For Immediate Release
MS-13 Gang Member Sentenced to 26 Years in Federal Prison for Racketeering Conspiracy Involving a Violent Murder and for Drug Distribution and Firearms Violations
Baltimore, 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.
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.
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.
This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) is the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts. PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.
This case is an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.
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.
United States Attorney Erek L. Barron commended the FBI; HSI; ATF; the Frederick Police Department; the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office; the Anne Arundel, Montgomery, and Prince George’s County Police Departments; and the Anne Arundel, Frederick, Montgomery, and Prince George’s County State’s Attorneys for their work in these investigations, and the Baltimore County Police Department for its assistance. Mr. Barron thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kenneth S. Clark and Anatoly Smolkin, who prosecuted the case.
For more information on the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office, its priorities, and resources available to help the community, please visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-md/project-safe-neighborhoods-psnexile and https://www.justice.gov/usao-md/community-outreach.