Crime & Courts

2 MS-13 gang members sentenced to life in prison for murders

Miguel Zelaya
Miguel Zelaya Mecklenburg County jail

Two MS-13 gang members were sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday for their roles in separate murders.

The two are among 37 MS-13 gang members named in a federal indictment involving racketeering conspiracy, firearms violations and murder and attempted murder charges. Twenty-nine of the gang members were previously sentenced.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Conrad Jr. sentenced Miguel Zelaya, 22, of Charlotte and Luis Ordonez-Vega, 37, of Concord to life in prison.

Zelaya was found guilty in April of murder, racketeering conspiracy and firearms charges in the fatal 2013 shooting of Jose Orlando Ibarra, an associate of a rival gang, “The Latin Kings,” court records show.

Zelaya admitted to law enforcement that he shot Ibarra because Ibarra owed him money for a gun and because Ibarra and his brother, a Latin Kings member, had been looking for one of Zelaya’s “homies” with a shotgun, according to court records.

Also known as “Most Wanted” and “Ne Ne,” Zelaya belongs to the MS-13 clique “Coronados Little Cycos Salvatrucha,” records show.

Luis Ordonez-Vega, 37, of Concord also was sentenced on Tuesday. Known as “Big Boy,” Ordonez-Vega was found guilty last year of murder, racketeering conspiracy and firearms charges in the 2013 fatal shooting of Noel Navarro Hernandez in a Charlotte strip mall parking lot.

Ordonez-Vega and other MS-13 members targeted Navarro because they believed he was a rival gang member because of his haircut, the way he talked and because he wore red, prosecutors said. Ordonez-Vega is a self-admitted member of MS-13 from Nassau County, N.Y., and a member of the “Brentwood Locos Salvatrucha” clique. He has “MS” tattooed across his stomach and “La Mara Salvatrucha” tattooed across his chest.

A third MS-13 gang member, Jorge Garcia, 27, of Charlotte, was sentenced on Tuesday to five years and 10 months in prison after pleading guilty to racketeering and attempted murder charges.

Two more defendants, Jorge Sosa and William Gavidia, were previously convicted at trial and await sentencing. Three others remain fugitives: Miriam Barilles-Escamilla, Salvador Ruiz and Luis Villalta.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak

The World of MS-13

MS-13 is composed mainly of immigrants or descendants of immigrants from El Salvador. The gang began in Los Angeles, where its members battled for control of drug distribution locations. Its members now operate throughout much of the country, including Mecklenburg and surrounding counties.

The gang’s name comes from “Mara Salvatrucha,” a combination of several slang terms for gang, Salvadoran and “fear us.” Gang members often wear blue, black or white clothing bearing the number “13.”

MS-13 members are generally required to complete an initiation – often called being “jumped in” or “beat in” to the gang, federal authorities say. During the initiation, gang members beat the new member until someone in the group finishes counting aloud to 13.

The gang has 30,000 members worldwide, mostly in the United States, Mexico and several other Central American countries, federal officials say. Investigators estimate there are 6,000 members in the U.S.

Gang members work in small cliques that operate in different cities or neighborhoods. Each clique has a leader, called a “shot caller,” court documents say.

Ames Alexander and Fred Clasen-Kelly