A federal grand jury in Tennessee has indicted nine suspected MS-13 gang members with racketeering and violent criminal conspiracy that includes murder, officials announced Wednesday.
The grand jury returned the charges in a 60-count second superseding indictment against Carlos Ochoa-Martinez, 31; Jason Sandoval, 35; Jorge Flores, 29; Kevin Tidwell, 28, all of Nashville—Jose Pineda-Caceres, 22; Franklin Hernandez, 22; Luis Colindres, 24, all of Honduras—as well as Gerson Serrano-Ramirez, 34, of El Salvador and Juan Melendez of Lebanon, the Department of Justice (DOJ) said in a statement.
All suspected gang members are currently in federal custody and face, if convicted, a maximum sentence of ten years to life in prison.
“The indictment charges members of one such clique operating in Nashville … with committing a wide range of offenses, including the murder of seven individuals, the attempted murder of an additional five individuals, drug distribution, robberies, kidnappings, and assaults,” the DOJ said. The victims included innocent people.
Metro Nashville Police Chief John Drake said the seven murders happened between April 2016 and September 2017, over a 17-month period.
“These murders and other violent acts put our community and our citizens in jeopardy,” Drake said, Main Street Nashville reported. “I’m bothered that these individuals fired shots from a vehicle into another, further jeopardizing our community.”
The MS-13 gang, also known as “La Mara Salvatrucha,” was initially formed by Salvadoran immigrants fleeing the civil war in their home country. It is widely viewed as one of America’s most violent criminal groups, which also endangers the safety of communities in Central American countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
The vast majority of prosecuted MS-13 defendants are foreign nationals, the DOJ stated in a separate report, adding that the gang was able to thrive and operate in the U.S. for decades by exploiting weak immigration enforcement policies.
The gang’s motto is “kill, rape, control” and routinely uses brutal assault methods on victims to instill fear and force compliance.