April 9, 2018 / 11:29 PM / 2 months ago

MS-13 gang leader in Massachusetts gets 19-year prison sentence

BOSTON (Reuters) - The leader of a Massachusetts-based affiliate of the notoriously violent MS-13 gang was sentenced on Monday to 19 years in prison after being convicted in the first trial to spill out of a 2016 crackdown that led to charges against 61 people.

Rafael Leoner Aguirre, a Salvadoran national who prosecutors said oversaw a reign of violence and mayhem as the leader of an MS-13 “clique” in Chelsea, Massachusetts, was sentenced by U.S. District Judge Dennis Saylor in Boston.

His sentence was confirmed by a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling and came after a federal jury in November found the 22-year-old guilty of racketeering conspiracy. His lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

Leoner Aguirre’s trial was the first to result from a gang takedown that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called an example of how authorities should tackle MS-13.

Republican U.S. President Donald Trump has called MS-13 “savage” and has tied efforts to fight the gang, whose members include Salvadoran immigrants, to his initiatives targeting illegal immigration.

MS-13 started in Los Angeles in the 1980s. It has grown into an organization with leadership in El Salvador that the U.S. Justice Department says has 30,000 members worldwide and 10,000 in the United States.

Prosecutors said Leoner Aguirre encouraged members of an MS-13 clique known as Enfermos Criminal Salvatrucha to attack and kill rival gang members and commit robberies. Leoner Aguirre himself attempted to commit two murders, prosecutors said.

Leoner Aguirre, who illegally immigrated from El Salvador in 2013, was at the time of his federal conviction already incarcerated based on state charges stemming from one of the two alleged attempted murders, an April 2014 shooting.

A state court judge in August 2015 sentenced him to four to five years in prison after he was convicted of assault with intent to kill. Leoner Aguirre’s federal sentence will begin after he completes his state sentence.

To date, 40 other people charged alongside Leoner Aguirre have either pleaded guilty or been convicted at trial.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Chris Reese

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