Two senior members of Mara Salvatrucha, a transnational criminal street gang commonly called MS-13, including the one-time shot-caller of all MS-13 in Los Angeles, have been found guilty of federal racketeering and drug trafficking charges, the Justice Department announced today.
José Balmore Romero, 49, a.k.a. “Porky,” the case’s lead defendant, and Erwin Alexander Melgar, 45, a.k.a. “Snoopy,” each were found guilty late Friday of one count of conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and one count of conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. Melgar also was found guilty of two counts of distribution of methamphetamine.
According to evidence presented at a four-day trial, Balmore was the overall shot-caller for MS-13 in Los Angeles in 2013 and 2014. As the leader of the gang, Balmore oversaw MS-13’s activities in Los Angeles, serving as the leader for the more than 20 cliques of MS-13 in Los Angeles. In this role, Balmore oversaw MS-13’s drug trafficking activities and the collection of extortionate “taxes” and “rent,” some of which was then distributed to Mexican Mafia members.
Balmore also conducted gang leadership meetings, where he brought together leaders from the various Los Angeles-based MS-13 cliques to discuss coordinated efforts in strengthening and organizing the gang in Los Angeles. He also disseminated gang orders, including authorizing the initiation of new members and the assault of members who were in bad standing.
As for Melgar, evidence at trial showed he was the shot-caller of the Normandie clique of MS-13 in Los Angeles, a clique based in the Koreatown area of Los Angeles. In this role, Melgar controlled and gave orders to the clique members, including to engage in acts of violence. Melgar also directed the clique’s extortion and drug sales.
In addition to narcotics trafficking and violent crimes, members of MS-13 also engaged in a wide range of criminal conduct that includes the extortion of street-level drug dealers and innocent business owners who were threatened with death if they did not make payments to the gang. Under Melgar, the gang also operated illegal after-hours clubs, commonly known as “casitas,” where it generated profits from illegal narcotics and alcohol sales.
United States District Judge Otis D. Wright II scheduled an October 16 sentencing hearing, at which time Balmore and Melgar will face statutory maximum sentence of life in federal prison and a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison.
Federal prosecutors have secured 28 convictions so far in this case, which targeted the leadership of MS-13 in Los Angeles.
The investigation into MS-13 was conducted by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Task Force on Violent Gangs and was led by the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department.
The LAMTFVG includes personnel from the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Southern California Drug Task Force pursuant to the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) program; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the United States Bureau of Prisons participated in the investigation.
Other agencies provided substantial assistance during the investigation, including the Los Angeles Regional Criminal Information Clearinghouse (LA CLEAR), the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, the Los Angeles County Probation Department, and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.
This case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF.
Assistant United States Attorney Jeffrey M. Chemerinsky, Chief of the Violent and Organized Crime Section, and Assistant United States Attorneys Shawn T. Andrews and Amy E. Pomerantz, also of the Violent and Organized Crime Section, are prosecuting this case.