MS-13 gang members convicted of crimes in Gwinnett

ATLANTA — Two members of the MS-13 gang have been convicted by a federal jury of committing murders, attempted murders and armed robberies in Gwinnett and DeKalb counties.

Remberto Argueta, 27, also known as Pitufo, of Lilburn, and William Espinoza, 31, also known as Cheberria and Crazy, of Norcross, were convicted Friday on several charges. Each of the defendants was convicted of RICO conspiracy involving murder. Argueta was also convicted of violent crime in aid of racketeering and a firearms offense related to the murder of Arpolonio Rios-Jarquin. Espinoza was also convicted of violent crime in aid of racketeering and a firearms offense related to the attempted murder of Jayro Arango-Sanchez. Violent crime in aid of racketeering for murder carries a mandatory sentence of life in prison, while RICO conspiracy involving murder carries a sentence up to life.

“These two defendants set the standard for violence and disregard for human life as members of the international gang MS-13,” United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said. “They spread fear throughout the community by killing innocent pedestrians, shooting suspected rival gang members and robbing innocent people at gunpoint. By finding them guilty, this jury has held them accountable for their crimes.”

According to Yates, the charges and other information presented in court, MS-13 is an international gang that has operated in the Atlanta area since at least 2005. The gang members staked out Gwinnett and DeKalb Counties as their home territory. The evidence presented at trial showed that the defendants committed the following crimes:

• Argueta, along with other gang members, planned to rob Arpolonio Rios-Jarquin, a suspected drug dealer, at a hotel in April 2007. When Rios-Jarquin turned out to have his own gun, Argueta and his fellow MS-13 members engaged in a shootout with Rios-Jarquin that spilled outside the hotel room. Surveillance video showed one of the MS-13 members stopping to pick up Rios-Jarquin’s weapon, which he later showed off as a trophy.

• In October 2007, Argueta and several other MS-13 members were at an apartment complex in Gwinnett County when Argueta spotted suspected rival gang members. He approached them and asked them who they “claimed” — that is, what gang they belonged to. When Christian Escobar responded that he and his friend, Jose Garcia-Barajas, were members of the rival gang 18th Street, Argueta said, “You’re going to die.” Argueta pulled out a handgun and started chasing and shooting at Escobar and Garcia-Barajas. He shot Escobar in the back and Garcia-Barajas in the hip and arm. While shooting at them, Argueta also fired shots into the apartments of nearby residents. An elderly woman testified that one of Argueta’s bullets hit an armchair that she had been sitting in just a few minutes earlier.

• In early July 2008, Espinoza loaned his .380 caliber handgun to fellow gang members so that they could retaliate against a member of La Raza, a rival gang. An MS-13 member shot a 15-year-old boy who was taking a shortcut through an apartment complex. The boy was not a member of a gang and had traveled from Ohio with his family to visit other family members for the Fourth of July holiday.

• A few weeks later in July 2008, Espinoza and other members of MS-13 were at El Pueblito, a nightclub in DeKalb County, when a fight broke out with suspected members of the rival gang 18th Street. Surveillance video showed Espinoza going out to the parking lot and retrieving a .380 handgun from a car. He approached the club entrance and shot Jayro Arango-Sanchez in the stomach. Arango-Sanchez testified that he was not a gang member and that he was at the club with his girlfriend and brother.

• Just two days later, Espinoza and four other MS-13 members drove to an apartment complex in Gwinnett County to look for pedestrians to rob. After spotting a victim, Espinoza and another gang member got out of their SUV and approached Aurelio Vasquez. Espinoza put his .380 handgun to Vasquez’s head while the other MS-13 member started to search Vasquez’s pockets for money. Vasquez, who was returning home after buying groceries, resisted being robbed, so Espinoza shot him through the head. Espinoza and his fellow gang members wanted to rob Vasquez for beer money.

Sentencing for Argueta and Espinoza will be scheduled at a later date before United States District Judge Richard W. Story.

“Today’s conviction in federal court of two violent members of the international gang known as MS-13 adds to the list of successes for those law enforcement officers, investigators and prosecutors who are working hard to neutralize this dangerous criminal enterprise,” said Mark F. Giuliano, special agent in charge of the FBI Atlanta Field Office. “While these successes are important for the FBI and its various law enforcement partners, it is more important to those particular communities impacted by MS-13’s violent crimes.”