FBI Charges 37 Suspected Gang Members in Connection with Killings

From The Charlotte Observer by Ames Alexander, May 20, 2015

Advancing their efforts to crack down on gang violence in North Carolina, federal authorities charged 37 suspected MS-13 gang members Wednesday, May 20, 2015 with racketeering and other charges in connection with a series of assaults and killings.

Members of the gang were involved with murders, drug deals, shootings and robberies in the Charlotte area, the indictment says. They’re also accused of obstructing justice by threatening and intimidating witnesses they believed were cooperating with law enforcement.

In the indictment, the list of alleged crimes fills 17 pages.

“Today’s charges send a clear message to gangsters who think their gang affiliation puts them beyond the law’s reach,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Jill Rose.

The indictment paints a picture of a group with a highly organized system for raising money and enforcing compliance with gang rules. On June 8, 2014, gang members met at a Charlotte hotel to discuss collecting taxes from other drug dealers who operated in MS-13 clubs, the indictment says.

Federal authorities say the gang members were often required to commit acts of violence to maintain their memberships, and that members improved their status by carrying out criminal acts.

They conducted much of their business inside nightclubs and bars, the indictment suggests. In one case, on Aug. 11, 2013, gang members started fighting rivals at a club in northeast Charlotte called Mi Cabana. The indictment alleges that Albert Vela-Garcia of MS-13 shot an unnamed person there.

Several of the suspected gang members were charged with entering the U.S. illegally after they’d already been deported.

The FBI, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement assisted in Wednesday’s arrests.

Law enforcement arrested 16 of the alleged gang members during the early morning sweep. Five remain at large, and 16 more are now in state custody on other charges.

While all of the defendants were hit with racketeering charges, 22 of them have also been indicted on charges including murder, attempted murder, assault and firearms violations.

Wednesday’s arrests come amid a federal crackdown on gang activity.

In April, the FBI and other law enforcement groups arrested a dozen suspected members of the United Blood Nation, an East Coast criminal network with a history of violence and other crimes across the Charlotte region.

Six of the alleged UBN members were charged with the shooting deaths of Doug and Debbie London in their Lake Wylie, S.C., home.

According to that indictment, UBN members celebrated the fact that Doug London could no longer testify against the three gang members who tried to rob the couple’s South Boulevard mattress store last May.

The local gang threat became more apparent earlier this year, when two judges and a Charlotte city attorney were placed under police protection after the FBI discovered their photographs in the cell of an inmate believed to be tied to gangs.

A Series of Killings

Authorities say some of the suspects were involved with the killings of four men:

▪ Rigoberto Castillo, who in April 2011 was shot to death in the parking lot of the Modelo restaurant in Rock Hill. One of the indicted men, Raul Contreras, was previously sentenced to 30 years in prison for shooting and killing Castillo.

▪ Alejandro Sebastian Alvarez, who authorities say was fatally shot in June 2013 by a rival gang member in Charlotte. Cesar Garcia-Perez is serving time in state prison for killing Alvarez.

Angela Alvarez, the victim’s mother, says her son was not a gang member. He had recently graduated from Central Piedmont Community College and “was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” his mother said.

▪ Jose Orlando Ibarra, who was killed in Charlotte in December 2013. The man accused of shooting him, Miguel Zelaya, believed Ibarra belonged to a rival gang, the indictment says.

▪ Noel Navarro Hernandez, who in June 2014 was shot to death on Old Pineville Road in south Charlotte. Christian Pena, who went by the nickname “pitbull,” and Luis Ordonez-Vega are charged with murder in his death.

“This lengthy investigation has uncovered alleged crimes ranging from petty drug deals to capital murder,” said Ryan Spradlin, special agent in charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations in Atlanta.

‘That’s crazy’

For more than two hours Wednesday morning, authorities led the alleged gang members one-by-one into court, where U.S. Magistrate Judge David Cayer read the charges.

Rene Lopez-Ventura, 32, wearing a white T-shirt, entered the courtroom at noon. As an interpreter helped read the charge against him – racketeering conspiracy – Lopez’s wife, Nichole Villagomez, whispered to herself, “That’s crazy.”

If found guilty, Lopez faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Villagomez, 35, told an Observer reporter that Lopez left MS-13 years ago, partly because the couple had a baby. Now, she said, he lays ceramic tile and lives a “normal life” at the family’s home near W.T. Harris Boulevard.

