Last MS-13 member convicted in federal gang case
The Daily Journal, February 17, 2012
The last of 34 defendants in a federal MS-13 gang prosecution was convicted of one charge in U.S. District Court in San Francisco Thursday, but acquitted of three other counts.
Manuel Franco, 26, of San Francisco, an MS-13 member who was a government informant for several years, was convicted by a jury in the court of U.S. District Judge William Alsup of one count of conspiring to commit assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering.
The maximum sentence for the conviction is three years in prison. Alsup will sentence Franco on May 1.
The jury acquitted Franco of three charges of conspiring to racketeer, or to conduct a criminal enterprise; conspiring to commit murder in aid of racketeering; and using a gun in a violent crime.
The racketeering conspiracy charge would have carried a sentence of up to life in prison if Franco had been convicted.
The verdict came after a month-long trial and eight days of jury deliberations.
Defense attorney Geri Green said outside of court, “The acquittals were the right result. I think he wasn’t part of the racketeering conspiracy.”
Green said she plans to appeal Franco’s sole conviction.
Franco, whose gang nickname was “Dreamer,” belonged to a branch of the MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, gang based in the area of Mission and 20th streets in San Francisco.
He is one of 34 Bay Area MS-13 members and associates who were charged in four successive versions of an indictment in 2008 and 2009.
Including Franco, 32 were convicted in trials or pleaded guilty to various charges. Two were acquitted.
Another of those convicted, Danilo Velasquez, nicknamed “Triste,” was sentenced on Wednesday to life in prison by Alsup, who called him “a vicious, heartless murderer.”
Velasquez was convicted in November of four counts including racketeering conspiracy and murder conspiracy.
Although he was not specifically convicted of murder, Alsup made a finding during sentencing that Velasquez participated in the gunfire slaying of college student Moises Frias, 21, near the Daly City BART station on Feb. 19, 2009.
Prosecutors said Velasquez and two other MS-13 members mistakenly thought Frias and three companions were rival gang members because some of them were wearing red, the color of the Nortenos gang.
Franco, who came to the United States from El Salvador at 13, joined the gang at age 19 in late 2004 or early 2005. He became an informant for the San Francisco Police Department in September 2005 and then for the FBI beginning in February 2006.
Green contended at the trial that Franco believed he remained an informant until and even after his arrest on Oct. 22, 2008, and believed he was acting under government authority when he met with the gang.
Prosecutors said he was deactivated as an informant in January 2008 and claimed he played an active role in the gang after that.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Wilson Leung told the jury at the start of the trial that Franco allegedly “went out and shot at suspected Nortenos, helped fellow gang members obtain guns and assisted by driving other gang members on hunting expeditions.”
The international MS-13 gang originated in El Salvador and Southern California. Prosecutors contend members engage in murder, assault, drug dealing, theft and extortion, and gain status by attacking and killing rival gang members.
The federal indictments in the San Francisco case alleged that racketeering acts carried out by various defendants included a total of six murders on San Francisco and Daly City streets in 2008 and 2009 as well as numerous assaults and attempted murders.
Four of the murder victims, including Frias, were people who had no gang affiliation but were apparently mistaken for Norteños.
The other victims were a rival gang member and a seller of false documents who had refused to pay extortion “taxes” to the 20th Street MS-13 clique.
In addition to Velasquez, Alsup meted out life sentences last year to six other MS-13 members who were convicted of racketeering conspiracy and murder conspiracy in August after a five-month trial.
In an order following Thursday’s verdict, Alsup instructed Franco’s defense and prosecution attorneys to figure out by Tuesday how long Franco, who is in custody without bail, has been in jail. Alsup said that if Franco has already served three years, the maximum sentence, he will hold the sentencing hearing sooner than May 1.
Separately, former MS-13 member Edwin Ramos, 25, of El Sobrante, is currently on trial in San Francisco Superior Court on charges of murdering Anthony Bologna and two of his sons in San Francisco in June 22, 2008.
Source: The Daily Journal