Editor’s Note: Darkhorse Press CEO Therese Apel has spent a considerable portion of her career studying gang activity in Mississippi. Many jurisdictions and municipalities have tried to deny gangs or organized crimes in their area, but circumstances, research and evidence have shown that gangs in various structures have become an increasing threat of which the public is largely unaware. This is the first in a new series of “Gangs in the South” stories that will keep you abreast of the latest releases, stories, and research on this activity, if for no other reason to keep this cancer at the forefront of Mississippi crime coverage.
From the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives
A federal jury convicted three La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, members yesterday of RICO conspiracy, murder in aid of racketeering, attempted murder in aid of racketeering, drug trafficking, and destruction of evidence.
According to court documents and evidence presented at trial, from 2014 until 2021, Jorge Flores, 30, aka Peluche, Kevin Tidwell, 29, aka Miklo, both of Nashville, Tennessee; and Jose Pineda-Caceres, 24, aka Demente, a Honduran national, were members of MS-13. MS-13 is a national and transnational gang composed largely of individuals of Salvadoran or Central American descent. Branches or “cliques” of MS-13 operate throughout the United States. MS-13 dedicates its members to preserving and protecting the power, territory, reputation, and profits of the gang through the use of intimidation and violence, including murder and promoting the gang through acts of murder, robbery, drug trafficking, and other criminal activities.
MS-13 members are required to follow various rules, chief among them being that cooperation with law enforcement is strictly prohibited, and it is understood within the gang that anyone who assists police will be punished with death. Members are also required to confront, fight, and/or kill rival gang members and to retaliate quickly and viciously against anyone who disrespects or threatens the gang’s authority, power, reputation, or control of a neighborhood. By committing murders, the defendants gained entrance into MS-13 or earned respect among the other members.
On April 6, 2016, Pineda-Caceres, along with several other MS-13 members and associates, murdered a victim because they believed the victim was a rival gang member. Pineda-Caceres lured the victim to a field where he and other members and associates shot the victim to gain entrance into MS-13. On July 31, 2016, Pineda-Caceres also murdered another victim. After leaving a nightclub in Nashville, Pineda-Caceres followed the victim’s car and, while attempting to kill the victim’s brother, shot and killed the victim. In addition, Tidwell and Flores murdered a victim on May 21, 2017, outside of a bar in Nashville because they believed the victim was associated with a rival gang. Tidwell and Flores shot the victim 11 times while the victim was sitting in the victim’s car. Tidwell and Flores also shot and killed a victim on May 27, 2017, because the victim insulted MS-13. They chased down the victim’s car and shot the victim while the victim attempted to flee. On Sept. 24, 2017, Flores murdered a victim and other MS-13 members and associates lured the victim to a secluded location in Nashville, shot the victim, and placed the victim’s body in the trunk of a car. Flores then burned the car with the victim’s body in the trunk in Cheatham County, Tennessee.
The defendants were convicted of RICO conspiracy, five murders, multiple attempted murders in aid of racketeering, conspiracies to commit murder in aid of racketeering, firearms offenses, tampering with evidence, and drug distribution. They will be sentenced at a later date and each face a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison.
The three trial defendants were among the nine defendants charged in the indictment. The other six defendants previously pleaded guilty to RICO conspiracy and related offenses, as follows:
- Carlos Ochoa, 33, of Nashville, Tennessee
- Jason Sandoval, 37, of Nashville, Tennessee
- Gerson Serrano-Ramirez, 35, of El Salvador
- Franklin Hernandez, 23, of Honduras
- Juan Melendez, 24, of El Salvador
- Luis Colindres, 26, of Honduras
As part of this multi-year investigation, MS-13 members and associates were also convicted of five additional murders that occurred between 2016 and 2017 in the Nashville area.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Acting U.S. Attorney Thomas J. Jaworski for the Middle District of Tennessee, Special Agent in Charge Marcus Watson of the ATF Nashville Field Division, Special Agent in Charge Rana Saoud of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Nashville, Special Agent in Charge J. Todd Scott of the DEA Louisville Field Division, U.S. Marshal for the District of Tennessee Denny King, Metropolitan Nashville Police Chief John Drake, and Director David Rausch of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation made the announcement.
The ATF, HSI, DEA, U.S. Marshals Service, Metropolitan Nashville Police Department, and Tennessee Bureau of Investigation investigated the case.
Trial Attorney Matthew Hoff of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ahmed Safeeullah and Brooke Farzad for the Middle District of Tennessee are prosecuting this case.
This prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force’s (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at www.justice.gov/OCDETF.