A man recently extradited from Mexico in connection with a 2009 Daly City murder made his first appearance in U.S. District Court in San Francisco this week, according to federal prosecutors.
Jaime Balam, also known as “Tweety,” made an initial appearance in federal court before Magistrate Judge Joseph Spero on Monday following his Feb. 10 extradition from his native Mexico.
Balam, 26, faces gang-related racketeering, conspiracy and murder charges relating to his alleged participation in a San Francisco “clique” of a Sureno gang known as La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, centered at 20th and Mission streets.
In particular, he is accused, along with two others, of the Feb. 19, 2009, murder of Moises Frias Jr., 21, who was shot along with three of his companions as they sat in their car near the Daly City BART station.
Prosecutors say the MS-13 gang members were allegedly hunting for members of rival Nortenos gangs and mistook Frias and his three friends, who had no gang affiliations, for gang members. Three of the men were wearing red, the Nortenos color, and they were listening to rap music, police said at the time.
Balam, along with Danilo Velasquez, allegedly got out of a car driven by Luis Herrera while they were stopped in traffic on John Daly Boulevard, walked up behind the victims’ car, and fired multiple rounds into it. Frias and two others were struck by gunfire.
Frias, who was studying business at San Francisco City College while working part-time for the city’s Public Utilities Commission at the time of the shooting, was pronounced dead a short time later at a hospital. The other two injured victims survived.
Herrera pleaded guilty in November 2011 to seven charges including racketeering and murder conspiracy, and admitted to driving Velasquez and Balam to and from the shooting scene. He was sentenced in 2012 to 35 years in prison.
Valasquez was convicted by a jury in November 2011 of four charges including racketeering conspiracy and murder conspiracy, and was sentenced in 2012 to a sentence of life plus ten years in prison.
Balam remained a fugitive until his arrest in Mexico in October of last year.
“This successful extradition culminates years of outstanding investigative work by our federal law enforcement partners with Homeland Security Investigations, and illustrates the lengths to which we will go to pursue justice for victims,” U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag said in a statement.
Federal prosecutors and investigators began targeting Bay Area members of MS-13, a transnational gang with roots in Central America, around 2005 and filed grand jury indictments against 34 members and associates, including Velasquez and Herrera, in 2008 and 2009.
The indictments alleged acts including a total of six murders carried out on San Francisco and Daly City streets in 2008 and 2009. Four of the murder victims, including Frias, were people who had no gang affiliation but were apparently mistaken for Nortenos.
Balam was indicted in August of 2012. He is scheduled to appear again before Spero on Thursday for further detention proceedings and on March 3 before U.S. District Judge William Alsup for a status conference, according to prosecutors and court calendars.
Sara Gaiser, Bay City News