By Jim Kouri
A MS-13 (Mara Salvatrucha) member pled guilty Friday to taking part in a federal racketeering conspiracy that involved numerous crimes, including two murders, in the Washington, D.C., region.
Dennis L. Gil-Bernardez, a/k/a “Pando,” pled guilty in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Judge Rosemary M. Collyer sentenced him to 76 years in prison. The sentence will run concurrently with an 80-year prison term that Gil-Bernardez is currently serving in another gang-related case in Virginia.
The 36-year-old defendant was among a group of MS-13 members indicted in November 2011. As part of his plea, he admitted that he was in MS-13’s Normandie clique, and that, after consulting with an incarcerated member of MS-13 in El Salvador, he ordered the murder of Louis Membreno-Zelaya, which was committed by other MS-13 members. Membreno-Zelaya, 27, was found, stabbed to death, on Nov. 6, 2008, in Northwest Washington.
In his plea, Gil-Bernardez admitted that MS-13 is a transnational criminal street gang with a presence in at least 20 states and the District of Columbia, as well as many Central American countries, including El Salvador and Honduras, which is Gil-Bernardez’s country of origin.
According to court documents, members of MS-13 use violence and intimidation to protect the gang and enhance its reputation. The gang is involved in murder, attempted murder, robbery, extortion and obstructing justice through the intimidation and threatening of witnesses.
In addition to ordering the murder of Membreno-Zelaya, Gil-Bernardez also admitted to shooting a person whom he believed to be a rival gang member in April 2008. The victim was shot five times and hospitalized for a week after undergoing life-saving surgery.
Finally, Gil-Bernardez admitted to murdering Luis Chavez-Ponce, 22, July 29, 2008, in Riverdale Park, Md., believing Chavez-Ponce to be a rival gang member. Gil-Bernardez stopped one of the other MS-13 members from chasing after the victim, who was on a bicycle. Gil-Bernardez chased Chavez-Ponce around the corner of a building and fired several shots, killing him.
The gun which Gil-Bernardez used in the murder of Chavez-Ponce was determined to be the same weapon used in the shooting of three people in Reston, Va., in October 2008, to which Gil-Bernardez also admitted. This latest plea is one of several by MS-13 members in recent months in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
The prosecution grew out of the efforts of the federal Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, a multi-agency team that conducts comprehensive, multi-level attacks on major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. The principal mission of the nationwide program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations, and those primarily responsible for the nation’s drug supply.