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After Vegas police announce string of killings linked to MS-13, alleged gang members charged

Luz Gray
Luz Gray
Criminal JusticeImmigrationIndyBlog

This story has been translated and edited from its original Spanish version.

Federal authorities announced Wednesday that four El Salvador nationals who were in the country illegally and are thought to be members of the gang MS-13 have been charged in connection with a man’s death earlier this year in Clark County.

The announcement from U.S. Attorney Dayle Elieson’s office comes two days after Las Vegas police revealed there had been 10 killings in the past year that are thought to be linked with MS-13. It marked the first time police have tied the gang to major crimes in Southern Nevada.

The defendants include 22-year-old Josue Diaz-Orellana, 24-year-old Luis Reyes-Castillo, also known as “Molesto,” 19-year-old David Perez-Manchame, also known as “Herbi” and “Walter Melendez,” and 20-year-old Miguel Torres-Escobar. They’re accused of kidnapping, assault and discharging a firearm in connection with the death of Arquimidez Sandoval-Martinez, whose body was found on federal property Feb. 2, about 10 days after the alleged killing.

They could face up to life in prison on the kidnapping and firearm charges.

Authorities linked MS-13 with the deaths of 10 people: Daniel Clark, Richard Gaudio, Carlos Pachaca-Rodríguez, Arquímedez Sandoval-Martínez, Juan Carlos Estrada Raya, José Hernández, Ricardo Olivas, Izzak Towery, Earl Ryan y Rony Fuentes. At least six of the victims were kidnapped before they were killed and their bodies were dumped in remote areas.

The gang, which has roots in Central America, has come under intense focus from President Trump and his administration. Las Vegas police believe there are about 50 known MS-13 members in Southern Nevada, although they think there are about 10,000 gang members in general in the area, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

"We feel confident that we have them under control,” Sheriff Joe Lombardo said in a news conference on Monday. “I have said in previous iterations and in public appearances that MS-13 didn’t have a large footprint here in the Las Vegas Valley. I still believe that. Until now, we hadn’t believed they had committed any crimes — felonious crimes — that required our investigation."

Trump brought up the gang in his State of the Union address, and the Department of Homeland Security participated in a roundtable focused on the gang last month.

Shortly thereafter, Republican Sen. Dean Heller introduced the Criminal Alien Gang Removal Act (S. 2380) that he said is aimed at protecting Americans from dangerous criminal gangs, including MS-13. Democrats including Rep. Jacky Rosen and Rep. Ruben Kihuen joined Republicans to support the concept. 

The legislation has its critics.

UNLV’s Immigration Clinic sent a letter to Heller to express opposition to the measure, arguing that the legislation doesn’t set a standard of evidence for how to determine someone is a gang member and could lead to deportations on mere suspicion that someone is associated with a gang. The clinic defends clients including children fleeing violence in Central America.

Kihuen and Rosen, who didn't respond to inquiries from The Nevada Independent a month ago about why they voted for the concept in spite of the due process concerns, had comment when asked again, after the prosecutions came to light.

"We have to make sure law enforcement has the tools to keep our communities safe, especially from violent criminal gangs," Rosen's office said Thursday in a statement. "The bill ensures there's a process in place to appeal decisions. As the granddaughter of immigrants, Congresswoman Rosen remains committed to passing the Dream Act and continuing to advocate for a comprehensive solution on immigration reform that secures our borders, grows Nevada's economy, and provides a path to full and equal citizenship."

Kihuen's office also issued a statement explaining his vote:

"The Congressman has always maintained that individuals who migrate to the United States and commit violent crimes or become involved with gangs have no place in our country. Our office will continue to talk with Senate colleagues to improve the bill, and is focused on working toward comprehensive immigration reform in order to fix our broken immigration system."

According to the Department of Justice, MS-13 is the nickname for “La Mara Salvatrucha,” which began to operate in the U.S. in the 1980s in L.A. as a result of a turf war among drug distributors.

“Mara” is a term used in El Salvador to refer to a gang, and “Salvatrucha” is a combination of an abbreviation for “Salvadoran” and “trucha,” which roughly translates to “be careful.” The DOJ says the governments of the U.S., El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have agreed to join forces to dismantle the gang.

Disclosure: Joseph Lombardo has donated to The Nevada Independent. You can see a full list of donors here.
This story was updated at 12:45 p.m. on Thursday, March 29, 2018, to include statements from Kihuen and Rosen.



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