LAS VEGAS, Nev. – A 21-count indictment was unsealed yesterday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Nevada, charging 13 leaders, members, and associates of the violent transnational criminal organization Mara Salvatrucha, also known as “MS-13,” with violation of the federal “Kingpin” statute and multiple drugs and firearms offenses, including transporting bulk quantities of methamphetamine from Los Angeles, California to Las Vegas, Nevada.
The indictment was returned under seal on July 8, 2020 by a federal grand jury sitting in Las Vegas. Yesterday morning, 11 of the 13 defendants were taken into custody: four defendants were arrested in the Los Angeles area, and seven defendants were arrested in Las Vegas. Those arrests were part of a national takedown coordinated between law enforcement agencies in the District of Nevada, Central District of California, Eastern District of New York, and Eastern District of Virginia.
Two other defendants — Juan Angel Reyes (also known as “Angel” and “Mysterio”) and Eder Cruz-Salguero (also known as “Edgar Manolo Ramirez-Salguero” and “Venado”) — are considered fugitives and a warrant remains outstanding for their arrests. Anyone with information as to their whereabouts is asked to contact your local law enforcement office or the Department of Homeland Security by calling 1-866-DHS-2-ICE.
This morning, Attorney General William P. Barr led a Joint Task Force Vulcan (JTFV) briefing to President Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office, which included several U.S. Attorneys and heads of law enforcement agencies. Following that briefing, the charges in Nevada were announced by U.S. Attorney Nicholas A. Trutanich for the District of Nevada, Special Agent in Charge Francisco Burrola of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Sheriff Joseph Lombardo of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, and Special Agent in Charge Patrick Gorman of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
“In 2017, the President directed the Department of Justice to go to war against MS-13, and we did just that,” said Attorney General Barr. “In coordination with our partners at the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department’s law enforcement components have successfully investigated, charged, and arrested command and control elements of MS-13 responsible for murder. Joint Task Force Vulcan’s operations have significantly degraded MS-13’s capabilities. While there is still work to be done, the Department of Justice remains committed to protecting Americans threatened by MS-13, and we will not rest until we have successfully defeated this transnational criminal organization.”
“Today’s announcements are the result of tremendous teamwork and coordination between prosecutors and law enforcement officers across the United States and Central America,” stated JTFV Director John Durham. “MS-13 is a violent transnational criminal organization, whose criminal activities respect no boundaries. The only way to defeat MS-13 is by targeting the organization as a whole, focusing on the leadership structure, and deploying a whole-of-government approach against a common enemy.”
“As a result of the hard work and substantial resources dedicated by our local and federal law enforcement partners, this collaborative effort has disrupted MS-13’s leadership and significantly undermines the gang’s ability to engage in violence and other criminal conduct in Nevada, California, and elsewhere throughout the country,” said U.S. Attorney Trutanich. “Our office is proud to contribute to making our streets safer and stopping MS-13 from using a well-worn path between Los Angeles and Las Vegas to develop a greater presence in Las Vegas. We are grateful to HSI, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, and ATF: without their bravery, this prosecution would not be possible.”
“Gangs threaten the safety of our communities, not just in major metropolitan areas but in our suburbs and rural areas, too,” said Francisco Burrola, Special Agent in Charge for the HSI Las Vegas office. “Gang-related violence and criminal activity present an ongoing challenge for law enforcement everywhere. Our efforts to dismantle gangs are much more effective in areas where partnership with local law enforcement is strongest.”
“The magnitude of this operation will have a huge ripple effect on this criminal enterprise. Dangerous gangs like these contribute to the decay of our communities by bringing drugs and other violent crime to our streets. They threaten the safety of our neighborhoods and our way of life. These arrests are a real victory against gang violence,” said Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo.
“Gangs are one of the nation’s key distributors of narcotics and are flagrant in their use of firearms to carry out violence and intimidation,” said Special Agent in Charge Patrick Gorman, San Francisco Field Division, ATF. “Through ATF’s collaborative Crime Gun Intelligence Model, local, state, and federal partners diligently pursue violent criminals and the sources of their crime guns to remove them from our communities. Throughout this investigation, ATF has worked side by side with our partners to fulfill ATF’s mission of protecting the public by investigating the criminal misuse and trafficking of firearms in Las Vegas. ATF remains committed to working hard and doing our part to make this city a safer place.”
As detailed in the indictment, MS-13 originated in Los Angeles and has since spread across the country. MS-13 is organized by subsets known as “cliques,” such as “Hollywood Locos” and “Fulton.” In the southwestern United States, the Hollywood Locos clique operates in several major cities, including Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
The organizational hierarchy of MS-13 cliques in Nevada is generally comprised of different ranks. A “Homeboy” is a fully initiated gang member who has undergone a “jumping in” ceremony. That ceremony involves passing a “beating test” where the prospective MS-13 member must survive a group of existing gang members beating him for 13 seconds. Once jumped in, MS-13 members are expected to participate in the gang’s criminal activities. Certain “Homeboys” also operate as “Palabreros” or “shot callers,” making the ultimate decisions affecting the clique.
The indictment charges three defendants who were “Homeboys” in the MS-13 Hollywood Locos and Fulton cliques:
- Adali Arnulfo Escalante-Trujillo, also known as “Buchaca,” 43, of Las Vegas, is charged with one count of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise (commonly referred to as the “Kingpin” statute), one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, 15 counts of distribution of a controlled substance, and one count of conspiracy to deal in firearms without a license.
