MS-13 Gang Member Sentenced To Life In Federal Prison For A Racketeering Conspiracy, Including A Murder In Maryland

Baltimore, Maryland – U.S. District Judge Paula Xinis today sentenced Jose Rafael Ortega-Ayala, a/k/a “Impaciente,” age 30, of Greenbelt, Maryland, to life in federal prison for racketeering and murder in aid of racketeering conspiracies, for committing murder in aid of racketeering, and for conspiracy to destroy and conceal evidence connected to his participation in La Mara Salvatrucha, a transnational criminal enterprise also known as MS-13.  The charges related to the murder of a victim believed to be cooperating with law enforcement and the subsequent cover-up of the murder.  Ortega-Ayala was convicted on December 16, 2022, after a two-week trial, along with co-defendants Jose Domingo Ordonez-Zometa, a/k/a “Felon,” age 33, of Landover Hills, Maryland and Jose Henry Hernandez-Garcia, a/k/a “Paciente,” age 29, of Annandale, Virginia.

The sentence was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron; Acting Assistant Attorney Nicole M. Argentieri of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; the Federal Bureau of Investigation – Washington Field Office Criminal and Cyber Division; Special Agent in Charge James C. Harris of Homeland Security Investigations, Baltimore Field Office; Chief Kevin Davis of the Fairfax County Police Department; Stafford County Sheriff David P. Decatur; and Chief Malik Aziz of the Prince George’s County Police Department.

According to evidence presented at trial, MS-13, one of the largest street gangs in the United States, is a national and international gang composed primarily of immigrants or descendants from El Salvador and other central American countries.  Branches or “cliques” of MS-13, operate throughout the United States, including in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.  Ortega-Ayala and his co-defendants were members and associates of the Los Ghettos Criminales Salvatruchas (“LGCS” or “Ghettos”) clique of MS-13.  

Members of MS-13 were expected to protect the name, reputation, and status of the gang from rival gang members and other persons, at all times, using any means necessary to force respect from those who showed disrespect, including acts of intimidation and violence.  One of the principal rules of MS-13 is that its members must attack and kill rivals, often referred to as “chavalas,” whenever possible.  Participation in criminal activity by a member, particularly in violent acts directed at rival gangs or as directed by gang leadership, increases the respect accorded to that member, resulting in that member maintaining or increasing his position in the gang, and opens the door to promotion to a leadership position. 

Also outlined during trial evidence was the fact that Ordonez-Zometa, the leader of the LGCS clique.  On March 8, 2019, Ordonez-Zometa called a meeting of the LGCS clique at his house to discuss gang matters, including recent contacts that a clique member (Victim 1) had with the police.  Ortega-Ayala, Hernandez-Garcia, Victim 1, and other MS-13 members participated in the meeting, during which Ordonez-Zometa questioned Victim 1 about his/her cooperation with police.

During the questioning, Ortega-Ayala and at least one other MS-13 member assaulted Victim 1, based on their incorrect suspicions that Victim 1 was cooperating with law enforcement.  They also assaulted another MS-13 member who attempted to defend Victim 1.  The assault culminated with Ordonez-Zometa, as LGCS clique leader, ordering that Victim 1 be killed.  Ortega-Ayala, Hernandez-Garcia, and other MS-13 members then stabbed and murdered Victim 1 in Ordonez-Zometa’s basement. 

According to trial testimony, after the murder, Ordonez-Zometa ordered Ortega-Ayala, Hernandez-Garcia, and other LGCS clique members and co-conspirators, to conceal and destroy evidence of the murder.  Ortega-Ayala and other MS-13 members transported the body of the victim to a secluded location in Stafford County, Virginia, and set the victim’s body on fire, then destroyed and concealed evidence of the murder from the vehicle used to transport the victim.  Meanwhile, Ordonez-Zometa, Hernandez-Garcia, and another MS-13 member stayed at the crime scene and attempted to remove, destroy, and conceal evidence of the murder, including the blood of Victim 1. 

Ordonez-Zometa and Hernandez-Garcia were previously sentenced to life in federal prison.

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 make our neighborhoods safer for everyone.  Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) is the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts.  PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime.  Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them.  As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.

This case is also an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (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 Homeland Security Investigations 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.

United States Attorney Erek L. Barron and Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri commended the FBI, HSI, the Fairfax County Police Department, the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office, and the Prince George’s County Police Department for their work in the investigation and thanked the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office for its assistance.  Mr. Barron and Ms. Argentieri thanked Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Morgan and Trial Attorneys Jared Engelking and Matthew Hoff of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Violent Crime and Racketeering Section, who are prosecuting this case.