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Chicago Woman Arrested for Selling Fraudulent Identity Documents to Illegal Aliens
A woman was arrested Wednesday, February 13, 2013, on charges she allegedly sold fraudulent identity documents to illegal aliens. These charges resulted from an investigation conducted by U.S. Immigra

Tag Archives: racketeering

MS-13 Gang Member Pleads Guilty to Racketeering Scheme that Resulted in Two Murders

Dennis L. Gil-Bernardez, an MS-13 member who also is known as Pando, pled guilty Friday, December 7, 2012, to taking part in a federal racketeering conspiracy that was responsible for numerous crimes, including two murders, in the Washington, D.C., region. The guilty plea was announced by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Director John Morton, U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. of the District of Columbia, Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Criminal Division, and Cathy L. Lanier, Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD).

Gil-Bernardez, 36, pled guilty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Judge Rosemary M. Collyer sentenced him to 76 years in prison. The sentence will run concurrently with an 80-year prison term that Gil-Bernardez already is serving in another gang-related case in Virginia.

The defendant was among a group of MS-13 members indicted in November 2011. As part of his plea, he admitted that he was in MS-13’s Normandie clique, and that, after consulting with an incarcerated member of MS-13 in El Salvador, he ordered the murder of Louis Membreno-Zelaya, which was committed by other MS-13 members. Membreno-Zelaya, 27, was found, stabbed to death, on Nov. 6, 2008, in Northwest Washington.

In his plea, Gil-Bernardez admitted that MS-13 is a transnational criminal street gang with a presence in at least 20 states and the District of Columbia, as well as many Central American countries, including El Salvador and Honduras, which is Gil-Bernardez’s country of origin. According to court documents, members of MS-13 use violence and intimidation to protect the gang and enhance its reputation. The gang is involved in murder, attempted murder, robbery, extortion and obstructing justice through the intimidation and threatening of witnesses.

In addition to ordering the murder of Membreno-Zelaya, Gil-Bernardez also admitted today to shooting a person whom he believed to be a rival gang member in April 2008. The victim was shot five times and hospitalized for a week after undergoing life-saving surgery.

Finally, Gil-Bernardez admitted to murdering Luis Chavez-Ponce, 22, July 29, 2008, in Riverdale Park, Md., believing Chavez-Ponce to be a rival gang member. Gil-Bernardez stopped one of the other MS-13 members from chasing after the victim, who was on a bicycle. Gil-Bernardez chased Chavez-Ponce around the corner of a building and fired several shots, killing him.

The gun which Gil-Bernardez used in the murder of Chavez-Ponce was determined to be the same weapon used in the shooting of three people in Reston, Va., in October 2008, to which Gil-Bernardez also admitted. His 80-year sentence in Virginia is a result of those crimes, which were prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. This latest plea is one of several by MS-13 members in recent months in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

The prosecution grew out of the efforts of the federal Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, a multi-agency team that conducts comprehensive, multi-level attacks on major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. The principal mission of the nationwide program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations, and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply.

This case was investigated by ICE, MPD, Prince George’s County Police Department, Montgomery County Police Department and Fairfax County Police Department. It is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Laura Gwinn, of the Department of Justice’s Organized Crime and Gang Section, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nihar R. Mohanty and Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Bill O’Malley.

Latin Kings Street Gang Member Sentenced for Racketeering, Conspiracy, and Gang Crimes

A Latin Kings streetgang member was sentenced Wednesday, November 28, 2012, to 15 years in federal prison for racketeering conspiracy and other crimes in support of the gang. Two other gang associates were sentenced Monday, November 26, 2012, on related charges. These sentences were announced by Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s (DOJ) Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney David Capp of the Northern District of Indiana.

 The sentences resulted from an investigation conducted by the following agencies: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); the FBI; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); the National Gang Intelligence Center; Chicago Police Department; and the Indiana police departments of East Chicago, Griffith, Highland, Hammond and Houston.

 David Lira, aka “Flaco,” 39, of Chicago, was sentenced Nov. 28 to 15 years in prison after pleading guilty July 13 to racketeering conspiracy. Gang associates Bianca Fernandez, 23, and Serina Arambula, 23, both of Chicago, were sentenced Nov. 26 to 36 months and 21 months in prison, respectively. U.S. District Judge Rudy Lozano, Northern District of Indiana, imposed the sentences.

Fernandez pleaded guilty Aug. 8 to conspiring to murder in aid of racketeering. Arambula pleaded guilty Aug. 7 to withholding information on a murder.

 According to the third superseding indictment filed in this case, the Latin Kings is a nationwide gang that originated in Chicago and has branched out throughout the United States. The Latin Kings is a well-organized street gang that has specific leadership and is composed of regions that include multiple chapters. The third superseding indictment charges that the Latin Kings were responsible for more than 20 murders.