As alleged, Escalante-Trujillo was the Las Vegas-based “shot caller” of the Hollywood Locos clique, leading the Las Vegas sector of the gang, which was involved in narcotics and firearms distribution. He bragged about the violent acts committed by MS-13, boasted of connections between MS-13 and the Mexican Mafia, and bragged that MS-13 had come to work with nearly all Mexican Cartels. Reflecting his senior position within MS-13’s hierarchy, Escalante-Trujillo was in direct contact with an MS-13 founding member living in El Salvador.
Escalante-Trujillo brokered nearly every narcotics and firearms trafficking charge alleged in the indictment. Among other things, Escalante-Trujillo hosted MS-13 members from Los Angeles at his Las Vegas home, to enable their transportation of bulk quantities of methamphetamine from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.
- Jose Alfredo Ayala-Flores, also known as “Blackie,” 39, of Inglewood, California, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, five counts of distribution of a controlled substance, and one count of being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm.
As alleged, in addition to being a “Homeboy,” Ayala-Flores is a “shot caller.” He led the MS-13 “Los Angeles Program,” a leadership group that seeks to unify MS-13 decision-making throughout the United States.
In early 2020, Ayala-Flores and Escalante-Trujillo arranged numerous bulk methamphetamine deals in Las Vegas. Additionally, Ayala-Flores sent bulk pills, laced with fentanyl, through the mail. Ayala-Flores also possessed three rifles (bearing no serial numbers) illegally, due to his prior conviction for attempted murder.
- Alvaro Ernesto Perez Carias, also known as “Toro,” 50, of Los Angeles, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and one count of distribution of a controlled substance
As alleged, Perez Carias is a “shot caller” and a founding member of the Hollywood Locos clique. Due to supply issues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Perez Carias personally delivered large quantities of methamphetamine from Los Angeles to Las Vegas this year.
Aside from Escalante-Trujillo, Ayala-Flores, and Perez Carias, the remaining ten defendants are charged with conspiring to distribute drugs (between July 2019 and the present) and conducting individual drug deals over the past 12 months. The indictment also charges defendants with illegally possessing and selling silencers, semiautomatic rifles, and semiautomatic handguns:
- Sebastian Ocadiz-Castro, 20, of Las Vegas, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, three counts of distribution of a controlled substance, and one count of conspiracy to deal in firearms without a license.
- Juan Luis-Rico, also known as “Pelon,” 46, of Las Vegas, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and one count of distribution of a controlled substance.
- Juan Angel Reyes, also known as “Angel” and “Mysterio,” 21, of Van Nuys, California, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and one count of distribution of a controlled substance.
- Miguel Angel Nieto-Romero, also known as “Flaco,” 26, of Los Angeles, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and three counts of distribution of a controlled substance.
- Rosalio Andres Siguenza-Romero, also known as “Tweety,” 40, of Las Vegas, is charged with one count of conspiracy to deal in firearms without a license, one count of dealing in firearms without a license, and one count of possession of an unregistered firearm.
- Daniel Enrique Perez-Torres, also known as “Maliente,” 30, of Las Vegas, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and two counts of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.
- Jose Gerardo Cortez-Diaz, also known as “Christian Axel Lopez-Cortez” and “Chiquilin,” 20, of Los Angeles, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and one count of distribution of a controlled substance.
- Eder Cruz-Salguero, also known as “Edgar Manolo Ramirez-Salguero” and “Venado,” 26 (city of residence unknown), is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and one count of distribution of a controlled substance.
- Carlos Lopez-Guzman, also known as “Troso,” 41, of Los Angeles, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and three counts of distribution of a controlled substance.
- Pedro Ernesto Montalvo, also known as “Cuba,” 35, of Hawthorne, California, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and one count of distribution of a controlled substance.
All defendants except Angel Reyes and Cruz-Salguero are in federal custody and awaiting their respective initial appearances. The charges in the indictment are merely allegations, and each defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Shaheen Torgoley and Brett Ruff are prosecuting this case.
The maximum statutory sentences for each charge in the indictment are: (a) life imprisonment and a $2 million fine for engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise; (b) life imprisonment and a $10 million fine for distribution of controlled substance; (c) life imprisonment and a $10 million fine for conspiracy to distribute controlled substance; (d) five years imprisonment for conspiracy – deal in firearms without a license; (e) five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine for dealing in firearms without a license; (f) ten years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine for prohibited person in possession of a firearm; and (g) ten years imprisonment for possession of unregistered firearm. The maximum statutory sentences are prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only. If convicted of any federal offense, the sentencing of a defendant will be determined by the court based on the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.
The charges are the result of a joint investigation by the HSI, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, and the ATF, and coordinated at a national level by Joint Task Force Vulcan. In August 2019, Attorney General Barr created JTFV to carry out the recommendations of the MS-13 subcommittee formed under the Attorney General’s Transnational Organized Crime Task Force, which was the result of President Trump’s February 2017 Executive Order directing the Departments of Justice, State, and Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to coordinate a whole-of-government approach to dismantle transnational criminal organizations, such as MS-13, and restore safety for the American people. The principal purpose of JTFV is to coordinate and lead the efforts of the Justice Department and U.S. law enforcement agencies against MS-13 in order to dismantle the group.