Final Defendant Sentenced to More than 17 Years in MS-13 Case

An MS-13 gang member was sentenced Tuesday to more than 17 years in federal prison for his role in a brutal machete attack at an apartment complex in Dallas, Texas.

Arnold Stephen Miralda-Cruz, age 23, pleaded guilty in February to RICO conspiracy, and was sentenced Tuesday to 210 months in federal prison by U.S. District Judge Jane J. Boyle. Miralda-Cruz is the last of seven defendants sentenced in the case.

“With this sentencing, seven MS-13 gang members responsible for multiple brutal attacks in the Dallas area have now been brought to justice,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Brian C. Rabbitt of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.  “The Department of Justice will not waver in its commitment to dismantle and destroy the scourge of MS-13.”

“MS-13 is one of the most vicious gangs operating in America today,” said U.S. Attorney Erin Nealy Cox of the Northern District of Texas.  “When machete-wielding gang members terrorize our streets, they will be met with certain justice.  The Northern District of Texas thanks our law enforcement partners, led by Homeland Security Investigations, who worked tirelessly to take seven brutal men out of our community.”

“This sentencing brings an end to the violence posed by these criminal gang members who have inflicted mayhem in our communities without any remorse or empathy for anyone,” said Deputy Agent in Charge Christopher M. Miller of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Dallas.  “The violent crimes this thug and his cohorts committed for the sake of street credibility and their gang’s reputation has ended with this illegal perpetrator behind bars.”

According to court documents, the defendants – mostly El Salvadorian nationals in the United States illegally – admitted they belonged to MS-13, a notoriously violent transnational street gang with the creed, “kill, rob, rape, control.”  As members, the defendants were required to commit acts of violence to protect the gang’s reputation, and were urged to attack and kill rivals whenever possible. 

To that end, on July 14, 2017, Miralda-Cruz and several other gang members, including codefendants Rolan Ivan Hernandez Fuentes and Jerson Gutierrez-Ramos, ambushed a rival gang member and his roommate inside an apartment complex in Dallas.  Armed with machetes, knives, box cutters, and a metal bar, they struck, stabbed, and cut the victims with intent to kill.  The attack left one man with his chest and neck sliced open, necessitating emergency cardiac surgery, and the other with lacerations to his face, requiring hospitalization.  Following the attack, Hernandez-Fuentes licked the victims’ blood from the machete and stated that he liked the “taste of victory.” 

The following day, on July 15, 2017, Miralda-Cruz, Hernandez-Fuentes, Gutierrez-Ramos, and another gang member attacked and extorted a third man outside his home in Irving.  Armed with a machete from the night before, Hernandez-Fuentes forced the victim to kneel, then kicked him and stuck him with the machete.  The group demanded the victim, a heroin dealer, pay their MS-13 clique an extortion fee, a “tax,” to deal drugs in their territory.

On Aug. 9, 2017, several gang members attacked another rival gang member at an apartment complex in Dallas, intending to kill the victim.  Armed with a sledgehammer, an icepick, a metal bar, a stick, and a knife, they chased the victim, caught him when he tripped, and then attacked him. The victim, who managed to escape, suffered stab wounds to his back and lacerations on several parts of his body, requiring hospitalization.  

On Aug. 19, 2017, several gang members attacked and robbed another rival gang member at an apartment complex in Irving.  Hernandez-Fuentes approached the victim near a Shell gas station and lured him to a nearby apartment complex where his fellow gang members were waiting.  After robbing the victim, they savagely beat, kicked, and hit him with a metal bat until they thought that he was dead.  The victim suffered a fractured skull and bleeding from his brain, requiring hospitalization. 

In late August, several gang members plotted twice to kill a man believed to be a member of a rival gang.  They first lured the victim to a park in Dallas, where they lay in wait with machetes and a shotgun.  The victim ultimately refused to get out of his car, and they aborted the plan to kill him.  A few days later, they renewed the plot.  At an apartment complex in Dallas, they confronted the victim with a shotgun.  Gutierrez-Ramos pointed the shotgun at the victim’s chest to shoot him, but the weapon jammed and did not fire.  The victim managed to drive away.

On Sept. 25, 2017, Hernandez-Fuentes, Gutierrez-Ramos, and other MS-13 gang members went to Running Bear Park in Irving to ambush and kill a victim whom they believed to be a rival gang member.  Armed with machetes, sticks, and a shotgun, they lured the victim to the park under the guise that they were going to buy a tattoo machine from him.  The victim, however, unexpectedly arrived at the park with three friends.  Nonetheless, the victims were lured to the back of the park where the armed gang was hiding in the woods and waiting to spring.  When the victims arrived near the wooded area, the armed gang confronted them and forced them to kneel.