 Also according to the third superseding indictment, the Latin Kings enforces its rules and promotes discipline among its members, prospects and associates through murder, attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, assault and threats against those who violate the rules or pose a threat to the Latin Kings. Members are required to follow the orders of higher-ranking members, including taking on assignments often referred to as “missions.”

 During his guilty plea proceeding, Lira admitted to being a Latin Kings member at an early age. He also acknowledged he was aware that the Latin Kings, specifically some of his co-defendants, distributed more than 150 kilograms of cocaine and 1,000 kilograms of marijuana over the course of the racketeering conspiracy.

 Lira also acknowledged that on Feb. 24, 2007, Jose Zambrano, a regional enforcer for the gang, and other Latin Kings members dropped two firearms off at Lira’s residence in Lansing, Ill.The next evening, Zambrano and the others returned to retrieve the weapons from Lira before riding to the Soprano’s Bar in Griffith, Ind., where they gunned down and killed two rival gang members.

 Fernandez admitted in court that on Nov. 26, 2006, at the direction of a Latin Kings member, she accompanied two members of the rival Latin Dragons gang to Jackson Park, Ill., near La Rabida Children’s Hospital on the south side ofChicago. Fernandez also admitted to making arrangements for Latin Kings gang members to meet them at the location, where those gang members shot the Latin Dragons gang members, killing one. Fernandez admitted that when interviewed by Chicago police, she concealed the true nature of the murder.

 During her guilty plea proceeding, Arambula admitted accompanying Fernandez and the Latin Dragon members to Jackson Park, and providing false information to Chicago police regarding the identity of the shooters.

 Twenty-three Latin Kings members and associates have been indicted in this case; 20 have pleaded guilty; one was found guilty following a jury trial; one awaits trial; and one remains a fugitive.

 Joseph A. Cooley of the DOJ Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and David J. Nozick of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Indiana are prosecuting the case. Andrew Porter of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois provided significant assistance.

 The third superseding indictment is not evidence of guilt. The defendants who have not been convicted are innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

ICE and HSI Recognized for Combating International Gang Activity

Top-level officials from South San Francisco and Daly City met with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents the morning of Wednesday, November 14, 2012, to formally recognize them for their efforts to combat gang-related crime and violence in those communities.

The mayors and police chiefs of both cities presented HSI special agents with a proclamation commending their work on a long-term racketeering investigation that led to May’s federal indictment of 19 members of a South San Francisco street gang. Three HSI special agents were shot and wounded while seeking to arrest one of the gang members charged in that case. In addition to the original racketeering allegations, that defendant, Victor Flores, aka Little Creeper, of Petaluma, Calif., is now accused in a second superseding indictment of attempting to murder the three federal agents.

“The city of South San Francisco wishes to thank HSI for its assistance in the investigation and arrest of the 19 members of the criminal street gang who were responsible for many gang-related crimes, including a triple homicide in December 2010,” said South San Francisco Police Chief Michael Massoni. “HSI’s collaboration with the South San Francisco Police Department was instrumental in bringing this case to a successful conclusion. This investigation underscores what positive outcomes can happen when local law enforcement works in collaboration with our partners in the federal system.”

In July, South San Francisco representatives traveled to Southern California to personally thank members of HSI’s Los Angeles-based Special Response Team, including the three special agents who were wounded, for their assistance with the execution of the gang arrest warrants. HSI’s Special Response Teams are often called upon to serve high-risk warrants.

“Public recognition is always gratifying, but perhaps the greatest reward comes from knowing that our agents’ efforts have contributed to making these communities safer,” said Clark Settles, special agent in charge for HSI San Francisco. “Promoting public safety is at the core of HSI’s mission and, as this case makes clear, when we partner with local authorities to target transnational street gangs, we can achieve impressive results.”

This investigation into the South San Francisco street gang was part of HSI’s Operation Community Shield. Launched in 2005, Operation Community Shield is an international law enforcement initiative that brings to bear HSI’s expansive statutory and civil enforcement authorities to combat the growth and proliferation of transnational criminal street gangs, prison gangs and outlaw motorcycle gangs throughout the United States. With assistance from state, local, tribal and foreign law enforcement partners, the initiative helps HSI locate, investigate, prosecute, and where applicable, immediately remove gang members from our neighborhoods and ultimately from the United States.

MS-13 Gang Officially Designated a Transnational Criminal Organization by HSI

On Thursday, October 11, 2012, the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) with the assistance of the Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) designated the Latin American gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) as a transnational criminal organization (TCO). This group is being designated by Treasury pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13581, which targets significant TCOs and their supporters. E.O. 13581 is a key part of the National Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime.

