Nine MS-13 Gang Members Indicted in Racketeering and Violent Crime Conspiracy

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A federal grand jury in Nashville, Tennessee, has returned a 60-count indictment charging nine members of La Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) with a racketeering conspiracy spanning more than seven years.

Those charged in the second superseding indictment are:  Carlos Ochoa-Martinez, 31, aka “El Serio;” Jason Sandoval, 35, aka “Bin Laden;” Jorge Flores, 29, aka “Peluche;” Kevin Tidwell, 28, aka “Miklo;” all of Nashville; Jose Pineda-Caceres, 22, aka “Demente;” Franklin Hernandez, 22, aka “Happy;” Luis Colindres, 24, aka “Listo;” Gerson Serrano-Ramirez, 34, aka “Frijole;” and Juan Melendez, aka “Shaggy.”

According to court documents and statements made in court, MS-13 is a national and transnational gang composed largely of individuals of Salvadoran or Central American descent. The purpose of the MS-13 enterprise includes preserving and protecting the power, territory, reputation and profits of the enterprise through the use of intimidation and violence, including murder and promoting the enterprise through acts of murder, robbery, drug trafficking and other criminal activities. Branches or “cliques” of MS-13 operate throughout the United States, including in Nashville.

The indictment charges members of one such clique operating in Nashville, specifically the Thompson Place Locos Salvatrucha clique, with committing a wide range of offenses, including the murder of seven individuals, the attempted murder of an additional five individuals, drug distribution, robberies, kidnappings and assaults. More specifically, the indictment charges the following acts of violence occurring over an approximately 17-month period:

As alleged in the indictment, MS-13 gang members often target individuals for violence based on the gang’s belief that an individual is a rival gang member or a potential witness to crimes committed by the MS-13 members.  MS-13 members are required to follow various rules, chief among them being that cooperation with law enforcement is strictly prohibited, and it is well understood within the gang that anyone who assists the authorities will be punished with death; that members are required to confront, fight and/or kill rival gang members when possible; and that members are required to retaliate quickly and viciously against anyone who disrespects or threatens the gang’s authority, power, reputation or control of a neighborhood. Participation in such violent acts by a member increases the respect accorded to that member, results in that member maintaining or increasing their position in the gang, and could result in a promotion to a leadership position.

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The defendants are charged with RICO conspiracy, murder and other violent crimes in aid of racketeering, witness tampering, causing death through the use of a firearm, using a firearm during a crime of violence, possessing a firearm during a drug trafficking crime, and violations of the Controlled Substances Act, among other crimes. The statutory penalties for the charged offenses range from a statutory maximum of 10 years to life imprisonment. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Acting U.S. Attorney Mary Jane Stewart of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee; Special Agent in Charge Mickey French of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); Deputy Special Agent in Charge Nicholas Nelson of Homeland Security Investigations; Assistant Special Agent in Charge Brett Pritts of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); U.S. Marshal Denny King; Metropolitan Nashville Police Chief John Drake; and Director David Rausch of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation made the announcement.

Trial Attorney Matthew Hoff of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ahmed Safeeullah are prosecuting this case. 

This case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation.

An indictment is merely an accusation.  All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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