A federal jury convicted six of seven defendants of racketeering and murder in a four-month MS-13 gang trial in San Francisco, in a case that has been the center of a federal crackdown on street gangs in California.
Six defendants were found guilty on 21 of 22 counts of racketeering conspiracy, murder in aid of racketeering, use of firearms, assault with deadly weapons and attempted murders in a string of violent crimes in San Francisco’s largely Hispanic Mission District. Only one defendant, Walter Cruz-Zavala, “Sombra”, was acquitted on all charges, including racketeering, murder and conspiracy to commit murder. He now faces deportation, according to his attorney Randy Sue Pollock of Oakland.
In addition to Cruz-Zavala, a second defendant, Jonathan Cruz-Ramirez was found not guilty in the May 31, 2008 murder of Juan Rodriguez.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup set Nov. 30 at 8 a.m. for sentencing of the six defendants.
The MS-13 gang, short for Mara Salvatrucha, is a violent gang spawned in Los Angeles in the 1980s by El Salvadoran immigrants trying to protect themselves from other gangs. The gang then spread back to El Salvador and later Honduras before members began to export gang affiliation to cities across the U.S.
The government has been investigating the San Francisco branch of the gang, known as the 20th Street Clique, since 2005. The indictment of 29 and the phased trials make it one of the largest gang cases in decades in Northern California.
The specially-built high-security, federal courtroom was packed to overflowing when word spread that a verdict had been reached. Many observers in the court were federal agents, prosecutors and staff who have worked on the probe for years. The seven defendants, sitting in three tiers of seats facing the jurors did not react as the guilty verdicts began to roll out.
It took U.S. District Judge William Alsup nearly 40 minutes to read each of the 22 counts in the nine-page verdict form. Federal officials estimate there are 8,000 to 10,000 MS-13 members in the U.S.
The investigation of MS-13 gang members has not stopped. In May, a federal grand jury indicted three men in San Francisco on charges of conspiracy to commit murder a victim identified only as A.T-C., racketeering, use of firearms in aid of racketeering. The three allegedly shot the victim in June 2010 as part of the initiation to gain entrance to the gain and increase their position in the gang.
Case: U.S. v. Cerna, No. CR08-730WHA (N. Dist. of Calif.)