Using the authority provided in E.O. 13581, Treasury is targeting the economic power of MS-13 as a transnational criminal network – and those individuals and entities who work with them, enable them and support them – by freezing any assets those persons may have within U.S. jurisdiction. Any property or property interests in the U.S., or in the possession or control of U.S. persons in which these targets have an interest are blocked, and U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.

“This designation allows us to strike at the financial heart of MS-13 and is a powerful weapon in our fight to dismantle one of the most violent, transnational criminal organizations operating today,” said ICE Director John Morton. “History has proven that we can successfully take down organized crime groups when we combine sophisticated investigative techniques with tough street level enforcement, cutting off cash flows, contraband and collaborators to ensure they no longer find safe haven in our communities.”

“MS-13 is an extremely violent and dangerous gang responsible for a multitude of crimes that directly threaten the welfare and security of U.S. citizens, as well as countries throughout Central America,” Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen stated. “This action positions us to target the associates and financial networks supporting MS-13, and gives law enforcement an additional tool in its efforts to disrupt MS-13’s activities.”

MS-13 is being designated for its involvement in serious criminal activities, including drug trafficking, human smuggling and sex trafficking, murder and violence, racketeering, and immigration offenses. MS-13, consisting of at least 30,000 members and present in at least five countries, including the United States, is one of the most dangerous criminal gangs in the world today. MS-13 violently protects its illicit interests through murder, murder for hire, kidnapping, blackmail, extortion and assassination. MS-13’s creed is exemplified by one of its mottos, “mata, roba, viola, controla,” which translates in sum and substance to “kill, steal, rape, control.” In addition, MS-13 members have been responsible for numerous killings within the United States.

The HSI National Gang Unit will take the law enforcement lead, under this MS-13 enforcement effort dubbed, “Operation Barbed Wire.” The National Gang Unit removes gang members from our neighborhoods and, when appropriate, from the United States. In 2005, HSI initiated Operation Community Shield, an international law enforcement initiative to enhance U.S. public safety. Operation Community Shield partners with existing federal, state and local anti-gang efforts to identify violent street gangs and develop intelligence on gang members and associates, gang criminal activities and international movements, to arrest, prosecute, imprison and/or deport transnational gang members as well as to suppress violence and prosecute criminal enterprises. The National Gang Unit’s goal is to deter, disrupt and dismantle gang operations by tracing and seizing cash, weapons and other assets derived from criminal activities. Since 2006, HSI has arrested 4,078 MS-13 gang members and, partnering with the U.S. Department of Justice, has successfully brought to indictment numerous MS-13 racketeering investigations in Washington, D.C., Virginia, New York, San Francisco, Houston, and Atlanta.

MS-13 is the first transnational criminal street gang designated as a TCO. Others TCOs include the The Brothers’ Circle, Camorra, Yakuza, and Los Zetas in the United States.

San Francisco Gang Members Indicted for Multiple Homicides, Drug Smuggling, and Racketeering

Federal and local authorities announced the indictment Thursday, May 3, of 19 members  of a South San Francisco street gang on racketeering and other federal charges, alleging they engaged in a host of crimes, including murder, robbery and narcotics trafficking as part of a broader conspiracy to preserve the organization’s power and protect its territory from rival gangs.

Thirteen of the defendants, members and associates of the “500 Block/C Street” gang, were arrested Thursday, May 3, during a multi-agency law enforcement operation.
Three special agents with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) were injured during the enforcement action. They were transported to a Bay area hospital for treatment of non-life threatening injuries.

The 13 individuals arrested Thursday, May 3, and two other defendants who were already in federal custody, are expected to make their initial appearance in federal court the morning of Friday, May 4. The remaining four defendants, who are currently in state custody, will be turned over to federal authorities next week to face the charges.

During a news conference the afternoon of Thursday, May 3, federal and local officials
provided an overview of the 17-month probe and the resulting 29-count superseding indictment. The prosecution is being overseen by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of California.

“The charges that were unsealed today are the result of the tireless efforts of several law enforcement agencies who are working together to keep the community safe,” said U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag. “For the victims and their families, there is nothing we can do to erase their pain and sorrow. I hope, however, that these charges begin to provide some closure for them. Our thoughts and prayers are with the three Homeland Security Investigation (special) agents who were injured during this morning’s operation. My office is proud to be associated with professionals who put their lives on the line to protect
others and are serious about keeping the community safe. We will continue to work with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to help bring to justice those who terrorize their communities with violence and fear.”

The indictment, handed down April 24 and unsealed Friday, May 4, accuses the
members and associates of the “500 Block/C Street” gang with conspiring to commit murder and assault in the aid of racketeering; using firearms in connection with violent crime; and obstruction of justice. Four of the defendants who are specifically charged with using a firearm in the commission of a murder could face the death penalty. Additionally, 12 of the other defendants in the case could receive up to life in prison if convicted of all of the charges lodged against them.

