Three MS-13 gang members in Massachusetts convicted in murder trial

BOSTON (Reuters) - Three suspected members of the MS-13 gang in Massachusetts were convicted on Monday of participating in gang-related murders, in a case U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called an example of how authorities can try to tackle the criminal organization.

Slideshow ( 3 images )

The verdict in Boston federal court came in the largest U.S. criminal case involving MS-13, whose members include immigrants from El Salvador and which U.S. President Donald Trump has sought to link to his efforts to crack down on illegal immigration.

Jurors found Hector Enamorado, 39, Luis Solis Vasquez, 27, and Noe Perez Vasquez, 27, guilty of racketeering conspiracy and of having participated in the murder of Javier Ortiz, a rival gang member who was shot in the Massachusetts city of Chelsea in December 2014.

Perez Vasquez was also found guilty of participating in the July 2015 murder of Jose Aguilar-Villanueva, a 16-year-old who prosecutors said was stabbed to death in a park in the city of Lawrence after being suspected of being an informant.

Perez Vasquez, who was also known as “Crazy” and was a leader of an Everett, Massachusetts-based MS-13 affiliate, or “clique,” was convicted of conspiring to possess and distribute cocaine and marijuana. He was acquitted of a firearm charge.

All three men face up to life in prison when they are sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dennis Saylor in mid-July.

James Cipoletta, Enamorado’s lawyer, said his client plans to appeal and denies ever being a member of MS-13 or being involved in the 2014 Chelsea shooting. Lawyers for the other defendants did not respond to requests for comment.

MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, 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.

Trump, a Republican, has cited the “savage” gang in calling for tougher immigration policies.

In September, Sessions cited a 2016 crackdown in Massachusetts and the charges prosecutors brought as “precisely how we will dismantle and defeat MS-13.”

The three men are among 61 people who were indicted as part of the crackdown. Monday’s verdict was for the third trial in the case and brought the total number of convicted defendants to 43.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien