Six members of notorious MS-13 gang found guilty

Convictions come on charges from extortion to murder in crimes across Charlotte.
Gary L. Wright (Charlotte Observer)
Jan. 27, 2010

Six members of the notorious MS-13 gang were convicted Tuesday on a variety of charges involving violence and conspiracy, wrapping up a two-week trial marked by extraordinary security and testimony about gang life and crimes across Charlotte.

The federal jury deliberated for about four hours before finding the men guilty on all 36 charges. Their crimes ranged from murder and extortion to racketeering conspiracy and robbery.

Two of the men were convicted of crimes that carry maximum punishments of life in prison. One was convicted of murder in connection with the April 2008 slaying of Ulisses Alejandro Mayo, who was shot to death while sitting in a car after a children’s birthday party.

Late Tuesday, the gang members were brought into the courtroom one by one to face the jury’s verdicts. Wearing earphones for Spanish translation, each man listened intently and watched as jurors pronounced their judgments. Then, authorities led the gang members, their legs shackled, from the courtroom. They’ll likely be sentenced later this year.

Family members of the murder victim cried as they left the courtroom. One gang member’s family hurried from the courthouse without speaking to reporters.

The Salvadoran gang has as many as 12,000 members across the country and has been linked to homicides, drug trafficking and extortion in the Carolinas.

The six men convicted Tuesday were rounded up in a 2008 sweep after 26 alleged MS-13 gang members were indicted in Charlotte. Three of the suspected gang members were accused in the indictment of murdering two people in Charlotte and two in Greensboro. Some of the suspected gang members faced drug and firearms charges.

Eighteen of the defendants pleaded guilty. One is imprisoned in El Salvador. One faces a death penalty trial this spring.

Tuesday’s verdicts concluded a trial that began Jan. 12 amid heightened security at the federal courthouse in uptown Charlotte. Spectators had to pass through two metal detectors. The identities of the jurors were kept secret. And a large tent was put up behind the courthouse, preventing outsiders from seeing when the defendants arrived and left.

Prosecutors said the defendants were part of an international crime organization that committed crimes across Charlotte, including robbery, racketeering, extortion and murder. During the trial, they offered an in-depth look inside one of the nation’s most violent street gangs.

Prosecutor Sam Nazzaro said violence permeated the gang members’ lives – starting with a 13-second “beat-in” initiation ceremony and, at times, ending with a call for the killing of members who tried to leave the gang.

Among the prosecution’s witnesses were a MS-13 gang member who had already pleaded guilty and an informant who helped authorities infiltrate the Charlotte gang.

The 21-year-old informant, a former gang member, pointed at each of the six defendants, calling them by their nicknames, and told jurors they were members of MS-13. The informant had secretly videotaped gang meetings and drug buys. He’s now in the government’s witness protection program.

Also known as La Mara Salvatrucha, MS-13 is an abbreviation deriving from the word “Mara,” which means “gang.” Salvatrucha combines “Salva” for Salvadoran and “trucha,” which is slang for “fear us.”

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