A brutal attack ensued as the assailants hacked at the four victims with their machetes.  One male victim escaped unscathed.  During the attack, Hernandez-Fuentes hit one male victim with the shotgun and told him not to “mess with the mara (gang).”  At some point, Hernandez-Fuentes got distracted, and the victim ran away.  Hernandez-Fuentes fired at the victim but missed, and the victim escaped by swimming across a pond.  Another male victim also escaped after he sustained a serious cut to his arm, which required hospitalization.  The female victim, however, was not so fortunate.  She was savagely maimed, sustaining multiple deep lacerations to her arms, hands, and leg from the machete attack.  The female victim, who was left for dead badly bleeding in the park, sustained permanent and life-threatening injuries, which required extensive medical care and hospitalization.  After the attack, the attackers drove away with their weapons and property stolen from the victims.  The police arrested the attackers in the days following the savage assault.

Other sentences in the case are as follows:

  • Rolan Ivan Hernandez-Fuentes, aka “Tasmania,” sentenced to life in federal prison for RICO conspiracy  
     
  • Jerson Gutierrez-Ramos, aka “Sparky,” sentenced to 475 months in federal prison for RICO conspiracy
     
  • Arnold Steven Miralda-Cruz, aka “Sico,” sentenced to 210 months in federal prison for RICO conspiracy
     
  • Kevin Cruz, aka “Street Danger,” sentenced to 250 months in federal prison for RICO conspiracy
     
  • Manuel Amaya-Alvarez, aka “Chocolate,” sentenced to 240 months for two counts of attempted murder in aid of racketeering
     
  • Jose Armando Saravia-Romero, aka “Pinky,” sentenced to 57 months in federal prison for assault with a dangerous weapon in aid of racketeering
     
  • Jonathan Alexander Baires, aka “Splinter,” sentenced to 120 months for attempted murder in aid of racketeering

HSI, the Irving Police Department, and the Dallas Police Department conducted the investigation.  Trial Attorney Julie Finocchiaro of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Gary Tromblay and Sid Moody prosecuted the case.

The year 2020 marks the 150th anniversary of the Department of Justice. Learn more about the history of our agency at www.Justice.gov/Celebrating150Years.

