Baltimore, Maryland – Chief U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar today sentenced MS-13 leader Jorge Guerra-Castillo, a/k/a “Pelon”, age 40, of Silver Spring, Maryland, to 45 years in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release, for his role in a racketeering conspiracy, including three violent murders and two attempted murders, leaving one of the victims without the use of his hand, which was nearly severed during the murder attempt.
At today’s sentencing hearing, the government presented testimony detailing Guerra-Castillo’s leadership of the gang, which continued while he lived in Florida and while he was in prison. The testimony included details about Guerra-Castillo exhorting MS-13 gang members to find and kill more rivals, to sell more drugs, extort more victims to obtain money, and to recruit more members. There was also testimony that Guerra-Castillo raped and kidnapped a 14-year-old girl, who he took to live with him in Florida. Guerra-Castillo was 33 years old at the time of the kidnapping.
The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron; Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Sobocinski of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office; Special Agent in Charge James R. Mancuso of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore; Chief Jason Lando of the City of Frederick Police Department; Frederick County Sheriff Charles A. “Chuck” Jenkins; Chief Marcus Jones of the Montgomery County Police Department and Anne Arundel County Police Chief Amal E. Awad.
“As a leader in MS-13, Guerra-Castillo directed and approved the violent murders of individuals thought to be rival gang members,” said U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron. “Guerra-Castillo will now serve practically a life sentence for his crimes. The United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland and our partners are committed to stopping violent gangs like MS-13 to ensure that citizens can live peacefully and without fear in their communities.”
MS-13 is a national and international gang composed primarily of immigrants or descendants from El Salvador and other central American countries. Branches or “cliques” of MS-13, one of the largest street gangs in the United States, operate throughout Frederick County, Anne Arundel County, Prince George’s County, and Montgomery County, Maryland. According to his guilty plea, beginning some time before January 2015, Guerra-Castillo was a member of the Fulton Locos Salvatruchas (“FLS”) clique of MS-13 and agreed with other MS-13 members to conduct and participate in gang activities through a pattern of racketeering activity that included conspiracy to commit murder, extortion, and drug distribution.
At all times of this conspiracy, members of MS-13 were expected to protect the name, reputation, and status of the gang from rival gang members and other persons. To protect the gang and to enhance its reputation, MS-13 members were expected to use any means necessary to force respect from those who showed disrespect, including acts of intimidation and violence. MS-13 had mottos consistent with its rules, beliefs, expectations and reputation including “mata, viola, controla,” which translates as, “kill, rape, control,” and “ver, oir y callar,” which means, “see nothing, hear nothing and say nothing.” One of the principal rules of MS-13 is that its members must attack and kill rivals, often referred to as “chavalas,” whenever possible.
MS-13 members are required to commit acts of violence both to maintain membership and discipline within the gang, as well as against rival gang members. Participation in criminal activity by a member, particularly in violent acts directed at rival gangs or as directed by gang leadership, increase the respect accorded to that member, resulting in that member maintaining or increasing his position in the gang, and opens the door to promotion to a leadership position.
According to Guerra-Castillo’s plea agreement, on April 7, 2015, MS-13 members murdered Victim 1, a suspected rival gang member, for the purpose of maintaining and increasing rank in MS-13. Prior to the murder, gang leadership in Maryland sought and received approval from Guerra-Castillo to kill Victim 1. Guerra-Castillo also arranged for another gang member to participate in the murder of Victim 1. As part of the scheme to murder Victim 1, MS-13 members lured Victim 1 to a wooded area in Frederick, Maryland where members repeatedly struck Victim 1 with a machete and a knife until he was dead. The day after the murder, MS-13 members buried Victim 1 in a wooded area where Victim 1’s body was ultimately recovered.
Prior to May 10, 2015, at the direction of Guerra- Castillo, MS-13 gang members forced Victim 2 to make regular extortion payments to the gang. On May 10, 2015, Guerra-Castillo directed other MS-13 members and associates to kidnap and kill Victim 2, who had stopped making the extortion payments to the gang. Gang members held Victim 2 at gunpoint while Victim 2 was forced into a vehicle and taken to a wooded area. Once Victim 2 agreed to pay the gang, Guerra-Castillo and other leadership approved the release of Victim 2, despite their original order directing MS-13 members to murder Victim 2 for lack of payment.
As stated in his plea agreement, in August 2015, MS-13 members and associates sought and received approval from Guerra-Castillo to murder Victim 3, whom they believed to be a rival gang member. Several days prior to August 28, 2015, MS-13 gang members surveilled Victim 3 and his girlfriend, Victim 4 to determine when Victim 3 would be home. On the morning of August 28, 2015, gang members went to the apartment and waited inside for Victim 3 and Victim 4 to return. When they arrived, three gang members attacked Victim 3 and Victim 4 with a machete and knives. Although both victims survived the attack, Victim 3 was left with severe wounds to the face and both hands nearly severed. As a result of the attack, Victim 3 has lost all function of one hand and still has only limited use of the other.
Guerra-Castillo also admitted that he approved and assisted in the planning of the murder of a suspected associate of a rival gang, identified as Victim 18. On June 24, 2017, Guerra-Castillo’s girlfriend lured Victim 18 to a location so MS-13 members could kidnap and kill the victim. Once the victim was in the car, MS-13 members transported the victim to a secluded area in Crownsville, Maryland, where other MS-13 members had dug a grave and gathered weapons. When the victim arrived, MS-13 gang members attacked Victim 18 with a machete and knives, until the victim was dead. Victim 18’s body was then dismembered and buried in the grave. The murder of Victim 18 was intended to maintain and increase the status of MS-13 and allow members to maintain or increase their status within the gang.
This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) is the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts. PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.
This case is an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.
Anyone with information about MS-13 is encouraged to call the FBI’s nationwide tipline, 1-866-STP-MS13 (1-866-787-6713). The FBI tipline allows individuals to provide information about MS-13’s criminal activities to a central location and the FBI will then disseminate the information to the appropriate law enforcement authorities for investigation. Your identity will be protected.
United States Attorney Erek L. Barron commended the FBI; HSI; the Frederick Police Department; the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office; the Anne Arundel, Montgomery, and Prince George’s County Police Departments; and the Anne Arundel, Frederick, Montgomery, and Prince George’s County State’s Attorneys for their work in the investigation, and the Baltimore County Police Department for its assistance. Mr. Barron thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kenneth S. Clark, Zachary Stendig, and Anatoly Smolkin, who are prosecuting this case.
For more information on the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office, its priorities, and resources available to help the community, please visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-md/project-safe-neighborhoods-psnexile and https://www.justice.gov/usao-md/community-outreach.
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