Multi-year ICE HSI investigation leads to indictment of 9 MS-13 gang members

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. – A federal grand jury in Nashville returned a 60-count, second superseding indictment, charging nine MS-13 gang members with a racketeering conspiracy.

The announcement was made by the assistant attorney general of the Department of Justice criminal division and the acting U.S. attorney for the middle district of Tennessee.

Charges in the indictment include seven murder allegations, kidnappings, numerous assaults, robberies and large-scale drug distribution.

“This ongoing investigation has already led to multiple arrests and indictments of confirmed MS-13 gang members, including the nine charged in this most recent indictment,” said Jerry C Templet, Jr, special agent in charge, Homeland Security Investigations, Nashville. “HSI Nashville is proud to have worked with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to see the continued results of this multi-year RICO investigation involving the presence and activities of MS-13 gang members in Nashville, Tennessee.”

This ongoing Organized Crime & Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation was conducted by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives; Drug Enforcement Administration; U.S. Marshals Service; Tennessee Bureau of Investigation; and Metropolitan Nashville Police Department.

Those charged in the indictment include: 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, Tennessee.

The indictment describes the organizational structure of MS-13 and the gang’s sub-unit, the Thompson Place Los Salvatrucha clique, operating in Nashville since at least 2014. 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 often steal and used 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 incarcerated in the United States and El Salvador.

Cooperation with law enforcement is strictly prohibited under MS-13’s rules. 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, Tennessee, 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.

All defendants are in federal custody. If convicted, they each face decades of incarceration, including up to life in prison.

An indictment is merely an accusation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

HSI is a directorate of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel and finance move.

HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 special agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States, and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.