Guillermo Herrera, aka ‘Sparky’ Sentenced to Life in Prison

Today’s commentary is predicated upon an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) news release that was posted on December 8, 2011 that heralds a noteworthy successful operation- the conviction and sentencing of the 6th defendant who is a member of MS-13 that operated in the Bay Area of San Francisco. This sixth defendant was identified as Guillermo Herrera, aka “Sparky,” He and his codefendants were sentenced to life in prison. Here is an excerpt from the news release that reports on this:

SAN FRANCISCO – The sixth San Francisco-area member of La Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) was sentenced Thursday to life in prison following his conviction earlier this year on racketeering-related charges stemming from a multi-agency probe spearheaded by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Guillermo Herrera, aka “Sparky,” 21, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge William Alsup. Herrera and his five codefendants were convicted by a jury on Aug. 30 after a five-month trial. Codefendants Marvin Carcamo, aka “Cyco,” 31; Angel Noel Guevara, aka “Peloncito,” 31; Moris Flores, aka “Slow Pain,” 22; Erick Lopez, aka “Spooky,” 23; and Jonathon Cruz-Ramirez, aka “Soldado,” 22; were all sentenced to life in prison Nov. 30.

“Hopefully these sentences help to bring closure to the victims and family members who suffered needlessly from the senseless acts of violence that these individuals committed,” U.S. Attorney Haag said. “These individuals terrorized a community. For their crimes, they will spend the rest of their lives behind bars.”

“Mr. Herrera and his fellow MS-13 gang members spread fear and violence throughout the Bay Area,” said Assistant Attorney General Breuer. “They committed horrific acts of assault and murder on behalf of their criminal enterprise. Today’s sentence marks another important step forward in our steadfast efforts to protect Americans from violent crime.”

Certainly the law enforcement officers of ICE and local police departments involved in this important case have much to be proud of and the community in which these violent thugs operated can breathe a bit easier because of their efforts, However, there are issues that need to be addressed concerning this case and the way that it was reported by ICE.

First of all I am concerned that although ICE described these defendants as being members of a transnational gang, indeed, MS-13 is among the most violent of all transnational gangs, the news release did not divulge the nationalities of any of the defendants.

When I was an INS Special Agent we were absolutely required to identify the nationality and immigration status of every individual we encountered pursuant to our official duties. Typically we would do this by providing a sentence that would state the individual’s name, aliases and then note the citizenship of the person and his (her) immigration status. If the person in question was a United States citizen we would determine if the person had acquired citizenship via the naturalization process or if he was born in the United States. In the case of aliens we would note the person’s immigration status- noting if he was a Lawfully Admitted Permanent Resident, a nonimmigrant or an illegal alien. We would note immigration file numbers and the date, place and manner of entry into the United States for all aliens we encountered.

This information was often of extreme importance and relevance.

All naturalized citizens and resident aliens have immigration files. Those files almost invariably contained all sorts of valuable information including possible family members, addresses and places of employment. If the person became the target of a criminal investigation this information could provide important investigative leads. A naturalized citizen might have committed fraud in his application for residency or in his application for naturalization. Such fraud may provide additional criminal charges if he is prosecuted and may be useful to provide leverage to facilitate a plea bargain thereby sparing the expenses of a trial. A citizen who committed fraud in has naturalization application may not only be prosecuted but might be subject to losing his United States citizenship and removal (deportation) from the United States. A resident alien may also be deported from the United States upon conviction for certain categories of crimes.

When a subject of an investigation is determined to be an illegal alien additional prosecutorial benefits bay also be developed. For example, if an illegal alien is found to be in possession of a firearm, he is subject to being charged with violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 922(g)(5) which carries with it a maximum penalty of ten years in prison. An alien who had been previously deported from the United States may also be charged with unlawful reentry which, if he was deported because of criminal convictions, may face a maximum of twenty years of incarceration.

At the time of arrest when bail is to be set, the bail hearing has only two components- danger to the community and risk of flight. An illegal alien’s file may offer a potential treasure trove of evidence as to risk of flight. For example, an alien who had failed to show up for an immigration hearing, when it can be shown that his immigration file reflects that he has a track record of using multiple false identities and providing fictitious or nonexistent addresses it is information that can establish an extreme risk of flight that the judge or magistrate who is setting bail must be made aware of. I often assisted in arguing bail in federal and state court and nearly every time such accused criminal aliens were remanded without bail when such information was contained in their immigration files.

Simply stated, the successful conclusion of an investigation often depended on such information and as an INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service agent, I was expected to pursue these avenues.

While there is no way of knowing if these areas were adequately addressed during the investigation reported on in the ICE news release, I am concerned that not a single word dealing with the nationality or immigration status of any of these defendants were included in the news release. This begs the question, was this a simple oversight in not reporting it in the news release, was the issue of immigration status and information that might be contained in the relevant immigration files not being considered by the ICE agents or is the failure to note these factors a deliberate effort to downplay the fact that criminal aliens had been involved in a series of extremely heinous crimes?

Next you should consider that the apparent victims of these gang members were apparently members of the immigrant community. Again this is something not directly reported on, but can be deduced by inference. Consider this excerpt from the news release:

According to evidence presented at trial, Herrera was a member of the 20th street clique of MS-13, a violent, transnational gang. The evidence showed the 20th street clique, which had operated in the San Francisco’s Mission District since the 1990s, grew more violent and aggressive as membership increased and the gang expanded. The 20th street clique primarily warred with rival gang members, but also engaged in extortion and narcotics distribution. Herrera joined the 20th street clique of MS-13 in 2007 and participated in the extortion, or “taxing” individuals who sold fraudulent documents on MS-13 turf. MS-13 members demanded a portion of the profits these individuals earned and used violence and threats of violence to obtain their percentage.

