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Maryland MS-13 leader faces life in prison after guilty plea

Greenbelt, MD – Jose Augustin Salmeron-Larios (a/k/a Joseph Morales-Martinez, Angel Salvador Gutierrez, Yankee, and Kean), age 25, of Severn, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to a conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise known as La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13; attempted murder in aid of racketeering; and using and carrying a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence.

The plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur; Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; Acting Special Agent in Charge Scott Hoernke of the Drug Enforcement Administration - Washington Field Division; Acting Special Agent in Charge Cardell T. Morant of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Chief J. Thomas Manger of the Montgomery County Police Department; Chief Henry P. Stawinski III of the Prince George’s County Police Department; Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Angela D. Alsobrooks; and Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy.

“Salmeron-Larios’s arrest and conviction have dealt a significant blow to MS-13 in Maryland,” said U.S. Attorney Robert K. Hur.  “As the founder and leader of the Maryland Program, Salmeron-Larios organized and coordinated violence, drug trafficking and extortion among six cliques operating in the Maryland area. His arrest helped to dismantle the Maryland Program and the effort to create a permanent structure under which these cliques worked.”

“MS-13 is an organization ruthlessly committed to living up to its motto—‘Kill, Steal, Rape, Control,” said Assistant Attorney General Benczkowski.  “Fortunately, today’s plea demonstrates that the Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners are committed to relentlessly pursuing the gang and its leadership.”

“DEA and our partners work hard every day to ensure the safety of our communities,” state DEA Acting Special Agent in Charge Scott Hoernke.  “Following this case through to a guilty plea shows our commitment to hold accountable those who jeopardize the safety of our neighborhoods.  We will continue to investigate criminal enterprises that have a callous disregard for the destruction they cause.”

MS-13 is a gang composed primarily of immigrants or descendants of immigrants from El Salvador, with members operating in the State of Maryland, including Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, and Frederick County, and throughout the United States.  Branches or “cliques” of MS-13 often work together cooperatively to engage in criminal activity and to assist one another in avoiding detection by law enforcement.  In Maryland and the surrounding area, these cliques include Parkview Locos Salvatrucha (“PVLS”), Normandie Locos Salvatrucha (“NLS” or “Normandie”), Sailors Locos Salvatrucha Westside (“SLSW” or “Sailors”), Langley Park Salvatrucha (“LPS”), Weedoms Locos Salvatrucha (“Weedoms”), and Cabanas Locos Salvatruchas (“Cabanas”).  MS-13 cliques often combine and work together as “Programs,” with the purpose of increasing the gang’s levels of organization, violence, extortion, and other criminal activity. A person within the participating cliques is selected as the Program leader.

To protect the gang and to enhance its reputation, MS-13 members and associates are expected to use any means necessary to force respect from those who show disrespect, including acts of intimidation and violence.  MS-13’s creed is based on one of its mottos, “Mata, roba, viola, controla,” which translates to, “kill, steal, rape, control.”

According to his plea agreement, from at least January 2015 through September 2016, Salmeron-Larios was a member of the PVLS clique and served as the MS-13 Maryland Program Leader.  Salmeron-Larios admitted to participating in numerous acts in furtherance of the racketeering conspiracy.

For example, in April 2015, Salmeron-Larios and other MS-13 members and associates traveled to New York, met with MS-13 members there and discussed MS-13 business.  Salmeron-Larios admitted that on November 7, 2015, he and other MS-13 members and associates traveled to Hyattsville, Maryland, intending to murder Victim 1, who was believed to be a member of the 18th Street Gang.  Two MS-13 co-conspirators lured Victim 1 to a location in Hyattsville.  Salmeron-Larios and two MS-13 co-conspirators, all armed with firearms, went to the meeting location.  Salmeron-Larios and the armed MS-13 co-conspirators got out of the car while another MS-13 accomplice waited in the vehicle.  The victim arrived in a car driven by another person and one of Salmeron-Larios’s MS-13 co-conspirators fired his handgun into the vehicle, attempting to kill Victim 1, who was struck in the face by one of the gunshots.  Salmeron-Larios and his accomplices returned to their vehicle and left the area.  The guns used during this crime, including the gun possessed by Salmeron-Larios, were taken to the residence of the co-conspirator who shot Victim 1.  Victim 1 survived the shooting, but lost an eye, sustained loss of hand and leg function, and was permanently disfigured as a result of the shooting.  Salmeron-Larios participated in the shooting in order to gain entrance to, maintain, and increase his position in MS-13.

Salmeron-Larios admitted that in January 2016, he traveled to Florida and obtained firearms, which were distributed to MS-13 members for use in Maryland.  In addition, during the time of the conspiracy, Salmeron-Larios possessed and distributed controlled substances, including cocaine, for the benefit of MS-13.  Finally, on June 8 and June 9, 2016, Salmeron-Larios discussed an attack upon suspected rival gang members with other MS-13 members.  During several conversations, Salmeron-Larios discussed providing a firearm to a member of the Sailors Clique to be used against rival gang members in the area of 23rd Avenue in Langley Park “by the towers.” Salmeron-Larios instructed one individual where to find the gun and that it was loaded, and instructed another MS-13 member to loan a gun to a member of the Sailors Clique.

Salmeron-Larios faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for conspiring to participate in a racketeering enterprise; a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for attempted murder in aid of racketeering; and a mandatory 10 years in prison, consecutive to any other sentence, and up to life in prison, for using and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence.

U.S. District Judge Paula Xinis has scheduled sentencing for Salmeron-Larios for December 7, 2018, at 10:00 a.m.  Salmeron-Larios remains detained pending sentencing.

This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone.  Attorney General Jeff Sessions reinvigorated PSN in 2017 as part of the Department’s renewed focus on targeting violent criminals, directing all U.S. Attorney’s Offices to work in partnership with federal, state, local, and tribal law enforcement and the local community to develop effective, locally based strategies to reduce violent crime.

United States Attorney Robert K. Hur and Assistant Attorney General Brian A. Benczkowski commended the DEA; HSI Baltimore, the Prince George’s County Police Department, the Montgomery County Police Department, the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office, and the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office for their work in the investigation. Mr. Hur and Mr. Benczkowski also recognized the Montgomery County and Prince George’s County Departments of Corrections, HSI Baltimore’s Operation Community Shield Task Force, and the Maryland Department of Corrections Intelligence Unit for their assistance. Mr. Hur and Mr. Benczkowski thanked Assistant United States Attorneys William D. Moomau, Ray D. McKenzie, and Lindsay Eyler Kaplan and Trial Attorney Catherine K. Dick with the Justice Department’s Organized Crime and Gang Section, who are prosecuting this Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force case.

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