Nashville: Feds Charge 9 With Violent Crime Gang Conspiracy

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Federal authorities announced Wednesday that nine people face charges of a racketeering conspiracy through a string of violent gang activity in the Nashville area, alleging their involvement in killings, kidnappings, assaults, robberies and large-scale drug distribution.

Acting U.S. Attorney Mary Jane Stewart detailed the 60-count, second superseding indictment, which prosecutors say describes the organizational structure of M-13 and the subunit operating in Nashville since at least 2014.

The indictment alleges a gang conspiracy in seven slayings in 2016 and 2017 in Nashville, all of them shootings. It said the most recent occurred in September 2017 in which suspected gang members are charged with luring someone to a meeting in the city, fatally shooting him and burning a car with the victim's body in the trunk.

Metro Nashville Police have said the victims also included a person found dead in a field, others shot in moving cars from other cars, a person killed in a strip mall parking lot, another shot while driving away from an argument at a convenience store, and two others in the parking lot of an apartment complex.

One of the people killed was 18-year-old Liliana Rodriguez, though her then-20-year-old brother was the target, according to the indictment and police records. In another instance, a man was fatally shot to prevent him from becoming a witness to another killing, the indictment says.

Many of the gang's “ruthless acts of violence” targeted innocent people, Stewart said.

The indictment alleges several other attempted killings, a kidnapping to prevent someone from cooperating with the authorities and the assault of a federal officer, which police records show occurred during a 2017 car pursuit to catch the armed suspect who ultimately rammed into a U.S. Marshal's vehicle before crashing and being caught.

"Make no mistake about it: MS-13 is one of the most violent, ruthless and cold-blooded gangs to ever walk the face of the earth. And we will be relentless in our efforts to root them out of this community," Stewart said at a news conference, joined by Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite and state, federal and local authorities.

Those charged include 4 Nashville residents; 3 Honduran residents; one from El Salvador; and one from Lebanon, Tennessee.

Each is in federal custody and faces decades of incarceration if convicted, including up to life in prison, prosecutors said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ahmed Safeeullah said MS-13 members targeted the people they did in the killings because “individuals in the gang wanted to increase their stature.”

Polite was on hand after he was sworn in to head the Department of Justice's criminal division less than a week ago.

“Removing these criminal actors from the community is a step, but our commitment to improving safety in our communities requires investment in prevention and in intervention,” Polite said.