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  • Food Safety: CDC Could Further Strengthen Its Efforts to Identify and Respond to Foodborne Illnesses
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    The roles and responsibilities of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) during a multistate foodborne illness outbreak include analyzing federal foodborne illness surveillance networks to identify outbreaks, leading investigations to determine the food causing the outbreak, and communicating with the public. CDC also works to build and maintain federal, state, territorial, and local capacity to respond to foodborne illness outbreaks by awarding funds to state and local public health agencies and through other initiatives. In identifying and responding to multistate foodborne illness outbreaks, CDC faces challenges related to clinical methods and communication, and it has taken some steps to respond to these challenges. One challenge stems from the increasing clinical use of culture-independent diagnostic tests (CIDTs). CIDTs diagnose foodborne illnesses faster and cheaper than traditional methods, but because they do not create DNA fingerprints that can specify a pathogen, they may reduce CDC's ability to identify an outbreak. A CDC working group recommended in May 2018 that CDC develop a plan to respond to the increasing use of CIDTs. By developing a plan, CDC will have greater assurance of continued access to necessary information. CDC also faces a challenge in balancing the competing needs for timeliness and accuracy in its outbreak communications while maintaining public trust. CDC has an internal framework to guide its communications decisions during outbreaks, and it recognizes that stakeholders would like more transparency about these decisions. By making its framework publicly available, CDC could better foster public trust in its information and guidance during outbreaks. CDC has taken steps to evaluate its performance in identifying and responding to multistate outbreaks. Specifically, CDC has developed general strategic goals (see fig.) and taken initial steps to develop performance measures. However, CDC has not yet established other elements of a performance assessment system—an important component of effective program management. CDC's Use of Elements of Program Performance Assessment Systems In particular, CDC has not set specific performance goals, used performance measures to track progress, or conducted a program evaluation of its multistate foodborne illness outbreak investigation efforts. By implementing all elements of a performance assessment system, CDC could better assess its progress toward meeting its goals, identify potentially underperforming areas, and use that information to improve its performance. CDC has estimated that each year, one in six people in the United States gets a foodborne illness, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die. CDC data show increases in the number of reported multistate foodborne illness outbreaks—groups of two or more linked cases in multiple states—in recent years. Such outbreaks are responsible for a disproportionate number of hospitalizations and deaths, compared with single-state outbreaks. GAO was asked to review CDC's response to multistate foodborne illness outbreaks. This report examines (1) CDC's roles and responsibilities, (2) challenges that CDC faces and the extent to which it has addressed these challenges, and (3) the extent to which CDC evaluates its performance. GAO reviewed agency documents and data; conducted site visits and case studies; and interviewed federal, state, and local public health officials, as well as representatives of stakeholder groups. GAO is recommending that CDC (1) develop a plan to respond to the increasing use of CIDTs, (2) make publicly available its decision-making framework for communicating about multistate foodborne illness outbreaks, and (3) implement all the elements of a performance assessment system. CDC concurred with all three recommendations. For more information, contact Steve D. Morris at (202) 512-3841 or morriss@gao.gov.
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  • COVID-19: Federal Efforts Could Be Strengthened by Timely and Concerted Actions
    In U.S GAO News
    In the government’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Congress and the administration have taken action on multiple fronts to address challenges that have contributed to catastrophic loss of life and profound economic disruption. These actions have helped direct much-needed federal assistance to support many aspects of public life, including local public health systems and private-sector businesses. However, the nation faces continued public health risks and economic difficulties for the foreseeable future. Among other challenges, the public health system, already strained from months of responding to COVID-19 cases, will face the additional task of managing the upcoming flu season. At the same time, many of the federal, state, and local agencies responsible for responding to the ongoing public health emergency are called on to prepare for and respond to the current hurricane season. Timely and concerted federal leadership will be required in responding to these and other challenges. GAO has identified lessons learned and issues in need of continued attention by the Congress and the administration, including the need to collect reliable data that can drive decision-making; to establish mechanisms for accountability and transparency; and to protect against ongoing cyber threats to patient information, intellectual property, public health data, and intelligence. Attention to these issues can help to make federal efforts as effective as possible. GAO has also identified a number of opportunities to help the federal government prepare for the months ahead while improving the ongoing federal response: Medical Supply Chain The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), with support from the Department of Defense (DOD), have taken numerous, significant efforts to mitigate supply shortages and expand the medical supply chain. For example, the agencies have coordinated to deliver supplies directly to nursing homes and used Defense Production Act authorities to increase the domestic production of supplies. However, shortages of certain types of personal protective equipment and testing supplies remain due to a supply chain with limited domestic production and high global demand. