A federal judge sentenced five MS-13 gang members to life in prison stemming from racketeering and conspiracy convictions that included three murders in 2008. The men were convicted following a four-month trial in a high security courtroom in San Francisco.
U.S. District Judge William Alsup sentenced Erick Lopez and Jonathan Cruz-Ramirez last week based on the mandatory life sentences. In addition, he sentenced Moris Flores, Marvin Carcamo and Angel Guevara to life terms.
A sixth gang member, Guillermo Herrera, had his sentencing delayed until Dec. 8, but he too faces a mandatory life term for his role in the murders.
Mara Salvatrucha, MS-13 as the gang is known, began in Los Angeles among El Salvadoran immigrants. Many returned to El Salvador and brought the gang life with them. It was then re-exported back to the United States and has spread to cities throughout the country. It is believed to number 8,000 to 10,000 members in the U.S., but is seen as directed from El Salvador, according to the FBI.
The gang is organized in local chapters known as cliques. In San Francisco it was known as the “20th Street clique” after its home base near the Mission district’s 20th Street, according to U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag.
The principle purpose was to attack and kill rival gang members, including Norteño and Sureño gangs in the Bay Area, as well as punishing anyone affiliated with the gang who cooperated with law enforcement or defied the gang.
Carcamo and Guevara took over leadership of 20th Street in 2007 and pushed a program to extort “tax” payments from criminals in their turf, usually people selling counterfeit identification cards, known as micas.
Among the acts of violence that formed the convictions in the latest trial, Lopez shot and killed Ernan Joldic and Philip Ng in March 2008 in the mistaken belief that they were Norteño gang members. In May 2008, Cruz-Ramirez shot and killed Juan Rodriguez, who was a main supplier of fake identification. Rodriguez had refused to pay “tax” demanded by the MS-13 gang.
In July, following a fight between the gang and micaros, Cruz-Ramirez drove gang member Guillermo Herrera to 20th St. and Mission, where he chased down Armando Estrada, a micaro, and killed him on a busy street, according to the government’s case.
Members of the gang also chased down 14-year-old Ivan Miranda believing he was a rival Norteño and stabbed him to death.
A second trial, that ended Nov. 29, resulted in the conviction of Danilo Velasquez of multiple racketeering offenses. He faces a maximum term of life in prison and will be sentenced Feb. 14, 2012 by Alsup.
Prosecutors in the cases included Assistant U.S. Attorneys Wil Frentzen, Wilson Leung, Andrew Scoble and David Hall.
Case: U.S. v. Cerna, No. CR08-730WHA