“Today is a welcome day for residents of South San Francisco and a very bad day for an entrenched gang based here in the Bay Area,” said Clark Settles, special agent in charge for HSI San Francisco. “This indictment and the related arrests serve as a warning to local gangs about the consequences of using violence and fear to maintain control of their turf.”

The indictment is the culmination of investigations originally initiated by the Daly City Police Department and the South San Francisco Police Department following separate shootings in those communities. The Daly City shooting occurred Dec. 18, 2010, and left three people injured. Four days later, a shooting in South San Francisco killed three individuals and wounded three others. As the probe widened, the local police departments
sought the assistance and expertise of ICE HSI. The San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office also aided with the investigation. The U.S. Marshals Service provided significant assistance during Thursday, May 3’s enforcement action.

“The South San Francisco City Council extends its sincere congratulations to our Police Department, members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Homeland Security Investigations, the Daly City Police Department and to the members of the San Mateo County Gang Intelligence Unit for their diligent investigative efforts over the past 16 months,” said South San Francisco Mayor Richard Garbarino. “Knowing arrests have been made will hopefully start to bring a sense of closure for the families and the entire community. The City of South San Francisco will continue its commitment to strengthen our community and encourages everyone to stand together against community violence.”

The indictment alleges the “500 Block/C Street” gang constituted a racketeering enterprise and that the defendants conspired to engage in narcotics trafficking, extortion, robbery and murder to further the aims of the organization. The indictment further states that while the “500 Block/C Street” was a Norteño gang, the organization warred not only with Sureño gangs, but also with rival Norteño cliques. Below are the 16 defendants charged as part of the racketeering conspiracy and the maximum penalties they face:

  • Joseph “Little Vicious” Ortiz, 22, of South San Francisco, possible death penalty;
  • Victor “Little Creeper” Flores, 20, of Petaluma; possible death penalty;
  • Justin “Teddy” Whipple, 19, of San Bruno, possible death penalty;
  • Benjamin “BG” Campos-Gonzalez, 21, of San Mateo, possible death penalty;
  • Michael “Vicious” Ortiz, Jr., 25, of San Bruno, life in prison;
  • Michael “Blackie” Ortiz, Sr., 48, of San Bruno, life in prison;
  • Armando “Savage” Acosta, 27, of Pacifica, life in prison;
  • Giovanni “Gio” Rimando Ascencio, 22, of South San Francisco, life in prison;
  • Raymond “Tear Drop” Hembry, 33, of South San Francisco, life in prison;
  • James “Pimpy” Hembry, 31, of Daly City, life in prison;
  • Richard “Maniac” Martinez, 25, of Hayward, life in prison;
  • Rodrigo “Ayo” Aguayo, 23, of San Mateo, life in prison;
  • Gregorio “Rhino” Guzman, 38, of San Mateo, life in prison;
  • Mario “Fat Boy” Bergren, 23, of South San Francisco, life in prison;
  • Andrew “Andy” Bryant, 29, of Daly City, life in prison; and
  • Peter “P-Nasty” Davis, 26, of San Francisco, life in prison.

The indictment also charges four of the above defendants – Joseph Ortiz, Victor
Flores, Justin Whipple and Benjamin Campos-Gonzalez – with three counts of murder in aid of racketeering; four counts of attempted murder in aid of racketeering; and related firearms offenses stemming from their alleged role in the fatal South San Francisco shooting. Additionally, Joseph Ortiz is charged with four other attempted murders in aid of racketeering and a related firearms offense arising from the Daly City shooting.

The indictment details the defendants’ involvement in the gang and the organization’s current leadership structure. It alleges that Joseph Ortiz, one of the ranking members of the 500 Block clique, initially joined the gang when he was approximately 11 years old. According to the indictment, in 2011 Raymond Hembry took over as the leader of the C
Street clique of the merged gang and Giovanni Ascencio assumed control over the 500 Block side of the organization.

The three defendants in the case who are not facing racketeering charges are accused of being accessories after the fact to the South San Francisco murders and attempted murders. They are:

  • Louis Rodriguez, 30, of Milbrae, 60 years in prison;
  • Tanya “LaChina” Rodriguez, 45, of San Bruno, 40 years in prison; and
  • Betty Ortiz, 49, of San Bruno, 40 years in prison.

Specifically, these defendants are charged with various obstruction-related offenses for  their alleged efforts to hinder the investigation into “Eighth Lane” shootings. According to
the court document, their actions included washing and concealing weapons used in the murders; questioning a perspective witnesses and transporting that person from northern California to Mexico; and wiring money to Mexico.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Acadia L. Senese and W.S. Wilson Leung, with support from paralegal Kevin Costello and legal technician Daniel Charlier-Smith.