEGA
  • CHRISTIAN PENA

18 U.S.C. ‘’924(c) and 924(j)

Use or Carry Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence Resulting in the Death of Noel Navarro Hernandez

5 years

7 years

10 years

Death

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

6

(2) DANNY ARGUETA

18 U.S.C. ‘’ 1959(a)(5) and 2

Attempted Murder in Aid of Racketeering

None

10 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

7

(2) DANNY ARGUETA

18 U.S.C. 924(c)

Use or Carry Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence-Attempted Murder in Aid of Racketeering

5 years

7 years

10 years

Life

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

8

(30) OSCAR TREJO

(32) JOSE VASQUEZ

18 U.S.C. ‘’ 1959(a)(5) and 2

Attempted Murder in Aid of Racketeering

None

10 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

9

(30) OSCAR TREJO

(32) JOSE VASQUEZ

18 U.S.C. 924(c)

Use or Carry Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence-Attempted Murder in Aid of Racketeering

5 years

7 years

10 years

Life

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

10

(29) JORGE SOSA

18 U.S.C. ‘’ 1959(a)(5) and 2

Attempted Murder in Aid of Racketeering

None

10 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

11

(29) JORGE SOSA

18 U.S.C. 924(c)

Use or Carry Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence-Attempted Murder in Aid of Racketeering

5 years

7 years

10 years

Life

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

12

(28) SALVADOR RUIZ

(34) ALBERT VELA- GARCIA

18 U.S.C. ‘’ 1959(a)(5) and 2

Attempted Murder in Aid of Racketeering

None

10 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

13

(28) SALVADOR RUIZ

(34) ALBERT VELA- GARCIA

18 U.S.C. 924(c)

Use or Carry Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence-Attempted Murder in Aid of Racketeering

5 years

7 years

10 years

Life

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

14

(9) LUIS ANTONIO FUNES- RIVERA

(36) ALEXIS VILLALTA- MORALES

18 U.S.C. ‘’ 1959(a)(5) and 2

Attempted Murder in Aid of Racketeering

None

10 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

15

(9) LUIS ANTONIO FUNES- RIVERA

(36) ALEXIS VILLALTA- MORALES

18 U.S.C. 924(c)

Use or Carry Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence-Attempted Murder in Aid of Racketeering

5 years

7 years

10 years

Life

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

16

(10) JORGE GARCIA

(17) JOSE LINARES

(30) OSCAR TREJO

18 U.S.C. ‘’ 1959(a)(5) and 2

Attempted Murder in Aid of Racketeering

None

10 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

17

(10) JORGE GARCIA

(17) JOSE LINARES

(30) OSCAR TREJO

18 U.S.C. 924(c)

Use or Carry Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence-Attempted Murder in Aid of Racketeering

5 years

7 years

10 years

Life

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

18

(20) DANIEL NAVARRO

18 U.S.C. ‘’ 1959(a)(3) and 2

Assault with a Deadly Weapon in Aid of Racketeering

None

20 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

19

(20) DANIEL NAVARRO

18 U.S.C. 924(c)

Use or Carry Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence-Assault with a Deadly Weapon in Aid of Racketeering

5 years

7 years

10 years

Life

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

20

(20) DANIEL NAVARRO

(30) OSCAR TREJO

18 U.S.C. ‘’ 1959(a)(3) and 2

Assault with a Deadly Weapon in Aid of Racketeering

None

20 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

21

(20) DANIEL NAVARRO

(30) OSCAR TREJO

18 U.S.C. 924(c)

Use or Carry Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence-Assault with a Deadly Weapon in Aid of Racketeering

5 years

7 years

10 years

Life

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

22

(8) MARVIN FUENTES- CANALES

(20) DANIEL NAVARRO

18 U.S.C. ‘’ 1959(a)(3) and 2

Assault with a Deadly Weapon in Aid of Racketeering

None

20 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

23

(8) MARVIN FUENTES- CANALES

(20) DANIEL NAVARRO

18 U.S.C. 924(c)

Use or Carry Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence-Assault with a Deadly Weapon in Aid of Racketeering

5 years

7 years

10 years

Life

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

24

(33) MARLON VASQUEZ- MALDONADO

18 U.S.C. ‘’ 1959(a)(3) and 2

Assault with a Deadly Weapon in Aid of Racketeering

None

20 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

25

(33) MARLON VASQUEZ- MALDONADO

18 U.S.C. 924(c)

Use or Carry Firearm During and in Relation to a Crime of Violence and Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Crime of Violence-Assault with a Deadly Weapon in Aid of Racketeering

5 years

7 years

10 years

Life

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

26

(16) ANGEL HERNANDEZ

18 U.S.C. § 922(j)

Possession of Stolen Firearm

None

10 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

27

(16) ANGEL HERNANDEZ

18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(5)

Possession of Firearm by Illegal Alien

None

10 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

28

(21) JONATHAN NOBLE

18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(5)

Possession of Firearm by Illegal Alien

None

10 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

29

(35) LUIS VILLALTA

18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(5)

Possession of Firearm by Illegal Alien

None

10 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

30

(31) JAIME TURCIOS

18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1)

Possession of Firearm by Felon

None

10 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

31

(33) MARLON VASQUEZ- MALDONADO

18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1)

Possession of Firearm by Felon

None

10 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

32

(33) MARLON VASQUEZ- MALDONADO

18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1)

Possession of Firearm by Felon

None

10 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

33

(16) ANGEL HERNANDEZ

8 U.S.C. § 1326(a)

Illegal Reentry

None

2 years

 

$250,000

34

(7) LUIS ERAZO

8 U.S.C. § 1326(a) and (b)(2)

Illegal Reentry by an Aggravated Felon

None

20 years

$250,000

35

(32) JOSE VASQUEZ

18 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(5) and 2)

Alien in Possession of Firearm

None

10 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

36

(21) JONATHAN NOBLE

8 U.S.C. §§ 1326(a) and (b)(2))

Illegal Reentry by an Aggravated Felon

None

20 years

$250,000

37

(1) CARLOS ALMONTE

18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1)

Possession of Firearm by Felon

None

10 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

38

(30) OSCAR TREJO

18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1)

Possession of Firearm by Felon

None

10 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

39

(17) JOSE LINARES

8 U.S.C. § 1326(a)

Illegal Reentry

None

2 years

 

$250,000

40

(19) JOSE MORAN-CELIS

8 U.S.C. §§ 922(g)(5) and 2

Alien in Possession of Firearm

None

10 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

41

(30) OSCAR TREJO

18 U.S.C. 922(g)(1)

Possession of Ammunition by Felon

None

10 years

$250,000 / 3 yrs.

* The indictment contains a notice of special sentencing factors, which provides for a greater sentence for those defendants charged with the offenses related to the murders.

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