A Maryland man was sentenced yesterday to 28 years in prison for racketeering conspiracy, including murder, related to his participation in the La Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang.
According to court documents, from at least August 2018 through July 2021, Brayan Alexander Torres, aka Spooky, 29, of Adelphi, was the “First Word” or leader of Weedams Locos Salvatrucha (WLS), an MS-13 clique operating primarily in Adelphi. MS-13 is an international criminal organization composed primarily of individuals from El Salvador or their descendants, with members operating throughout the United States. MS-13 members are organized in “cliques,” smaller groups that operate in a specific city or region. One of the principal rules of MS-13 is that its members must attack and kill rivals, known as “chavalas,” whenever possible. MS-13 members earn promotions and improved standing within the gang for participating in attacks on rival gang members, often at the direction of MS-13 leadership.
On Aug. 8, 2020, Torres and other WLS members, including Franklyn Edgardo Sanchez, 26, of Adelphi, were gathered at a park in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where they agreed to murder Victim 4, who was suspected of cooperating with law enforcement and to whom Sanchez owed a debt. Sanchez was armed with a revolver and Torres handed a second revolver to another MS-13 member, instructing that person to shoot first when Victim 4 arrived. Sanchez and the other WLS member each fired multiple shots at Victim 4. When Victim 4 fell to the ground, Sanchez pistol-whipped him and stabbed him with a knife. Then Torres stabbed Victim 4 with a screwdriver. Torres and other WLS members dragged Victim 4’s body to a stream and left it there. As he was leaving the woods, Sanchez noticed he was bleeding and was concerned that his DNA may have been left on the body. To prevent the discovery of DNA or other evidence and to hinder the investigation and prosecution of Victim 4’s murder, Torres called other WLS members, including Agustino Eugenio Rivas Rodriguez, 25, of Silver Spring, Maryland, and ordered them to bring shovels to dig a hole and bury Victim 4’s body, which law enforcement later recovered with a bullet wound to the head.
On June 5, 2020, Torres conspired with other MS-13 members to kidnap and kill a female member of the rival 18th Street gang. Torres and Rivas Rodriguez ordered subordinate members of the gang to gather at a house with firearms in preparation for the murder, while another MS-13 associate was at a separate location the intended victim, identified as Victim 5. The group of MS-13 subordinates gathered with guns as Torres and Rodriguez had directed, and were preparing for murder when police arrived and interrupted the plan.
Torres also directed the collection of extortion payments, or “rents,” from at least two victims on behalf of WLS, knowing that victims made payments because WLS members had threatened to kill or injure them by flashing guns or baseball bats.
Torres participated in money laundering by transferring gang funds obtained through its extortion activities to MS-13 members and associates in El Salvador. Torres also accepted a delivery of rent payments that a WLS member had collected from three brothels, with the intent to use the funds to promote MS-13’s illegal activities, including extortion.
Previously, Sanchez; Hernan Yanes-Rivera, 22, of Adelphi; and Rivas Rodriguez were sentenced to 28 years, 22 years, and 16 years in prison, respectively, for their roles in the racketeering conspiracy.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron for the District of Maryland, Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Sobocinski of the FBI Baltimore Field Office, Special Agent in Charge James C. Harris of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore, and Chief Malik Aziz of the Prince George’s County Police Department made the announcement.
The FBI, HSI, and Prince George’s County Police Department investigated the case, with assistance from the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) and Montgomery County Police Department.
Trial Attorney Christopher Taylor of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Joel Crespo for the District of Maryland are prosecuting the case.
This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and gun violence, and to make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. On May 26, 2021, the Department launched a violent crime reduction strategy strengthening PSN based on these core principles: fostering trust and legitimacy in our communities, supporting community-based organizations that help prevent violence from occurring in the first place, setting focused and strategic enforcement priorities, and measuring the results.
This case is also part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.
Anyone with information about MS-13 is encouraged to provide their tips to law enforcement. The FBI and HSI both have nationwide tiplines that you can call to report what you know. You can reach the FBI at 1-866-STP-MS13 (1-866-787-6713), or you can call HSI at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE.