Three alleged members of the MS-13 gang have been indicted in federal court in San Francisco on charges of murdering a 26-year-old cook in Daly City last year in an attempt to enhance their gang status.
Davie Mejia-Sensente, 26, of Daly City; Carlos Mejia-Quintanilla, 21, of San Francisco; and Luis Amilar-Zanas, 32, of San Francisco, were indicted on four charges by a federal grand jury on Tuesday.
The charges are conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, committing murder in aid of racketeering, and using a gun in connection with each of the first two counts.
The victim was Alexander Temaj-Castanon, 26, who was gunned down shortly after midnight on June 21, 2010, as he stepped off a San Francisco Municipal Railway bus in the 6200 block of Mission Street in Daly City, according to Daly City police Sgt. David Mackrisss.
Temaj-Castanon worked as a cook at Baby Blues BBQ on Mission Street in San Francisco.
The indictment states that those who join the MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, gang are expected to commit violent acts, including murder, against members and perceived members of rival gangs.
It alleges that the three men fatally shot Temaj-Castanon “for the purpose of gaining entrance to and increasing their positions in MS-13.”
Mackriss said Temaj-Castanon was not associated with any gang, although he had several tattoos that may have given the impression that he was a gang member.
“We think this was in furtherance of gang status. An innocent victim paid the price,” Mackriss said today.
After the murder, a co-worker described Temaj-Castanon as “a real sweetheart of a guy” who was liked by everybody.
Mackriss said the case began with “very little to go on, just a report of two shadowy figures running away in the dark of night.”
“It took a long investigation,” Mackriss said, but a joint federal and Daly City police probe resulted in the indictment of “three violent criminals in a very violent gang.”
The crime of murder in aid of racketeering carries a possible federal death penalty upon conviction, but it will be up to U.S. Justice Department lawyers to decide whether to seek execution.
All three defendants are in custody. Mejia-Quintanilla and Mejia-Sensente were arrested by Daly City police in September and Amilar-Zanas is in a federal prison in New York state on a charge of illegally re-entering the United States after having been deported.
No hearings or court appearances on the new indictment have been scheduled thus far.
The indictment, announced today by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag, stemmed from a joint investigation by Daly City police and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“As a result of our collaboration, three suspected gang members are facing justice for a senseless killing,” said Shane Folden, acting special agent in charge of the ICE Homeland Security Investigations regional office in San Francisco.
“We’re sending a message about our shared resolve to stop the scourge of violence and crime being perpetrated by street gangs here in the Bay Area,” Folden said.
The indictment alleges that the MS-13 gang, which has roots in El Salvador and Southern California, engages in racketeering, or a continuing criminal enterprise, based on crimes including murder, attempted murder and drug dealing.
The gang is composed primarily of immigrants or descendants of immigrants from El Salvador and now has 10,000 members in 20 states and Central America, the indictment says.
The name “Mara Salvatrucha” is believed to be a combination of words meaning gang, Salvadoran and “fear us.”
The MS-13 gang is affiliated with the gang known as the Surenos, or Southerners, which generally includes members born outside the U.S. and claims Southern California as its base, Haag said.
Their principal rivals are the Nortenos, or Northerners, who are generally born in the United States and claim Northern California as their base, according to the indictment.
Separately, seven other alleged MS-13 members are now being tried in federal court in San Francisco on charges of racketeering conspiracy, murder conspiracy and murder.
The trial in the court of U.S. District Judge William Alsup began in April and is expected to last six months.
The seven defendants are alleged to be members of an MS-13 branch centered on 20th and Mission streets in San Francisco.
All seven are accused of racketeering conspiracy and murder conspiracy. Five are additionally specifically accused of carrying out four gang-related murders in San Francisco in 2008.
Prosecutors could have sought federal death penalties for those defendants, but decided not to do so.
Approximately 18 other MS-13 members and associates who were indicted in that case in 2008 and 2009 have pleaded guilty to various charges.
In another case pending in the state court system, alleged MS-13 gang member Edwin Ramos, 24, of El Sobrante, is awaiting trial in San Francisco Superior Court on charges of murdering Anthony Bologna, 48, and his sons Michael, 20, and Matthew, 16, on June 22, 2008.
The three family members were gunned down as they sat in their car at an intersection near their home in the Excelsior District of the city.
Police have speculated that the victims were mistaken for members of a rival gang.
Julia Cheever, Bay City News