SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — A notorious MS-13 gang leader in Santa Cruz has leaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to commit murder and extortion charges and faces 27 years in federal prison, authorities announced Friday.

United States Attorney David L. Anderson said Tomas Rivera (also known as Profugo or Caballo or Jonas Portillo Escobar) was a high-ranking MS-13 gang leader who participated in a criminal conspiracy perpetrating murder, extortion, and drug trafficking.

Rivera and his fellow MS-12 gang members arrest during a Feb. 13th sweep by Homeland Security agents drew the ire of Santa Cruz officials who thought the action was merely an immigration raid.


“Rivera’s arrest was a criminal arrest, although it was erroneously criticized at the time as being part of an immigration sweep,” Anderson said. “As the plea agreement shows, Rivera was a high-ranking participant in a criminal conspiracy perpetrating murder, extortion, and drug trafficking, and a member of the notorious transnational gang MS-13.”

The transnational street gang La Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, has local chapters, or “cliques,” throughout the world, including El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, and the United States.

Federal law enforcement officials said MS-13 members and associates engage in crimes such as murder, narcotics trafficking, extortion, and obstruction of justice. The Santa Cruz Salvatrucha Locos (SCSL) is an MS-13 clique that operates in and around Santa Cruz.

According to his plea agreement, the 27-year-old Rivera, who grew up in El Salvador, arrived in Santa Cruz in April 2016 and quickly stepped in as second in command of the SCSL clique of the MS-13 gang.

From April 2016 through January 2017, Rivera and SCSL members engaged in drug trafficking and extortion. He coordinated with MS-13 members in El Salvador and other places to carry out the directives of the gang’s leadership in and around Santa Cruz.

Rivera acknowledged to federal prosecutors that he pushed for strict adherence to MS-13 rules, including the rule that required all people who wanted to join the gang to commit a murder to qualify for membership.

He admitted in the plea agreement that on one occasion he and other SCSL members beat up a suspected rival gang member they found in their territory. On another occasion, Rivera and other MS-13 members were in a car, when they spotted people they suspected of being rival gang members. One of the MS-13 members shot at and attempted to kill a member of the group.

Rivera further stated in the plea agreement that he played a key role in a murder committed by SCSL gang members. Rivera admitted that in April 2016 he discussed seeking approval from El Salvador to kill a suspected rival gang member. The murder of the rival gang member was committed by SCSL members on September 22, 2016, and Rivera collected the murder weapons.

The plea also describes Rivera’s involvement in burning clothing and a car involved in another murder by MS-13 members.

U.S. District Court Judge Edward J. Davila scheduled Rivera’s sentencing hearing for April 13. Pursuant to the terms of his plea agreement, Rivera has agreed that a reasonable and appropriate disposition of his case would include a term of 27 years in prison.

Seven of the other charged defendants have already pleaded guilty for their roles in the SCSL and MS-13 criminal enterprise in Santa Cruz and six have been sentenced.