Charlotte-area MS-13 gang members sentenced to life in prison

Two Charlotte-area MS-13 gang members were sentenced to life in federal prison Monday for murder, racketeering and other charges following a joint investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the FBI.

Miguel Zelaya, 22, an unlawfully present Honduran national, and Luis Ordonez-Vega, 37, a Guatemalan national, were both sentenced to life in prison Monday.

A federal jury in Charlotte previously convicted both men in April on conspiracy to participate in racketeering activity (RICO), murder in aid of racketeering, use or carry of a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence and possession of a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence resulting in death.

A third MS-13 gang member, Jorge Garcia, 27, was also sentenced Monday to 70 months in federal prison after pleading guilty to RICO conspiracy and attempted murder in aid of racketeering charges. 

According to court documents, from at least 2009 until May 2015, the three defendants along with 34 others named in a federal indictment were members of the MS-13 gang -- a criminal organization with more than 6,000 members in the United States and 30,000 members internationally. 

Athorties said MS-13 originated in Los Angeles, and has spread to multiple states across the country including North Carolina. The gang’s members are mostly immigrants or descendants of immigrants from El Salvador and other Latin American countries.

Members of MS-13 in Charlotte participated in multiple meetings at various times to discuss gang-related matters and to plan the commission of future crimes for the benefit of the gang. They were also responsible for numerous criminal acts including murder and attempted murder.

On Dec. 18, 2013, Zelaya shot and killed Jose Orlando Ibarra, a member of rival gang “The Latin Kings.” Zelaya admitted to law enforcement that he shot Ibarra because Ibarra owed him money for a gun and because Ibarra and his brother, another Latin King member, had been looking for one of Zelaya’s associates with a shotgun.

On June 6, 2013, Ordonez-Vega shot and killed Noel Navarro Hernandez in a Charlotte strip-mall parking lot. Ordonez-Vega and other MS-13 members targeted Navarro because they believed that Navarro was a rival gang member. 

Three other indicted MS-13 gang members remain at large as fugitives. They are Miriam Barilles-Escamilla, Salvador Ruiz and Luis Villalta.