A federal grand jury in Nashville, Tennessee, on Nov. 18 returned a 16-count superseding indictment charging seven members of the notorious MS-13 gang with conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana, on top of gun-related offenses, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced.
Charges were filed against Carlos Ochoa-Martinez, 31, Jason Sandoval, 35, Jorge Flores, 28, Jose Pineda-Caceres, 22, Juan Melendez, 25, Franklin Hernandez, 21, and Gerson Serrano-Ramirez, 33.
The indictment alleges that starting in 2014 and until the present day, the seven men conspired together to obtain bulk quantities of both marijuana and cocaine for redistribution in and around middle Tennessee.
Police claim those drugs would then be broken up into smaller quantities and sold in and around nightclubs in Nashville and from the parking lots and restrooms of these establishments.
According to the indictment, in order to maximize drug distribution in these nightclubs, threaten competing drug dealers who sold and attempted to sell cocaine and marijuana in them, and protect their drugs, territory, and proceeds, the gang members would carry and discharge firearms.
To maintain and extend control over their drug distribution, members of the gang would commit acts involving murder, intimidation, and assault against individuals who jeopardized its operations, including rival drug dealers.
All defendants are in custody and will appear before a U.S. Magistrate Judge at a later date. If convicted, they face a minimum sentence of five years and up to 40 years in prison.
This investigation is being conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations; the Drug Enforcement Administration; and the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department. Trial Attorney Matthew Hoff of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime & Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ahmed Safeeullah are prosecuting this case.
MS-13 is a violent street gang that operates in the United States, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and other countries. It is considered one of the top transnational organized crime threats in the United States and has been blamed for dozens of killings since 2016. The gang’s informal motto is said to be “kill, rape, control.”
President Donald Trump has previously described its members as “animals” and “thugs.”
The gang is believed to have been founded as a neighborhood street gang in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s by immigrants fleeing a civil war in El Salvador. El Salvador’s Supreme Court defined the gang as a terrorist group in 2015, allowing courts there to give tougher sentences to its members.
Each year, the gang is responsible for a number of violent crimes in the United States, including murders, extortion, arms and drug trafficking, assaults, rapes, human trafficking, robberies, and kidnappings. For decades, the gang has exploited weaknesses in U.S. immigration enforcement policies to move its members in and out of the United States and to recruit new members who have arrived in the United States illegally.
On Oct. 21, The Department of Justice released a report detailing its efforts to “disrupt, dismantle, and destroy MS-13,” which showed that nearly three-quarters of alleged members of the violent gang prosecuted by the DOJ in the past four years were present in the United States illegally. The report shows that the department has, since 2016, prosecuted 749 members of the notorious gang.
Isabel Van Brugen contributed to this report.