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MS-13 gang members convicted

Organized threats to the security of the homeland are not necessarily all motivated by religious zealotry or extremist ideology.

Sometimes the threat is simply about money and turf, and the danger to citizens can involve something as innocent as the color of shirts they’re wearing.

Six members of a notorious gang, called La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, were convicted last week by a jury in U.S. District Court in Charlotte, N.C., of criminal charges that include racketeering, murder (in one case, because a man was wearing a red shirt), attempted murder, assault, cocaine trafficking and numerous related federal firearms offenses, the Department of Justice reports.

The gang, which originated in the slums of El Salvador before moving north to Los Angeles and spreading across the U.S. from there, is arguably more powerful and dangerous than the better-known Bloods and Crips.

The six gang members were charged with racketeering, murder, drug and firearms violations. They are Julio Cesar Rosales Lopez, 24, of Guilford County, NC; and, Juan Gilberto Villalobos, 42; Elvin Pastor Fernandez Gradis, 34; Carlos Roberto Figeroa-Pineda, 26; Johnny Elias Gonzalez, 21; and Santos Anibal Caballero Fernandez, 24, all of Charlotte.

All six were convicted of conspiring to engage in a racketeering enterprise in the Western District of North Carolina, El Salvador and elsewhere.

According to DoJ, evidence proved that MS-13 robbed and extorted, obstructed justice, tampered with witnesses, conspired to distribute cocaine and marijuana, and conspired to commit murder.

MS-13 racketeering activities included the murders of four people, attempted murder, assaults and threats of violence, according to DoJ, which calls the gang a “national and international criminal enterprise.”

The defendants face a variety of possible sentences based on their convictions, including for some, life in prison. In addition to the six defendants convicted last week, 19 other co-defendants have pleaded guilty to the racketeering charges in the indictment. One defendant remains in custody in El Salvador.


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