“He saw what they (gang members) were about, so he got out,” Villagomez said. “Some of them, yeah, they’re bad news. But I can only speak for my husband.”

After acknowledging the charge against him, Lopez walked out of the courtroom in shackles, touching his fingers to his lips as he looked at his wife.

Staff Writers Gavin Off and Fred Clasen-Kelly, and staff researcher Maria David contributed.

The world of MS-13

MS-13 is composed mainly of immigrants or descendants of immigrants from El Salvador. The gang began in Los Angeles, where its members battled for control of drug distribution locations. Its members now operate throughout much of the country, including Mecklenburg and surrounding counties.

The gang’s name comes from “Mara Salvatrucha,” a combination of several slang terms for gang, Salvadoran and “fear us.” Gang members often wear blue, black or white clothing bearing the number “13.”

MS-13 members are generally required to complete an initiation process – often called being “jumped in” or “beat in” to the gang, federal authorities say. During the initiation, gang members beat the new member until someone in the group finishes counting aloud to 13.

The gang has 30,000 members worldwide, mostly in the United States, Mexico and several other Central American countries, federal officials say. Investigators estimate there are 6,000 members in the U.S.

Gang members work in small cliques that operate in different cities or neighborhoods. Each clique has a leader, called a “shot caller,” court documents say.

Ames Alexander and Fred Clasen-Kelly

Who was charged

Wednesday’s federal indictment charged the following people with Racketeering Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) conspiracy. All are suspected members of the MS-13 gang. (Not listed: 16 defendants who are already in state custody because of other charges.)

▪ Miriam Barilles-Escamilla, aka “Gata,” 26, of El Salvador. (not arrested)

▪ Luis Erazo, aka “Joker,” 24, of Honduras. (arrested)

▪ Marvin Fuentes-Canales, aka “Crazy,” 22, of El Salvador. (not arrested)

▪ Jorge Garcia, aka “Shorty,” 25, of Charlotte. (arrested)

▪ Saul Gavidia, aka “Scrappy,” 20, of Landis. (arrested)

▪ William Gavidia, aka “Duro,” 23, of Kannapolis. (arrested)

▪ Raul Guardado, aka “Guanaco,” 42, of Charlotte. (arrested)

▪ Neris Gutierrez, aka “Oso” or “Furioso,” 26, of Guatemala. (not arrested)

▪ Angel Hernandez, aka “Taz” or “Magic,” 24, of Rock Hill. (arrested)

▪ Jose Manuel Linares, aka “Chepito,” 21, of Charlotte. (arrested)

▪ Rene Lopez-Ventura, aka “Mafioso,” 32, of Charlotte. (arrested)

▪ Jose Moran-Celis, aka “Lil Silent,” 20, of Charlotte. (arrested)

▪ Jonathan Noble, aka “Ghost,” 22, of Charlotte. (arrested)

▪ Jorge Perez, aka “JP Bukie,” 30, of Charlotte. (arrested)

▪ Victor Pineda, aka “Chele,” 23, of Charlotte. (arrested)

▪ Fec Rodriguez-Vareal, aka “Chelito,” 28, of Charlotte. (arrested)

▪ Salvador Ruiz, aka “Chava,” 26, of Kannapolis. (not arrested)

▪ Jaime Turcios, aka “Pitufo” or “Smurf,” 24, of Charlotte. (arrested)

▪ Jose Vasquez, aka “Muneco,” 26, of El Salvador. (arrested)

▪ Albert Vela-Garcia, aka “Conejo,” 25, of Landis. (arrested)

▪ Luis Villalta, aka “Little Psycho,” 25, of El Salvador. (not arrested)

Published in: on May 20, 2015 at 11:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Woman Attacked, Stabbed Outside Her South Charlotte Apartment

From http://www.wsoctv.com by Trish Williford, May 20, 2015

A 29-year-old woman is frightened but thankful to be alive after coming face to face with two men as she walked out of her apartment on Farmhurst Drive Tuesday morning, May 19, 2015.

The woman, who does not want to be identified, said she walked out of her apartment at about 9:15 a.m., when she encountered two men sitting on the steps.

As she began to walk down them, the men immediately stood up.

