Friday, January 12, 2007

Members of a violent Hispanic street gang killed at least three people in south Nashville and shot several more

Kate Howard:

Members of a violent Hispanic street gang killed at least three people in south Nashville, shot several more and met often to plan more attacks on rival gangs, according to a federal indictment announced Wednesday.

Thirteen members of the MS-13 gang could face life sentences for the crimes, including a shooting at a Gallatin Pike nightclub and the gunning down of two teenagers on Nolensville Road.

Craig Morford, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee, said the gang members also collected dues to support fellow gang members jailed throughout the United States and Latin America, said.

A monthslong investigation found that members of the small Nashville chapter of the MS-13, many of them in the country illegally, don't seem to be involved in drugs or criminal acts beyond violence, Morford said.

He pointed to a motto of the Mara Salvatrucha street gang, which largely is composed of Central American immigrants: "Mata, Viola, Controla," which is Spanish for kill, rape, control.

"Unlike a lot of other gangs here, this is not a drug-based gang," Morford said. "This is a violence-based gang."

A federal grand jury handed down an indictment charging the gang members under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, the most severe possible charge for organized crime, Morford said.

The suspects are a mix of legal and illegal residents, some of them juveniles, Morford said.

Indicted were: Oscar Serrano, Escolastico Serrano, Omar Hirbin Gomez, David Alexander Gonzalez, Ernesto Isai Mendez-Tovar, Francisco Dago Mendez, Walter Hernandez, Henry Garballo-Vasquez, Eliseo Iglesias, Ronald Fuentes, Ericka Cortez, Geovanni Pena, and Jose Alfaro.

All of the indicted members have been taken into federal custody or were already jailed on local charges.

According to the indictment, the gang met often to plan shootings of rival gang members and were responsible for at least three Nashville killings in the past year.

In January 2006, Mendez-Tovar and Hernandez are accused of fatally shooting Mario A. Villa-Senor, 25, outside a Gallatin Pike bar.

In June 2006, police said, a gunman crept up to the passenger side of the car at a Nolensville Road stoplight and fatally shot Angel Flores, 17, and Christian Rios, 19.

Rios had arrived in the United States from Mexico two months before. Flores was considered a member of the predominantly Mexican Brown Pride gang.

The local MS-13 members also threatened and shot a confidential informant who talked to federal agents in Maryland and shot at rival gang members numerous times, court documents showed.

In June, two of the gang members led Metro Police on a chase when an officer tried to pull their car over.

Hispanic gangs such as the MS-13 and predominantly Mexican gangs, Brown Pride and Sur 13, made up 45 percent of the gang-related violent crime reported to police in 2005, according to police figures.

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