The San Francisco leader of the MS-13 gang, or La Mara Salvatrucha, was convicted by a federal jury of racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to commit assault with a dangerous weapon and related charges. The four-week trial of Danilo “Triste” Velasquez was the second in a series of cases against members of the notorious Central American gang.
Velasquez’ co-defendant and fellow gang member Luis “Killer” Herrera pleaded guilty to related charges, including use of a firearm that resulted in a murder, according to U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag.
Velasquez and co-conspirators were accused of killing and wounding four unarmed people in what the government called a “hail of gunfire” all in the name of MS-13.
“Today, the jury has sent a strong message that senseless acts of violence like those committed by Mr. Velasquez in the name of MS-13 will not be tolerated,” said Haag.
Velasquez and Herrera were accused of accompanying MS-13 member Jaime Balam, a fugitive, to look for rival gang members to kill. They drove a stolen vehicle in February 2009 until they spotted a car of young Latino professionals, including three college students, none were gang members themselves.
The trio followed the car to Daly City, boxed the car in at a red light, then Velasquez and Balam fired multiple shots from a semi-automatic handguns into both sides of the car at close range, according to the government. Three survived largely because Velasquez gun jammed several times.
Two of the surviving victims testified during the trial.
The government says the MS-13 gang has operated in the San Francisco Bay Area since the 1990s, based in the city’s Mission District. The gang has allegedly warred with rival gangs and extorted payments from criminals in gang territory.
MS-13 allegedly began in Southern California among El Salvadoran immigrants and was later exported back home to El Salvador where it took root and has now spread across the United States.
As part of the plea bargain, Herrera will be sentenced to 35-years in prison on January 24 by U.S. District Judge William Alsup. Velasquez is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 14, also before Alsup.
Case: U.S. v. Cerna, No. CR08-730WHA