She says one of them actually greeted her.

“He just said something like, ‘Hi,’ or something, and when I said, ‘Hi,’ and tried to pass between them, that’s when one of them pulled my purse, and he said, ‘Give me your purse,’” she said.

But the woman refused to let it go.

“I was fighting for my purse then he hit me, and I hit him back, and I yelled and nobody heard me,” she said.

The man grabbed the purse and ran off.

The woman ran back up the steps and tried to quickly get inside her apartment. It was then she noticed she was hurt.

Her stomach was bleeding.

The woman said she didn’t realize that as the attacker grabbed her purse, he had also stabbed her with an ice pick.

A neighbor heard the commotion and called for help.

The victim is staying with family Wednesday night.

She said the men were in their early 20s and one of them had a mark or some kind of tattoo on his neck.

She said she recognized one of them from her neighborhood.

Published in: on May 20, 2015 at 11:01 pm  Leave a Comment  

Gang Member Granted Amnesty Under Obama Program Faces 3 Charlotte Murder Charges

From http://www.inquisitir.com, April 22, 2015

A gang member granted amnesty under President Obama’s amnesty program now faces four murder charges in Charlotte, NC. The incident sparked a new review process of all people applying for deference in the U.S.

Rangler-Hernandez

 Emmanuel Jesus Rangel-Hernandez applied for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program on January, 13, 2013. Within seven months, he received notification that granted him a work permit, along with a two-year legal status. Per U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director Leon Rodriguez, who is now raising concerns about the case, Rangel-Hernandez was in the federal crime database, listed as a known gang member.

“Based on the standard procedures and protocols in place at the time, the DACA request and related employment authorization should not have been approved.”

Rangel-Hernandez now faces murder charges for four different people killed in Charlotte. One of the victims, America’s Next Top Model contestant Mirjana Puhar, 19, was killed on February 24 in Charlotte, while visiting her boyfriend, Jonathan Alvarado, and his roommate, Jusmar Gonzaga-Garcia. Alvarado and Gonzaga-Garcia were also killed during the incident, which took place at their home off of Norris Ave.

Along with Rangel-Hernandez, 19-year-old David Ezequel Lopez was also said to be involved in the murders. Both men were arrested and charged with three counts of felony first-degree murder.

Rangel-Hernandez also reportedly killed one man and wounded another in Marshall, North Carolina. Authorities believe that a drug altercation set off the incident.

USCIS indicates that at least 20 other people with known ties to gangs were approved under DACA, although Homeland Security states that anyone with any connections with gangs are a cause for rejection from the program.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley recently issued a written statement on the incident. He pointed out that Rangel-Hernandez’s past may have been approved regardless of his known gang activities.

“It’s no secret that USCIS staff is under intense pressure from the President to approve every DACA application that comes across their desk, and based on this information, it’s clear that adequate protocols are not in place to protect public safety. The fact is that this tragedy could have been avoided if the agency had a zero-tolerance policy with regard to criminal aliens and gang members.”

Senator Tom Tillis, of North Carolina, also spoke on the issue, stating that a loophole in the program is allowing criminals to stay in the U.S. Rangel-Hernandez was initially set to be deported in 2012, but was protected by DACA.

“The flawed implementation of the president’s blanket deferred action program has created a loophole that allows dangerous criminals who came here illegally – even known gang members – to stay in the country. The USCIS needs to immediately start performing detailed criminal background checks to prevent similar tragedies from occurring in the future.”

Although his amnesty is now revoked, Rangel-Hernandez is still in the U.S. to face his murder charges. He remains in jail with no bond.

[Photo Courtesy of Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department]

Published in: on April 22, 2015 at 9:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

CMPD Charges “Habitual Felon” in 1988 Murder of Cab Driver

From http://www.wcnc.com, April 16, 2015

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have made an arrest in a 1988 cold case murder.

Police charged 49-year-old Jackie Sanders in the murder of Dwight Thomas Corum back on January 14, 1988.

According to authorities, police responded to an assault with a deadly weapon call in the 600 block of Waco Street. When officers arrived on scene, they found Corum dead from an apparent gunshot wound.

Homicide Detectives, along with Crime Scene Technicians, responded to the location and collected DNA evidence from the scene, but were unable to identify a suspect at that time.

