Massachusetts is serious about getting rid of its MS-13 presence. A federal jury convicted one of its leaders of racketeering conspiracy, following a two-week trial in Boston on Tuesday. 22-year-old Rafael Leoner Aguirre, who goes by the nickname “Tremendo,” faces up to 20 years in prison, three years of supervised release, and will be deported when he finishes serving his sentence.
The Salvadoran national was found guilty of conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity, more commonly referred to as RICO conspiracy. Leoner Aguirre led the Enfermos Criminal Salvatrucha clique (“Enfermos clique”) of La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13. The Enfermos clique was one of many MS-13 cliques operating in Massachusetts from 2013 to 2016.
Known as a violent, transnational criminal organization whose members engage in racketeering activity involving murder, robbery and drug trafficking, MS-13 has gained a reputation as America’s most notorious gang.
At Rafael Leoner Aguirre’s trial, multiple witnesses testified that MS-13’s core principles include a desire to control territory by killing rival gang members, and a desire to kill those who are suspected of cooperating with law enforcement. Prospective members of MS-13 are required to complete an initiation process—to move from “paro,” to “observation,” to “chequeo,” to “homeboy.” The group often recruits younger members in local high schools.
In 2013 and early 2014, there were several “paros” and “chequeos” in Chelsea, Massachusetts, who were associated with MS-13, but who lacked homeboy leadership. These MS-13 members included Hector “Cuervo” Ramires, Bryan “Chucky” Galicia Barillas, David “Cilindro” Lopez, Daniel “Roca” Menjivar, Angel “Bravo” Pineda, and Kevin “Gallito” Ayala.
In 2013, Leoner Aguirre entered the United States illegally from El Salvador, and in March 2014 he moved to the Chelsea area to provide leadership and to activate, organize, and supervise the group.
Even before his arrival in Chelsea, Leoner Aguirre began recruiting and planning MS-13 activities. He created recruitment videos for MS-13 and posted them on YouTube. This enabled younger members to view these videos, including one witness who testified that he first saw these videos while at a local high school.
Once Leoner Aguirre arrived in Massachusetts, he encouraged members of the clique to attack and kill rival gang members, in addition to committing other racketeering acts such as robberies. He himself committed a number of racketeering acts, including an attempted murder involving a shooting and another attempted murder involving a machete. More junior members of the Enfermos clique also committed a number of racketeering acts after Leoner Aguirre arrived in Massachusetts, including a shooting that resulted in the death of an innocent bystander.
The other members of the Enfermos clique—Ramires, Galicia Barillas, Lopez, Menjivar, Pineda and Ayala—were also arrested and charged with RICO conspiracy and previously pleaded guilty. Ramires pleaded guilty pursuant to a plea agreement under which the parties will recommend 27 years in prison. Galicia Barillas pleaded guilty pursuant to a plea agreement under which the parties will recommend 22 years in prison. Lopez and Menjivar pleaded guilty pursuant to plea agreements in which there is no agreement on sentencing. Pineda was previously sentenced to 93 months in prison and Ayala was sentenced to 42 months in prison. Every one of them faces deportation when they complete their sentences.
Leoner Aguirre is scheduled to be sentenced on March 2, 2018.
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