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and FEMA have both identified shortages, and officials from seven of the eight states GAO interviewed in July and August 2020 identified previous or ongoing shortages of testing supplies, including swabs, reagents, tubes, pipettes, and transport media. Testing supply shortages have contributed to delays in turnaround times for testing results. Delays in processing test results have multiple serious consequences, including delays in isolating those who test positive and tracing their contacts in a timely manner, which can in turn exacerbate outbreaks by allowing the virus to spread undetected. In addition, states and other nonfederal entities have experienced challenges tracking supply requests made through the federal government and planning for future needs. GAO is making the following recommendations: HHS, in coordination with FEMA, should immediately document roles and responsibilities for supply chain management functions transitioning to HHS, including continued support from other federal partners, to ensure sufficient resources exist to sustain and make the necessary progress in stabilizing the supply chain. HHS, in coordination with FEMA, should further develop and communicate to stakeholders plans outlining specific actions the federal government will take to help mitigate supply chain shortages for the remainder of the pandemic. HHS and FEMA—working with relevant stakeholders—should devise interim solutions, such as systems and guidance and dissemination of best practices, to help states enhance their ability to track the status of supply requests and plan for supply needs for the remainder of the COVID-19 pandemic response. HHS and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) objected to GAO’s initial draft recommendations. GAO made revisions based on their comments. GAO maintains that implementation of its modified recommendations is both warranted and prudent. These actions could contribute to ensuring a more effective response by helping to mitigate challenges with the stability of the medical supply chain and the ability of nonfederal partners to track, plan, and budget for ongoing medical supply needs. Vaccines and Therapeutics Multiple federal agencies continue to support the development and manufacturing of vaccines and therapeutics to prevent and treat COVID-19. These efforts are aimed at accelerating the traditional timeline to create a vaccine (see figure). Traditional Timeline for Development and Creation of a Vaccine Note: See figure 5 in the report. As these efforts proceed, clarity on the federal government’s plans for distributing and administering vaccine, as well as timely, clear, and consistent communication to stakeholders and the public about those plans, is essential. DOD is supporting HHS in developing plans for nationwide distribution and administration of a vaccine. In September 2020, HHS indicated that it will soon send a report to Congress outlining a distribution plan, but did not provide a specific date for doing so. GAO recommends that HHS, with support from DOD, establish a time frame for documenting and sharing a national plan for distributing and administering COVID-19 vaccine, and in developing such a plan ensure that it is consistent with best practices for project planning and scheduling and outlines an approach for how efforts will be coordinated across federal agencies and nonfederal entities. DOD partially concurred with the recommendation, clarifying that it is supporting HHS in developing plans for nationwide distribution and administration of vaccine. HHS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation, but noted factors that complicate the publication of a plan. GAO maintains that a time frame is necessary so all relevant stakeholders will be best positioned to begin their planning.On September 16, 2020, HHS and DOD released two documents outlining a strategy for any COVID-19 vaccine. GAO will evaluate these documents and report on them in future work.GAO will also continue to conduct related work, including examining federal efforts to accelerate the development and manufacturing of COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics. COVID-19 Data Data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest a disproportionate burden of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths exists among racial and ethnic minority groups, but GAO identified gaps in these data. To help address these gaps, on July 22, 2020, CDC released a COVID-19 Response Health Equity Strategy. However, the strategy does not assess whether having the authority to require states and jurisdictions to report race and ethnicity information is necessary to ensure CDC can collect such data. CDC’s strategy also does not specify how it will involve key stakeholders, such as health care providers, laboratories, and state and jurisdictional health departments. GAO recommends that CDC (1) determine whether having the authority to require the reporting of race and ethnicity information for cases, hospitalizations, and deaths is necessary for ensuring more complete data, and if so, seek such authority from Congress; (2) involve key stakeholders to help ensure the complete and consistent collection of demographic data; and (3) take steps to help ensure its ability to comprehensively assess the long-term health outcomes of persons with COVID-19, including by race and ethnicity. HHS agreed with the recommendations. In addition, HHS’s data on COVID-19 in nursing homes do not capture the early months of the pandemic. HHS’s Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) began requiring nursing homes to report COVID-19 data to CDC by May 17, 2020, starting with information as of May 8, 2020, but made reporting prior to May 8, 2020 optional. By not requiring nursing homes to submit data from the first 4 months of 2020, HHS is limiting the usefulness of the data in helping to understand the effects of COVID-19 in nursing homes. GAO recommends that HHS, in consultation with CMS and CDC, develop a strategy to capture more complete data on COVID-19 cases and deaths in nursing homes retroactively back to January 1, 2020. HHS partially agreed with this recommendation by noting the value of having complete data, but expressed concern about the burden of collecting it. GAO maintains the importance of collecting these data to inform the government’s continued response and recovery, and HHS could ease the burden by incorporating data previously reported to CDC or to state or local public health offices. Economic Impact Payments The Department of the Treasury’s (Treasury) Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued economic impact payments (EIP) to all eligible individuals for whom IRS has the necessary information to do so; however, not everyone eligible was able to be initially identified. To help ensure all eligible recipients received their payments in a more timely manner, IRS took several actions to address challenges GAO reported on in June, including a policy change—reopening the Non-Filers tool registration period for federal benefit recipients and extending it through September 30—that should allow some eligible recipients to receive