(CNS News) – Three MS-13 gang leaders have been convicted by a federal jury of participating in a transnational criminal enterprise through “a pattern of racketeering activity … murder, extortion, drug trafficking, money laundering, and witness tampering,” according to a Sept. 29 Department of Justice press release.
The three men convicted are Luis Flores-Reyes, 41, of Arlington, Virginia, Jairo Jacome, 40, of Langley Park, Maryland, and Brayan Contreras-Avalos, 27, of Langley Park, Maryland.
La Mara Salvatrucha, the gang known as MS-13, is described by the DOJ as a “transnational criminal enterprise.”
According to the DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs, “MS-13 was formed by Salvadoran immigrants that came to the United States in order to escape the civil war in their home country. Some of its members were trained in guerilla warfare and the use of military weapons. The gang is well-organized and is heavily involved in lucrative illegal enterprises, being notorious for its use of violence to achieve its objectives.”
As the press release explains, “MS-13 is organized into a series of sub-units or ‘cliques’ that operate in specific geographic locations.”
Among the three men convicted, Jacome was the “highest ranking member” of a local MS-13 clique in Langley Park, Md., known as “Langley Park Salvatrucha (LPS).” The other two men, Flores-Reyes and Contreras-Avalos were both “leaders” within the “Sailors Clique.”
As DOJ reports, the Sailors Clique held territory in Maryland, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Texas, and El Salvador.
All three men took part in operating an MS-13 “protection scheme” in the Langley Park area, which extorted local businesses, charging them “rent” for operating within MS-13’s “territory.”
During the time of the conspiracy, the three convicted men took part in a minimum of six murders. According to the DOJ, most of the murder victims were people the three men believed to be gang rivals.
For example, Contreras-Avalos, along with other MS-13 members, stabbed two homeless individuals to death in June 2016 in Hyattsville, Maryland because they allegedly belonged to the rival 18th Street gang, said the DOJ.
In December 2016, the DOJ reported that Jacome ordered the murder of a 14-year-old MS-13 member who he suspected was cooperating with law enforcement. Jacome helped carry out the murder of the young boy, whose remains were discovered in woods near Germantown, Md., 18 months later.
Such actions taken against suspected informants is an integral part of MS-13 operations. MS-13 operates under the maxim “ver, oir, y callar,” which means “see, hear, and say nothing.” The murder orchestrated by Jacome was an example of the gang enforcing “very, oir, y caller.”
In March 2017, a member of the Sailors Clique was hiding from law enforcement near Lynchburg, Va., when he had a dispute with a student at the local high school over marijuana. After the dispute, Flores-Reyes commanded a group of MS-13 gang members to drive down to Lynchburg and kill the local high school student, said the Justice Department.
The gang followed Flores-Reyes’s orders by kidnapping the student from his front lawn, cutting off his hand, and then murdering him. Flores-Reyes then helped the killers hide from law enforcement, states the press release.
Additionally, the gang trafficked marijuana, heroin, and cocaine, with “a large share of the proceeds” being “sent to gang leadership in El Salvador to further promote the illicit activities of the gang.” The gang used “structured transactions and intermediaries to avoid law enforcement scrutiny,” the DOJ reports.
All three gang members, Flores-Reyes, Jacome, and Contreras-Avalos were convicted of racketeering conspiracy. Additionally, Flores-Reyes and Jacome received convictions of murder “in aid of racketeering and extortion conspiracy.” Flores-Reyes and Contreras-Alvalos were also convicted of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.
According to the DOJ, Flores-Reyes and Jacome face mandatory life in prison while Contreras-Avalos only faces a “maximum penalty of life in prison.” The date of sentencing has yet to be set.
The case was investigated by the FBI Washington Field Office, HIS Baltimore, DEA New York Field Division, DEA Baltimore District Office, Prince George’s Country Police Department, Montgomery County Police Department, Virginia State Police, Lynchburg Police Department, Prince William County Police Department, and Bedford County Sheriff’s Office, with the “valuable assistance” of the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office. This mass-cooperation among departments at the federal, state, and local levels reflect the widespread reign of the convicts’ criminal activities.
“Today’s conviction,” said Steve K. Francis, Acting Executive Associate Director of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), “highlights HSI’s commitment to protecting public security and to keeping our communities safe. We will continue working with our local, state, and federal partners to disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal organizations such as MS-13.”
“These defendants wreaked havoc within our communities through drug trafficking, extortion, fear, and murder – now they will be held accountable,” said Erek L. Barron, U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland. “We will relentlessly prosecute those who terrorize our communities with intimidation and violence.”
Steven M. D’Antuono, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office, said the following of the recent conviction: “Members of MS-13, including Flores-Reyes, Jacome, and Contreras-Avalos, sow fear and violence in local communities through murder, extortion, drug trafficking, and witness tampering. Today’s convictions represent some of the finest work the FBI and its partners undertake to hold violent gang members to account for the irreparable harm they have inflicted on humanity.”