Per the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Maryland: Brayan Alexander Torres, a/k/a “Spooky,” age 29, of Adelphi, Maryland, pleaded guilty yesterday, to a racketeering conspiracy, including murder, related to his participation in the Weedams Locos Salvatrucha clique of the MS-13 gang. Torres admitted that he was the clique’s “First Word” or leader.
On March 24, 2023, co-defendants and MS-13 members and associates Brian Samir Zelaya Mejia, a/k/a “Chispa,” age 25, of Hyattsville, Maryland and Jorge Isaac Argueta Chica, a/k/a “Timido,” age 22, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, also pleaded guilty to their participation in the racketeering conspiracy, including extortion and accessory after the fact of first degree murder.
According to court documents, La Mara Salvatrucha gang, also known as “MS-13,” is an international criminal organization composed primarily of immigrants or descendants of immigrants from El Salvador, with members operating in Maryland and throughout the United States. In Maryland and elsewhere, MS-13 members are organized in “cliques,” smaller groups that operate in a specific city or region. MS-13 members are required to commit acts of violence, both to maintain membership and discipline within the gang and against rival gangs. One of the principal rules of MS-13 is that its members must attack and kill rivals, known as “chavalas,” whenever possible. Participation in criminal activity by a member, particularly in violent acts directed at rival gangs or as directed by gang leadership, increases the respect accorded to that member, resulting in that member maintaining or increasing his position in the gang and opens the door to promotion to a leadership position.
As detailed in the plea agreements, from at least August 2018 through July 2021, Torres was the “First Word” or leader of Weedams Locos Salvatrucha, (WLS), an MS-13 clique operating primarily in Adelphi, Maryland. Zelaya Mejia and Argueta Chica were members of the WLS clique from at least March 2019 through July 2021.
On August 8, 2020, Torres and other WLS members, including co-defendant Franklyn Sanchez, were gathered at a park in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where they agreed to murder Victim 4, who was suspected of cooperating with law enforcement and to whom Sanchez owed a debt. Sanchez was armed with a revolver and Torres handed a second revolver to another MS-13 member, instructing that person to shoot first when Victim 4 arrived. Sanchez and the other WLS member each fired multiple shots at Victim 4, who fell to the ground. Sanchez then pistol-whipped Victim 4 and stabbed him with a knife. Torres then walked over and stabbed Victim 4 with a screwdriver. Torres and other WLS members dragged Victim 4’s body to a stream and left it there. As he was leaving the woods, Sanchez noticed he was bleeding and was concerned that his DNA may have been left on the body. To prevent the discovery of DNA or other evidence and to hinder the investigation and prosecution of Victim 4’s murder, Torres called other WLS members, including Zelaya Mejia, Argueta Chica and co-defendant Agustino Eugenio Rivas Rodriguez, and ordered them to bring shovels to the wooded area, where they dug a hole and buried Victim 4’s body. Victim 4’s body was later recovered with a bullet wound to the head.
On June 5, 2020, Torres also conspired with other MS-13 members to kidnap and kill a female member of the rival 18thStreet gang. Torres and Rivas Rodriguez ordered subordinate members of the gang to gather at a house with firearms in preparation for the murder, while another MS-13 associate was at a separate location with Victim 5. The group of MS-13 subordinates gathered with guns and were preparing to follow their orders, when police arrived on scene and interrupted the plan.
Torres admitted that he directed the collection of extortion payments, or “rents,” from at least two extortion victims on behalf of WLS. Torres, Zelaya Mejia, Argueta Chica, Rivas Rodriguez, co-defendant Hernan Yanes-Rivera and others collected the rents, knowing that the victims making extortion payments did so under the threat of death or bodily injury by members of WLS. For example, gang members used baseball bats to impose rents and sometimes collected rent while flashing firearms or otherwise making it known that they were carrying weapons.
Finally, Torres participated in money laundering by transferring gang funds obtained through its extortion activities to MS-13 members and associates in El Salvador. As detailed in the plea agreement, Torres also accepted a delivery of rent payments that had just been collected from three brothels by a WLS member, with the intent to use the funds to promote MS-13’s illegal activities, including extortion.
The government and the defendants have agreed that, if the Court accepts the plea, Torres will be sentenced to 28 years in federal prison and Zelaya Mejia and Argueta Chica will each be sentenced to six years in federal prison. Torres will also be required to pay restitution in the full amount of the victims’ losses, including any funeral costs incurred by Victim 4’s estate. U.S. District Judge Paula Xinis has scheduled sentencing for Torres on August 31, 2023; and for Zelaya Mejia and Argueta Chica on July 11, 2023 and July 21, 2023, respectively.
Franklyn Edgardo Sanchez, a/k/a “Delinquente,” age 26, of Adelphi, Maryland; Hernan Yanes-Rivera, a/k/a “Recio,” age 22, of Adelphi, Maryland; and Agustino Eugenio Rivas Rodriguez, a/k/a “Terrible,” age 25, of Silver Spring, Maryland, previously pleaded guilty to their roles in the racketeering conspiracy. If the Court accepts the guilty pleas, Sanchez will be sentenced to 28 years in federal prison, Yanes-Rivera will be sentenced to 22 years in federal prison and Rivas Rodriguez will be sentenced to 16 years in federal prison. Judge Xinis has scheduled sentencing for Sanchez on May 19, 2023, for Rivas Rodriguez on July 21, 2028, and for Yanes-Rivera on July 28, 2023.
Anyone with information about MS-13 is encouraged to provide their tips to law enforcement. The FBI and Homeland Security Investigations both have nationwide tiplines that you can call to report what you know. You can reach the FBI at 1-866-STP-MS13 (1-866-787-6713), or you can call HSI at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE.
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