supplemental payments for qualifying children sooner than expected. However, Treasury and IRS lack updated information on how many eligible recipients have yet to receive these funds. The lack of such information could hinder outreach efforts and place potentially millions of individuals at risk of missing their payment. GAO recommends that Treasury, in coordination with IRS, (1) update and refine the estimate of eligible recipients who have yet to file for an EIP to help target outreach and communications efforts and (2) make estimates of eligible recipients who have yet to file for an EIP, and other relevant information, available to outreach partners to raise awareness about how and when to file for EIP. Treasury and IRS neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendations and described actions they are taking in concert with the recommendations to notify around 9 million individuals who may be eligible for an EIP. Coronavirus Relief Fund The Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) is the largest program established in the four COVID-19 relief laws that provides aid to states, the District of Columbia, localities, tribal governments, and U.S. territories. Audits of entities that receive federal funds, including CRF payments, are critical to the federal government’s ability to help safeguard those funds. Auditors that conduct single audits follow guidance in the Single Audit Act’s Compliance Supplement, which the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) updates and issues annually in coordination with federal agencies. OMB issued the 2020 Compliance Supplement in August 2020, but the Compliance Supplement specified that OMB is still working with federal agencies to identify the needs for additional guidance for auditing new COVID-19-related programs, including the CRF payments, as well as existing programs with compliance requirement changes. According to OMB, an addendum on COVID-19-related programs, including the CRF payments, will be issued in the fall of 2020. Further delays in issuing this guidance could adversely affect auditors’ ability to issue consistent and timely reports. GAO recommends that OMB, in consultation with Treasury, issue the addendum to the 2020 Compliance Supplement as soon as possible to provide the necessary audit guidance, as many single audit efforts are underway. OMB neither agreed nor disagreed with the recommendation. Guidance for K-12 Schools State and local school district officials tasked with reassessing their operating status and ensuring their school buildings are safe are generally relying on guidance and recommendations from federal, state, and local public health and education officials. However, portions of CDC’s guidance on reopening K-12 schools are inconsistent, and some federal guidance appears misaligned with CDC’s risk-based approach on school operating status. Based on GAO’s review, Education has updated the information and CDC has begun to do so. GAO recommends that CDC ensure that, as it makes updates to its guidance related to schools’ operating status, the guidance is cogent, clear, and internally consistent. HHS agreed with the recommendation. Tracking Contract Obligations Federal agencies are tracking contract actions and associated obligations in response to COVID-19 using a National Interest Action (NIA) code in the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation. The COVID-19 NIA code was established in March 2020 and was recently extended until March 31, 2021, while a draft of this report recommending that DHS and DOD extend the code beyond September 30, 2020, was with the agencies for comment. GAO has identified inconsistencies in establishing and closing these codes following previous emergencies, and has continued concerns with the criteria that DHS and DOD rely on to determine whether to extend or close a code and whether the code meets long-term needs. GAO recommends that DHS and DOD make updates to the 2019 NIA Code Memorandum of Agreement so as to enhance visibility for federal agencies, the public, and Congress on contract actions and associated obligations related to disaster events, and to ensure the criteria for extending or closing the NIA code reflect government-wide needs for tracking contract actions in longer-term emergencies, such as a pandemic. DHS and DOD did not agree, but GAO maintains implementation of its recommendation is essential. Address Cybersecurity Weaknesses Since March 2020, malicious cyber actors have exploited COVID-19 to target organizations that make up the health care and public health critical infrastructure sector, including government entities, such as HHS. GAO has identified numerous cybersecurity weaknesses at multiple HHS component agencies, including CMS, CDC, and FDA, over the last 6 years, such as weaknesses in key safeguards to limit, prevent, and detect inappropriate access to computer resources. Additionally, GAO’s March 2019 high-risk update identified cybersecurity and safeguarding the systems supporting the nation’s critical infrastructure, such as health care, as high-risk areas. As of July 2020, CMS, FDA, and CDC had made significant progress by implementing 350 (about 81 percent) of the 434 recommendations GAO issued in previous reports to address these weaknesses. Based on the imminent cybersecurity threats, GAO recommends that HHS expedite implementation of GAO’s prior recommendations regarding cybersecurity weaknesses at its component agencies. HHS agreed with the recommendation. As of September 10, 2020, the U.S. had over 6.3 million cumulative reported cases of COVID-19 and over 177,000 reported deaths, according to federal agencies. The country also continues to experience serious economic repercussions and turmoil. Four relief laws, including the CARES Act, were enacted as of September 2020 to provide appropriations to address the public health and economic threats posed by COVID-19. As of July 31, 2020, the federal government had obligated a total of $1.6 trillion and expended $1.5 trillion of the COVID-19 relief funds as reported by federal agencies on USAspending.gov. The CARES Act includes a provision for GAO to report bimonthly on its ongoing monitoring and oversight efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic. This third report examines key actions the federal government has taken to address the COVID-19 pandemic and evolving lessons learned relevant to the nation’s response to pandemics. GAO reviewed data, documents, and guidance from federal agencies about their activities and interviewed federal and state officials, as well as industry representatives. GAO is making 16 new recommendations for agencies that are detailed in this Highlights and in the report. For more information, contact A. Nicole Clowers at (202) 512-7114 or clowersa@gao.gov.
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