In October of 2013 this case was reviewed by the CMPD Cold Case Unit by utilizing funds from the 2011 Cold Case Grant. The evidence from the case was submitted to the CMPD Crime Lab for DNA examination.

Based on the evidence found, Sanders was identified as the suspect in this case. He was been interviewed by detectives. As a result of this investigation, detectives with the Cold Case Unit then signed warrants on Sanders.

Sanders was served with warrants for First Degree Murder and Armed Robbery. Sanders is currently incarcerated in the Tabor Correctional Institute in Tabor City where he is serving time for Habitual Felon.

The CMPD Cold Case Unit has reviewed 143 cases since it began in 2003. Of those cases, 42 have been cleared and 27 of those were cleared by arrest.

Published in: on April 16, 2015 at 10:22 pm  Leave a Comment  

Man Who Removed Immigration Service Ankle Monitor Wanted in Deadly Charlotte Hit & Run

From http://www.wcnc.com, April 16, 2015

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police have identified the suspect in a deadly hit-and-run in SouthEnd on Wednesday.

Police have identified Elmer Galeas-Padilla as the suspect involved in the deadly hit-and-run.

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Right at noon Wednesday, CMPD says Jefferson Davis James was driving his moped southbound on South Boulevard in the right-hand lane, and struck a black 2005 Nissan Murano as he approached the intersection of New Bern Station Court.

Police say the driver of the Murano was turning left onto New Bern Station Court from northbound South Boulevard, causing the moped to crash into the rear passenger door area of the Murano.

Galeas-Padilla failed to stop at the scene, and police say the driver fled south on South Boulevard.

James was taken to CMC-Main, where he was pronounced deceased.

Arrest warrants for two counts of felony hit and run and one count of driving while license revoked has been issued for Galeas-Padilla’s arrest.

Galeas-Padilla was on electronic monitoring through the U.S. Immigration Office. He cut off his ankle bracket last night and was last seen near I-485 and Arrowwood Road.

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department is seeking the public’s assistance with locating Galeas-Padilla.

Anyone who witnessed this crash or has information is asked to call Crime Stoppers at 704-334-1600 or Detective Reibold at 704-336-3229.

Published in: on April 16, 2015 at 9:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

Man Found Guilty of 2012 ‘Brutal Sex Assault’

From http://www.wcnc.com, April 1, 2015

Fitzgerald Rice, accused of sexually assaulting a woman in his apartment in 2012, will spend at least 70 years in prison.

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Fitzgerald Rice

A jury found Rice guilty on Wednesday of what the Mecklenburg District Attorney’s Office calls a brutal sex assault.

In that incident, a court determined Rice did force the victim to perform numerous sexual acts while also striking her in the head and choking her if she didn’t comply.

Police say Rice allegedly assaulted three other women in the same apartment over 20 years. They testified in his trial, where the prosecutor also showed old and new blood stains on a mattress to jurors.

“The fact that he has not removed those items show you he doesn’t think it’s disgusting, he thinks this is okay, he thinks this behavior with a woman bleeding on your bed is fine,” Leslie Stephens said to the court room this week.

Rice was found guilty of seven of nine counts against him; four out of five for second-degree sexual offense, two for attempted second-degree sexual offense and one for strangulation. The jury was unable to reach a unanimous answer in regards to a kidnapping charge.

The sentences will run consecutively, totaling the minimum of 70 years.

Published in: on April 2, 2015 at 10:26 pm  Leave a Comment  

Teen Suspects Charged in South Charlotte Robbery

From http://www.wcnc.com, April 2, 2015

Three robbery suspects missing since this weekend were taken into police custody Wednesday, April 1, 2015.

Victims reported being threatened with a knife and gun in the 200 block of College Street. The suspects fled on foot.

Officers identified them as Daveon Dixon and Jontavius Littlejohn, both 16, and 18-year-old Damrcus Dixon. Warrants were issued for their arrests.

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Daveon Dixon, Damrcus Dixon, Littlejohn

They’re all charged with robbery. Damarcus Dixon and Jontavius Littlejohn were alos served with outstanding warrants.

Published in: on April 2, 2015 at 10:16 pm  Leave a Comment  

CMPD Seeking Public’s Help in Identifying Suspect in March 28, 2015 Robbery

From http://www.wcnc.com, April 2, 2015

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police are hoping you can help identify a suspect in a Saturday, March 28, 2015 robbery.

