MS-13 gang members convicted in Boston racketeering, drug trial

BOSTON (Reuters) - Four MS-13 members in Massachusetts who were arrested in a 2016 crackdown that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called an example of how authorities should tackle the violent gang were convicted of federal charges on Monday.

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A federal jury in Boston found Herzzon Sandoval, Edwin Guzman and Erick Argueta Larios guilty of conspiring to engage in a racketeering enterprise in the second trial to result from a gang takedown that led to 61 people being indicted.

Jurors acquitted Cesar Martinez, 37, of that charge, but convicted him of conspiring to distribute cocaine, a charge that carries a mandatory minimum prison term of five years. Jurors acquitted Larios, 33, of a similar drug charge.

Martin Murphy, Sandoval’s lawyer, said he plans to appeal. Other defense lawyers did not respond to requests for comment.

MS-13 started in Los Angeles in the 1980s. It has grown into an organization with leadership in El Salvador that the U.S. Justice Department says has 30,000 members worldwide and 10,000 in the United States.

U.S. President Donald Trump has called MS-13 “savage” and has tied efforts to fight the gang, whose members include Salvadoran immigrants, to his initiatives targeting illegal immigration.

Sessions during a speech in Boston in September cited the 2016 takedown and the various charges prosecutors brought as “precisely how we will dismantle and defeat MS-13.”

Prosecutors said Sandoval, 36, and Guzman, 32, were the leaders of an MS-13 clique called Eastside Loco Salvatrucha that for years committed acts of routine violence while operating in Chelsea, Everett, and elsewhere in greater Boston.

By 2015, the clique was on shaky ground with MS-13’s leadership in El Salvador and sought to breathe new life into their organization by recruiting a new member who had recently killed a 15-year-old boy, prosecutors said.

At trial, prosecutors played video of a meeting where the four men “jumped in,” or initiated, that new member by beating him until one of them had finished counting aloud to 13.

Prosecutors said they offered to hide him from the police and encouraged him to tell other MS-13 members about the murder so their clique got credit for it.

Defense lawyers argued prosecutors lacked evidence their clients conspired to commit murders or drug trafficking as required to prove the racketeering charge.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Lisa Shumaker