NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) - A federal grand jury in Nashville on Monday handed down a 60-count, second superseding indictment, charging nine members of the MS-13 gang with a racketeering conspiracy which includes allegation of seven murders, kidnappings, numerous assaults, robberies and large-scale drug distribution, law enforcement officials announced Wednesday morning.
Acting U.S. Attorney Mary Jane Stewart, Metro Police Chief John Drake and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation Director David Rausch were among the law enforcement officials present for the announcement.
Those charged in the indictment are: Carlos Ochoa-Martinez, 31, aka El Serio, Jason Sandoval, 35, aka Bin Laden, Jorge Flores, 29, aka Peluche, Kevin Tidwell, 28, aka Miklo, all of Nashville; Jose Pineda-Caceres, 22, aka Demente, Franklin Hernandez, 22, aka Happy, and Luis Colindres, 24, aka Listo, all of Honduras; Gerson Serrano-Ramirez, 34, aka Frijole, of El Salvador; and Juan Melendez, aka Shaggy, of Lebanon.
“Without a doubt, Nashville is safer today because of the work of our detectives and our state and federal counterparts,” Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said during a news conference.
“Our Hispanic community in particular has suffered much by the actions of these gang members and we want to assure that that we will continue to hunt these gang members down and hold them accountable for their atrocious crimes and the fear they have instilled in this community,” Mary Jane Stewart, Acting United States Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, said during a news conference.
One of the most feared gangs in Nashville appeared to have gone quiet – until now.
Federal officials say cases like this are difficult to build without the community’s help.
“Sadly, the fear that gangs instill in our community makes it difficult to prosecute cases like the one presented here today. Because gangs often threaten potential witnesses and they employ other means of preventing crimes from ever being reported or prosecuted,” said Kenneth A. Polite, Jr., the Assistant Attorney General of the Department of Justice Criminal Division. “The result is that it often takes months if not years for investigators to develop sufficient evidence it often requires significant efforts to identify, encourage and then protect very reluctant witnesses.”
The indictment described the organizational structure of MS-13 and the gang’s sub-unit operating in Nashville since at least 2014, specifically the Thompson Place Los Salvatrucha clique. According to a news release, the purpose of the MS-13 enterprise includes preserving and protecting the power, territory, reputation and profits of the enterprise through the use of intimidation and violence, including murder and promoting the enterprise through acts of murder, extortion, drug trafficking and other criminal activities.
To generate income, MS-13 Gang members engage in illegal activities under the protection of the enterprise, including drug trafficking, robbery, extortion and other crimes. They will often steal and use stolen vehicles to carry out these illegal activities. Funds generated by the illegal activity provide financial support to gang leaders, members and associates, including individuals jailed in the United States and in El Salvador.
Cooperation with law enforcement is strictly prohibited under MS-13’s rules, according to prosecutors. It is well understood within the gang that anyone who assists authorities will be punished with death, and the gang honors those who have killed police informants.
In addition to numerous acts of drug distribution and firearms offenses, the indictment alleges that one or more MS-13 Gang members conspired with other MS-13 Gang members and committed the following acts of violence:
- On April 6, 2016, murdered J.A. in Nashville by shooting him.
- On July 31, 2016, murdered L.R. in Nashville while attempting to murder R.R.
- On Jan. 18, 2017, attempted to murder R.V. in Nashville by shooting him and attempted to murder H.V., L.A. and H.S. by shooting at them.
- On Feb. 25, 2017, attempted to murder H.S. in Nashville by shooting at him.
- On May 21, 2017, murdered A.G. in Nashville by shooting him.
- On May 27, 2017, attempted to murder L.R.L. in Nashville by shooting at him and murdered J.F. by shooting him.
- On June 1, 2017, an MS-13 gang member assaulted a deputized federal officer in Brentwood, TN, while possessing a firearm and attempting to evade arrest.
- On June 17, 2017, brandished and discharged a firearm in Nashville during the kidnapping and assault of C.R.
- On July 25, 2017, kidnapped and assaulted X.A. in Nashville to prevent X.A. from cooperating with law enforcement.
- On Sept. 24, 2017, murdered H.Z. in Nashville by shooting him and murdered Y.H. by shooting him to prevent him from becoming a witness to H.Z.’s murder.
- On Sept. 24, 2017, lured A.L. to a meeting in Nashville and murdered him by shooting him and burned a car with his body in the trunk.
“These murders and other violent acts put our community and our citizens in jeopardy. I am particularly bothered that these individuals fired shots from another vehicle into another, further jeopardizing our community,” Drake said.
This isn’t the first major indictment dealing with the MS13 gang in Nashville. In 2007, 13 members of MS13 were charged with racketeering offenses. Officials said those 13 from 2007 were convicted and are still serving lengthy prison sentences.
“It took the better part of 10 years for MS13 to reorganize and reestablish themselves in Middle Tennessee but once again we are all here to strike their presence from this community again,” Stewart said.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation officials said MS13 has a presence in Middle Tennessee and there some gang members in a number of communities in the state.
“Make no mistake about it, MS13 is one of the most violent, ruthless and cold-blooded gangs to ever walk the face of the earth and we will be relentless in our efforts to root them out of this community,” Stewart said.
“Our organized crime and gang sections seeks to disrupt and eventually dismantle transnational criminal organizations like MS13. The type of organizations that pose unique and serious threats to safety across our country,” Polite said. "Removing these criminal actors from our community is a step but our commitment to improving safety in our communities requires investment in prevention and in intervention.”
All the defendants are in federal custody and if convicted face decades of prison time, including up to life in prison.
This Organized Crime & Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation is being conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Homeland Security Investigations; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the U.S. Marshals Service; the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department.