Greenbelt, Maryland – U.S. District Judge Paul W. Grimm sentenced Luis Antonio Cruz-Hernandez, a/k/a “Paniquiado “, age 27, of Silver Spring, Maryland to 51 years in federal prison, followed by five years of supervised release for conspiracy to use interstate commerce facilities in the commission of a murder for hire, interference with interstate commerce by robbery, and the use of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence. Judge Grimm has also ordered Cruz-Hernandez to pay over $250,000 in restitution.
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; Postal Inspector in Charge Daniel A. Adame of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service – Washington Division; and Chief Malik Aziz of the Prince George’s County Police Department.
According to his plea agreement, Cruz-Hernandez is a member of the La Mara Salvatrucha gang, also known as “MS-13”, an international criminal organization and criminal enterprise. Specifically, Cruz-Hernandez was a member and associate of the Pinos Locotes Salvatrucha (“PLS”) clique of MS-13. MS-13 is a gang composed primarily of immigrants or descendants of immigrants from El Salvador, with members operating in the State of Maryland, including Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, and Frederick County, and throughout the United States. In Maryland and elsewhere MS-13 members are organized in “cliques,” smaller groups that operate in a specific city of region. MS-13 members are required to commit acts of violence, both to maintain membership and discipline within the gang and against rival gangs. One of the principal rules of MS-13 is that its members must attack and kill rivals, known as “chavalas,” whenever possible.
In November 2016, a PLS clique member was hired to murder someone in exchange for money, and Cruz-Hernandez was directed to assist with the murder. Between November 20, 2016 and November 30, 2016, Cruz-Hernandez conspired with others to murder the victim in return for monetary payment from two individuals (Co-conspirator 1 and Co-conspirator 2). Cruz-Hernandez understood Co-conspirator 1 to be the person paying to have Victim 1 murdered and understood Co-conspirator 2 to be the middle-man between Co-conspirator 1 and a PLS clique member.
Over the course of the conspiracy, Co-conspirator 1 and Co-conspirator 2 paid for a hotel room located in the vicinity of the victim’s residence, for Cruz-Hernandez, and other conspirators, including the clique member to use. Further, Cruz-Hernandez and other conspirators conducted surveillance of the victim in order to determine the most opportune time to murder him.
As stated in his plea agreement, on November 30, 2016, Co-conspirator 2 drove Cruz-Hernandez and the clique member to an area in the vicinity of the victim’s residence. The clique member then exited the vehicle and shot and killed the victim. After the murder, the clique member was paid for the murder of the victim and gave a portion of the payment to Cruz-Hernandez.
Facilities of commerce utilized as part of the conspiracy to murder the victim in return for monetary payment included the vehicle used to conduct physical surveillance and to murder the victim, and cell phones used by conspirators to communicate and facilitate the murder.
Additionally, Cruz-Hernandez pled guilty in relation to seven of armed robberies in the eastern district of Virginia and Maryland between June 2017 and November 2017. These robberies occurred at the direction of a PLS clique member and resulted in the loss of more than $250,000 to victim businesses.
United States Attorney Erek L. Barron praised the FBI, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Prince George’s County Police Department, the Fairfax County Police Department (Virginia) and the Herndon Police Department (Virginia) for their work in the investigation. Mr. Barron thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney William D. Moomau, who prosecuted the case.
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