A former leader and two other members of the San Francisco branch of La Mara Salvatrucha or the dreaded MS-13 criminal gang have pleaded guilty in federal court to various federal charges that include racketeering (RICO) conspiracy, conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, and the use or possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence, according to the Department of Justice.
Ivan Cerna, also known as Tigre, 34, admitted on Jan. 10 that he was a MS-13 gang member since at least the late 1990s in the San Francisco Bay area and had assumed leadership of the gang's San Francisco clique (or chapter) from 2004 till 2006, following the murder of the then clique leader.
Under his leadership, clique members engaged in acts involving murder, including murder of rival gang members and others who defied or betrayed the gang.
According to the court documents, Cerna had also exhorted members of the gang to defend their turf by attacking rival gang members as well as to avenge attacks by rival gang members committed on members of MS-13. He has also been charged with possessing guns and directing others to arm themselves with guns in order to further the activities of MS-13.
Last week, two other MS-13 gang members, Aristides Carcamo, aka Indio, 32, and Jose Quinteros, aka Fantasma, 25, had pleaded guilty to various criminal charges. Carmaco admitted that he had committed crimes including murder, narcotics trafficking, robbery affecting interstate commerce, extortion, possession of firearms in furtherance of crime, RICO conspiracy and conspiracy to commit assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering.
Earlier this month, Wilbert Castillo, aka Cypress, 29, had also pleaded guilty to racketeering (RICO) conspiracy and conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering.
The maximum prison term for the RICO conspiracy charge is life for Cerna and Carcamo, and 20 years for Quinteros. RICO conspiracy also carries a maximum fine of $250,000. The maximum penalties for the conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering are 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, while the maximum penalties for the conspiracy to commit assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering are three years in prison and a $250,000 fine. The possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence charge carries a mandatory minimum prison term of five years and a maximum term of life in prison, as well as a fine of up to $250,000. The robbery conspiracy charge carries a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Sentencing for Cerna is scheduled for March 29, 2011. Carcamo is scheduled to be sentenced on March 22, 2011, and Quinteros is scheduled to be sentenced on April 5, 2011.
These guilty pleas are the most recent in a series of pleas by members of MS-13 to racketeering charges arising out of a multi-year investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations, called Operation Devil Horns, which targeted MS-13 gang members in the San Francisco Bay area. Cerna, Carcamo and Quinteros were previously indicted along with 26 other individuals as part of Operation Devil Horns. Since the original charges against MS-13 were unsealed on Oct. 22, 2008, three superseding indictments have been returned charging additional defendants as well as additional crimes. Thirteen defendants are still awaiting trial, which is currently scheduled to begin on March 7, 2011.
The MS-13 gang comprises primarily of immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. It has several chapters, which members refer to as cliques, across the U.S.