A former MS-13 gang leader turned federal informant has been granted a new trial on a charge that he lied to his handlers about murdering several people in his native country.
Federal judge Charles Breyer ruled Monday that Roberto “Bad Boy” Acosta was improperly convicted last year of making a false statement to federal agents.
Acosta was recruited as an undercover informant by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in 2005 and gave federal agents information about the gang’s activities in San Francisco, including murders and planned murders.
It was not immediately clear whether Monday’s ruling would affect the use by state prosecutors of secret recordings Acosta made of other gang members allegedly admitting to the 2008 stabbing murder of a 14-year-old San Francisco boy. A preliminary hearing in that case is scheduled to begin in late February.
Prosecutor Brian Buckelew said Tuesday he is closely monitoring this new development.
Acosta had been slated to testify at a major federal trial of several MS-13 members last year, but was scratched from the witness list days before trial after admitting that he had committed eight murders in his native Honduras before fleeing the gang.
Acosta had initially acknowledged to ICE agents other violent crimes he committed in Honduras, but was never asked if he had ever committed a murder, until May 2008, according to the ruling. At that time, he denied ever doing so. Later that December, he again denied he had ever killed anyone but admitted ordering the killings of three bus drivers. In February 2011, he revealed that he had participated in eight additional murders.
Breyer ruled that prosecutors hadn’t proved that Acosta’s lie was the reason a different set of prosecutors decided not to have him testify at the federal MS-13 trial in 2011. He also ruled that prosecutors hadn’t proved that his lie had affected the decision ICE agents made to use him as an informant.
U.S. Attorney’s Office spokesman Jack Gillund said Tuesday his office had no immediate comment on whether it planned to appeal Breyer’s ruling or go ahead with a new trial.