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Around 3:15 Saturday morning, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police say a man entered the QuikTrip gas station in the 7100 block of South Boulevard, implied he had a weapon and demanded money from the store clerk. The suspect fled the scene on foot after procuring money from the store.

The suspect is described as a black male in his 50s, approximately 6-foot-3 and weighing in around 170 pounds; he was last seen wearing a black hoodie, black toboggan, blue jeans and white shoes.

If you have any information on this case, you’re asked to call Crime Stoppers at (704) 334-1600.

Published in: on April 2, 2015 at 10:09 pm  Leave a Comment  

Female Store Clerk Struck in Violent April 2, 2015 Idlewild Road Circle K Robbery

From http://www.wbtv.com, April 2, 2015

A violent man hits a woman to steal what he wants. It happened early in the morning inside a Circle K on Idlewild Road.

“We’re talking six o’clock in the morning,” said CMPD Officer Tori Roddey. “Normally when people go into the gas station they’re getting a coffee, newspaper, getting ready for the day.”

On surveillance video, we see a female clerk minding the store. But she’s got her back turned to the door and doesn’t see a man in a striped hat rushing up behind her.

He tells her he wants money – and wants it now.

She opens the cash drawer, but there’s not much there. She then points to some rolled coins on the floor. That apparently makes him angry. He grabs her and cuffs her across the face.

“After he punches her, he grabs her keys and cell phone, which were sitting close by,” Roddey said.

Unfortunately, at that moment, a customer wanders in during the robbery. He’s told to hand over his wallet and sit down.

“He gave the guy his wallet,” Roddey said, “And then he tells him to go around and get those cigarettes he pointed to.”

He not only gets them, this unlucky customer, who didn’t want to show his face, has to climb up the shelves to find a carton on Newports.

And this strong armed robber isn’t finished. Remember, he’s got the clerk’s car keys.

“When he leaves, he goes directly to her car and he rummages through her car. I don’t know why he didn’t take it, but he didn’t” Roddey said, “But he went through her car and then left.”

However, he did get her cell phone and the customer’s wallet, not to mention the cash from the register.

If you were near the Circle K on Idlewild Road about 6:30 a.m. on April 1, call Crime Stoppers at (704) 334-1600 and let them know what you know. You might be in line for a fat reward.

Published in: on April 2, 2015 at 9:57 pm  Leave a Comment  

Mecklenburg Prosecutors Build Case in Court Against Convicted Felon Accused of Sexual Assault

From http://www.wsoctv.com, March 28, 2015

Mecklenburg Prosecutors spent most of Friday, March 27, 2015 building their case that a man who spent nine years in prison for one sexual assault and beating did the same to a woman a year after he got out.

Fitzgerald Rice, 49, is charged with sexually assaulting, kidnapping and strangling the woman, who was then 25 years old, in his apartment in east Charlotte in December, 2012.

Fitzgerald Rice photo

Fitzgerald Rice

Earlier in the week, the woman had described the alleged attack in detail, but told the jury that she had gone to Rice’s apartment to perform a sex act for money before he turned violent. She also admitted changing her story to police several times.

So prosecutors tried to bolster her credibility by bringing in two other women who said Rice had attacked them in very similar circumstances in 1995 and 1997.

“Anywhere I went, he was there. He treated me like a dog,” said one of the women, describing the incident in 1997.

She said she had gone to Rice’s apartment to smoke crack and that he repeatedly raped and sexually assaulted her.

“He said he would kill me, and I believed him,” she told jurors.

Her story echoed that of another woman who described an alleged attack in 1995.

“I would say she was very upset, scared and crying. She wanted to get out of that apartment,” said a former police officer who had responded to that call and encountered the woman.

Rice’s attorney questioned the women’s motives for going to Rice’s apartment and pointed out that prosecutors had dismissed the charges in both cases.

Rice did plead guilty to another attack, also at his apartment, in 2001. He spent nine years in prison and was out of prison for only a year when police say he attacked the victim in the current case.

Because of his previous conviction, Rice could be sentenced to life in prison if he is convicted in the current trial.

Published in: on March 28, 2015 at 8:19 pm  Leave a Comment  
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