Defense attorneys in the federal racketeering trial of seven alleged MS-13 gang members began their case in San Francisco Thursday by reexamining the role of federal informants in the gang, including members who may have committed violent crimes while being paid for information.
Prosecutors, who rested their months-long case in the morning, condemned the defense’s recalling of an FBI special agent, calling the action “a fishing expedition.”
The trial of Marvin “Psycho” Carcamo, Angel Noel “Peloncito” Guevara, Moris “Slow Pain” Flores, Erick “Spooky” Lopez, Jonathan “Soldado” Cruz-Ramirez, Guillermo “Shorty” Herrera and Walter “Sombra” Cruz-Zavala began in early April.
The case arose from a large-scale investigation by federal authorities of the gang’s “20th Street” clique in the Mission district — believed responsible for murders, robberies, car thefts and drug dealing — culminating in the indictments of 29 alleged members in October 2008. Many have pleaded guilty to various crimes.
Defense attorney John Philipsborn asked FBI gang investigator Special Agent Sandra Flores about how the FBI handled the paid gang informants, including instructions that they “under no circumstances” commit violent acts or other illegal activities.
One informant, Jaime Martinez, a former leader of 20th Street who testified for the prosecution in the trial, came to the FBI’s attention after being arrested for gun possession in October 2005.
“We were assessing him for our use,” Flores said.
Martinez admitted on the stand in May that he had taken part in criminal activity while an informant.
Philipsborn asked about four other FBI MS-13 informants, one who had been part of the original 2008 indictments, and another a female member of the gang, before breaking for the day. Flores returns to the stand Tuesday morning.
After jurors were dismissed, prosecutor William Frentzen argued to trial judge William Alsup that the defense was asking leading questions and looking for information that government informants may have compelled suspects in the case to commit crimes.
“They want to fish around, and search, and seek out who were all the informants, and then say, ‘How do we craft an argument that we were induced by these folks?’” he said.
Alsup dismissed Frentzen’s argument.
“What’s wrong with the jury hearing this?” Alsup said, later adding, “There is a semblance, a scintilla” of evidence that the suspects could have been induced to commit crimes by an informant.
“Jaime Martinez, he was the leader of the gang for a while,” Alsup said. “And I’m not going to say that they can’t pursue it.”
“The reality is that the government hasn’t turned somersaults about giving us information, and we had to go get it,” Philipsborn said following the hearing.
The trial is expected to last into August.