MS-13 Accused of ‘Grisly Murders,’ Including One in Malibu Hills

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A chilling federal grand jury indictment released Tuesday by the United States Attorney’s Office alleges a series of violent crimes committed in and around the Malibu area, Angeles National Forest and North Hollywood by members of the notorious MS-13 gang—acts described as “medieval-style violence and senseless murder” by one official.

The indictment comes after a two-year investigation by federal and local authorities into alleged racketeering, detailed in nearly 200 “overt acts,” “beginning with the transportation of $1.22 million in narcotics proceeds that were seized in Nebraska in 2010.” All but one of the 22 defendants named in the 78-page document, which was unsealed on Monday, July 15, are accused of conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

“In addition to the conspiracy charge, the indictment contains four counts of first-degree murder related to machete, knife and baseball bat killings in the Angeles National Forest, which is within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States,” information shared by the U.S. Attorney’s Office explained. “Those four murders—along with a fifth that occurred in the Malibu Hills and a sixth that was committed in the Fulton clique’s stronghold of Whitsett Fields Park in North Hollywood—are also charged as violent crimes committed in aid of racketeering, and those six counts allege that the victims were killed ‘for the purpose of gaining entry to and maintaining and increasing position in MS-13 Los Angeles.’”

In total, 24 murders are thought to have been committed by MS-13 in the Los Angeles area in the past two years, according to U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna. One of those took place just outside Malibu city limits on July 21, 2018, when four defendants (and other, “unindicted co-conspirators”) are accused of shooting and killing an unnamed victim called “R.C.” in justice department documents.

The victim in that alleged killing could not be identified by the justice department and was not named in the indictment document, although the alleged crime took place the same week the remains of 19-year-old Roger Chavez-Barahona were found in the Malibu Hills. Chavez-Barahona’s body was located by passers-by, “a short distance down an embankment in the early stages of decomposition” off Piuma Road on July 27, 2018, according to a statement from the LA County Sheriff’s Department; his death was ruled a homicide with his cause of death “multiple gunshot wounds.” 

Malibu and the area just outside city limits is mentioned in a handful of “overt acts” catalogued in the grand jury indictment, including an alleged incident where, on Sept. 3, 2018, three defendants (and another “unindicted co-conspirator”) were “in the area of Pacific Coast Highway and Coastline Drive in Malibu … in a vehicle and possessed a machete and a Heckler & Koch model VP70Z, 9mm caliber pistol … loaded with a high capacity magazine containing 17 live rounds.” Nearly five months later, two defendants allegedly were involved in the “overt act” of traveling “in a vehicle with two unindicted co-conspirators and possessed a loaded gun, two baseball bats, two knives, ski masks, two beanies with ‘MS’ embroidered on them and handcuffs,” in the Malibu Hills area.

“This investigation has been an unqualified success,” Hanna said in a statement shared with The Malibu Times. “The collaborative law enforcement effort solved several murder cases and dealt a severe blow to members of the gang who engaged in acts of brutality not seen in the region for over 20 years. The prosecution of these defendants would not have been possible without the backing of local law enforcement, including District Attorney Jackie Lacey, who has supported our efforts every step of the way and has dedicated substantial resources to ensure that all of these defendants get the justice they deserve.”

According to the Department of Justice, six of the alleged murders were committed “in an especially heinous, cruel or depraved manner in that [they] involved torture or serious physical abuse to the victim”—the defendants charged in relation to those murders are eligible for the federal death penalty “although the government has not indicated whether it will seek such a sentence for any of the defendants if they are convicted.”