Evidence presented at the trial showed that on July 11, 2008, Herrera shot and killed Armando Estrada, one of many individuals MS-13 extorted. Cruz-Ramirez drove Herrera to 20th and Mission streets, where Herrera spotted Estrada, chased him, and shot him in the back of the head at close range with a shotgun. The motive for the murder was for MS-13 to maintain control over the group it extorted, a group that had resisted 20th street members the previous day. Both Cruz-Ramirez and Herrera were convicted of the racketeering murder of Armando Estrada.

It is to be presumed that if the individuals who were extorted were selling fraudulent documents as noted in the excerpt, that these documents were desired by illegal aliens living in that community.

Often the open borders advocates who are often portrayed as “Pro-Immigrant” and are, in reality, “Pro-Exploitation advocates” who falsely claim that when police officers work cooperatively with ICE that community policing will be harmed. In point of fact, you would have to believe that members of the immigrant communities who face violence at the hands of transnational gang members would be greatly appreciative of efforts by police, ICE and any other law enforcement agencies to rid their communities of criminals- thereby enhancing community policing!

This is not simply conjecture on my part but something I observed first hand when I worked extremely closely with other law enforcement agencies, especially local police!

Furthermore, you should consider this paragraph from the news release:

These cases were prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Wil Frentzen, Andrew M. Scoble, David Hall, and W.S. Wilson Leung of the Strike Force and Violent Crimes Section of the Northern District of California, and Trial Attorney Theryn G. Gibbons of the Organized Crime and Gang Section of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, with the assistance of legal assistants and paralegals Kevin Costello, Christine Tian, Marina Ponomarchuk, and Ponly Tu. The case was investigated by ICE HSI’s San Francisco Gang Unit, with the assistance of the San Francisco and Daly City, Calif., police departments.

When local police departments work synergistically with other law enforcement agencies, especially ICE, the results can be extremely advantageous for the law enforcement community as well as the immigrant community!

At a time when the threats posed by transnational gangs and international terrorists continue to increase across our nation, the effective enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws and the development of strategies to really secure our nation’s borders could not be more essential for the security of our nation and the wellbeing of our citizens!

It is time for our nation’s leaders, on all levels, to come to terms with the fundamental fact that the purpose of our immigration laws is to protect our nation and our citizens from aliens whose presence has the potential to have a serious adverse impact. Ignoring those laws exposes our nation and our citizens to a variety of serious threats and challenges ranging from national security and criminal justice and public safety to the economy, the environment, healthcare and education!

A country without secure borders can no more stand than can a house without walls!

If our country is to survive and if our children and their children are to get their share of the “American Dream” the citizens of this nation must take their citizenship seriously!

We the People must be the best citizens we can be, citizens who are worthy of the gallantry demonstrated by our valiant men and women in the military, law enforcement and firefighters, who routinely go in harm’s way in defense of this nation and our citizens.

My goal in writing this and other commentaries is to point out our nations many failings before more victims pay the ultimate price for the incompetence and ineptitude of our government.

The first step in problem-solving is to first identify the problems and vulnerabilities and then devise strategies to overcome them.

If you find yourself to be in agreement with this commentary, I ask that you forward it to as many of your friends and family members as possible and encourage them to do the same. We need to create a “Bucket Brigade of Truth!”

The practice of good citizenship does not end in the voting booth, it only begins there.

For far too long our citizens demonstrated apathy which emboldened elected representatives to all but ignore the needs of the average American citizen in a quest for massive campaign funds and the promises of votes to be ostensibly delivered by special interest groups.

It is therefore understandable that the politicians of both parties are greatly concerned about the demonstrations currently sweeping our nation just as did the creation of the Tea Party. Clearly more and more of our fellow Americans are demonstrating that they are not as dumb as the politicians from both parties had expected us to be!

I am encouraged that more and more of us, We the People, are not willing to simply sit on the sidelines anymore!

I believe our nation’s is greatly benefited by the rich diversity of our people which is why I could never imagine living anywhere except New York City, arguably the most diverse city in our nation if not, in fact, the world. However, my idea of diversity most certainly does not include members of MS-13, the Mexican drug cartels or members of other transnational gangs or members of al-Qaeda!

If our government’s failures to secure our nation’s borders and effectively enforce our immigration laws concerns you or especially if it angers you, I ask you to call your Senators and Congressional “Representative. This is not only your right- it is your obligation!

All I ask is that you make it clear to our politicians that we are not as dumb as they hope we are!

We live in a perilous world and in a perilous era. The survival of our nation and the lives of our citizens hang in the balance.

This is neither a Conservative issue, nor is it a Liberal issue- simply stated; this is most certainly an AMERICAN issue!

You are either part of the solution or you are a part of the problem!

Democracy is not a spectator sport!

Lead, follow or get out of the way!

6th Bay Area MS-13 member sentenced to life in prison

Michael Cutler
Michael Cutler, a former Senior INS Investigator, an expert witness in more than a dozen Congressional Hearings is a Fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies and an advisor to the '911 Families for a Secure America.' He writes about the nexus between immigration and national security.