Per the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Maryland: Chief U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar sentenced El Salvadoran national Jose Lopez Rivera, age 27, of Elmont, New York, formerly residing in Maryland, to 26 years in federal prison for a racketeering conspiracy involving a violent murder connected to his participation in La Mara Salvatrucha, a transnational criminal enterprise also known as MS-13, and for possession with intent to distribute cocaine, possession of a firearm and ammunition by an illegal alien, and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime.
MS-13 is a national and international gang composed primarily of immigrants or descendants from El Salvador and other central American countries. Branches or “cliques” of MS-13, one of the largest street gangs in the United States, operate throughout Frederick County, Anne Arundel County, Prince George’s County, and Montgomery County, Maryland. Since at least 2015, Lopez Rivera was a member of the Fulton Locos Salvatruchas (“FLS”) MS-13 clique.
At all times of this conspiracy, members of MS-13 were expected to protect the name, reputation, and status of the gang from rival gang members and other persons. To protect the gang and to enhance its reputation, MS-13 members were expected to use any means necessary to force respect from those who showed disrespect, including acts of intimidation and violence. MS-13 had mottos consistent with its rules, beliefs, expectations, and reputation, including “mata, viola, controla,” which translates as, “kill, rape, control,” and “ver, oir y callar,” which means, “see nothing, hear nothing and say nothing.” One of the principal rules of MS-13 is that its members must attack and kill rivals, often referred to as “chavalas,” whenever possible. MS-13 members are required to commit acts of violence both to maintain membership and discipline within the gang, as well as against rival gang members. Participation in criminal activity by a member, particularly in violent acts directed at rival gangs or as directed by gang leadership, increase 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 his plea agreement, on August 31, 2015, while Lopez Rivera and other MS-13 gang members were drinking in Wheaton, Maryland, they went to a coffee shop where they saw Victim 5. Victim 5 was wearing Nike Cortez sneakers, which according to MS-13 rules, were only to be worn by gang members. A MS-13 member had previously warned Victim 5 about wearing those sneakers. As they walked past Victim 5, he spit on one of the gang members who then punched Victim 5 in the mouth. Victim 5 threw a beer at one of the MS-13 gang members and ran. Lopez Rivera and another gang member chased Victim 5 away from the coffee shop and Victim 5 was then stabbed to death. Following the murder, the gang members reported to their leadership that they had killed a rival gang member.
According to his plea agreement, on July 22, 2021, investigators searched an apartment in Elmont, New York, where Lopez Rivera was living at the time and recovered a shotgun, ammunition, and a brick of packed white powder, which tested positive for cocaine. Lopez Rivera admitted that he possessed the cocaine to distribute it and possessed the firearm in furtherance of his drug distribution. Further, Lopez Rivera knew that he was in the United States illegally and therefore was prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition.
More than 30 MS-13 gang members and associates have been convicted in this and related cases.
The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron; Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Sobocinski of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office; Special Agent in Charge James C. Harris of Homeland Security Investigations, Baltimore Office; Special Agent in Charge Toni M. Crosby of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Baltimore Field Division; Chief Jason Lando of the Frederick City Police Department; Frederick County Chief Deputy, Colonel David Benjamin of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office; Frederick County State’s Attorney J. Charles Smith, III; Chief Amal E. Awad of the Anne Arundel County Police Department; Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess; Chief Malik Aziz of the Prince George’s County Police Department; Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy; Chief Marcus Jones of the Montgomery County Police Department; and Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy.