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Feds announce bust of MS-13, charges alleged gang violence, extortion of Bay Area drug dealers

Palo Alto Daily News - 3/13/2020

Mar. 13--SAN FRANCISCO -- In a strike at a gang that has gained national notoriety for its reputation to commit torturous murders, federal and state authorities say they have rounded up 17 alleged MS-13 members on federal racketeering charges.

The indictment, unsealed Friday, charges various suspected members of an MS-13 subset known as 20th Street with a several shootings and stabbings over the last four years, none of which were fatal.

Federal prosecutors say the attacks were the result of gang rivalry -- most of the victims had been perceived as possible rivals of MS-13, the indictment alleges -- as well as drug territory. The indictment says that in 2017, MS-13 was extorting street-level drug dealers in the Tenderloin neighborhood, where federal authorities have been focusing anti-drug trafficking efforts since last year.

According to the indictment, the gang claims a section of town along Mission Street that stretches from 15th Street to 21st street to the north, and Church Street to Van Ness Street to the south. The indictment says its members "are expected to use any means necessary to force respect from those who show disrespect, including acts of intimidation and violence.

"I just want to pause on that for a second: This gang claims part of our city and their territory," said U.S. Attorney David Anderson, emphasizing the words "our," and "their." He later added, "Our parks and playgrounds to not belong to transnational criminal organizations. Our public spaces belong to all of us."

Friday's announcement is reminiscent of Operation Devil Horns, a three-year federal investigation ending in 2004 that targeted three dozen members of the same MS-13 subset.

Several defendants are also facing state charges alleging involvement in two murders, including an "execution-style killing," San Francisco police Chief Bill Scott said. Through investigating those and four nonfatal shooting, police realized that the 20th Street subset was part of a "much larger" criminal organization, he added.

Eleven of the 17 defendants were already in custody on other charges, authorities said.

In the same press conference, federal prosecutors announced that more than 150 arrests had been made as part of a federal initiative attacking what Anderson called an "open air drug market" in the Tenderloin.

The indictment alleges that in November 2016, Elmer "Gordo" Rodriguez shot a man in the chest at close range with a 12-gauge shotgun. The victim, a Tenderloin-area drug dealer, was allegedly resisting an MS-13 shakedown.

The victim went into a coma for days, but survived the shooting, the indictment says.

Two months earlier, Alexis Cruz Zepeda, aka "Zorro," and Kevin Reyes Melendez, aka "Neutron," shot a suspected rival gang member five times. The victim survived, and was hit in the lower-half of his body, the indictment says.

They then ran into a car driven by Ronaldy "Smokey" Dominguez and led police on a chase, which ended when they drove the wrong way up Vermont Street to get onto the freeway and escaped, throwing guns out the window as they sped away, the indictment alleges.

In Nov. 30, 2017, the indictment alleges, Oscar "Chuy" Espinal and Edwin Alvarado Amaya, aka "Muerte," stabbed a man at a bus stop after demanding to know if he was a gang member. The man suffered 15 stab wounds but lived to tell the tale, according to the indictment.

In January 2019, Kevin Guatemala Zepeda, aka "Mision," Evert Galdamez Cisneros, aka "Talentoso," and Fernando Romero Bonilla, aka "Black," "threatened and assaulted" two brothers, aged 15 and 12, and their parents, after asking if they were gang members. They pulled weapons on the family, then punched and kicked them till they left, the complaint alleges.

MS-13 originated in Los Angeles, and has branched out to El Salvador, where many of its members or their parents are originally from. It has an estimated 60,000 members. It is known for being particularly brutal, with infamous cases including the 14-year-old girl in Maryland who members feared would testify against them, and the killing of seven people in the San Fernando Valley last year.

The defendants are identified as: Rogelio Belloso Aleman, aka "Smiley," Edwin Alvarado Amaya, aka "Muerte," Fernando Romero Bonilla, aka "Black," Kenneth Campos, aka "Nesio," Evert Galdamez Cisneros, aka "Talentoso," Luis Velis Diaz, "Popa," Ronaldy Dominguez, aka "Smokey," Oscar Espinal, aka "Chuy," Wilfredo Iraheta Landaverde, aka "Wally," Kevin Reyes Melendez, aka "Neutron," Missael Mendoza, Christian Quintanilla, Elmer Rogriguez, aka "Gordo," Marvin Osegueda Saravia, aka "Ciquis," Kevin Ramirez Valencia, aka "Delincuente," Alexis Cruz Zepeda, aka "Zorro," and Kevin Guatemala Zepeda, aka "Mision."

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