Feds indict 10 MS-13 gang members connected to Mendota murders

The MS-13 members were connected to a string of murders and a racketeering scheme, Federal prosecutors allege.

Ten MS-13 members and associates were indicted by Federal prosecutors on Thursday for murders that took place in Mendota. 

The indictment, announced by U.S. Attorney Phillip Talbert, also included racketeering charges for the 10 suspects. 


The big picture: The 10 suspects engaged in murder, extortion, kidnapping, assault and other crimes with the purpose of intimidating rival gang members and the community. 

  • There have been at least 14 homicides in Medota since 2015 that are allegedly related to MS-13, the violent street and prison gang founded in Los Angeles in the 1980s. 
  • Investigators allege that the 10 suspects were associated with a Mara Salvatrucha subset in Mendota known as Vatos Locos Salvatruchos (VLS). 

State of play: Martin Alfredo Leiva-Leiva, 43, and Angel Antonio Diaz-Morales, 32, are charged with the murder of an adult male on Jan. 26, 2016, in San Benito County. 

  • Leiva-Leiva and Juan Carlos Urias-Torres, 34, are charged with a July 13, 2016, Fresno County murder of an adult female and the murder of another adult female on Dec. 13, 2017. 
  • Leiva-Leiva, and Jose Santos Hernandez-Otero – who is 29 and from El Salvador – Jose Armando Torres-Garcia – who is 27 and from El Salvador – Jose Joaquin Amaya-Orellana, 31, and Julio Cesar Recinos-Sorto, 28, are charged with murdering an adult female and an adult male on Oct. 30, 2016 in Fresno County. 
  • Leiva-Leiva, Jose Rene Barrera-Martinez, 34, Luis Fausino Diaz-Pineda, 28, and Angel Antonio Castro-Alfaro, 29, are charged with murdering an adult male in Fresno County in 2017. 

What we’re watching: The defendants face a minimum of life in prison and a maximum of the death penalty if they are convicted. 

What they’re saying: “When reports surfaced that MS-13 had established a presence in the City of Mendota in the Central Valley, a multi-agency investigation was launched,” Talbert said. “Today’s announcement is a direct result of the arrests in 2018 of 25 individuals on federal and state charges in connection with their Mara Salvatrucha gang activities. One of the highest priorities of my office and of the federal law enforcement agencies we work with is to partner with the police departments, sheriff’s offices, and district attorneys in our district to reduce violent crime.” 

  • Tatum King, HSI San Francisco Special Agent in Charge, added, “MS-13 gang members prey upon the communities they live in, committing the most heinous, violent acts against their victims. The streets of the Central Valley and surrounding communities are safer when criminal gang members are arrested and held to account for their crimes.”
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