By Erin Sherbert
By Erin Sherbert
By Leif Haven
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By Chris Roberts
By Kate Conger
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"He's the one no one could touch," David says. "If you didn't follow the rules, he apparently would call Honduras or El Salvador to say, 'Someone's not following the rules.'" In a mental exam with a government-contracted psychiatrist, defendant Jonathan Cruz-Ramirez said Bad Boy and Jaime Martinez would threaten his life if "he didn't do what was asked of him," the doctor wrote. Cruz-Ramirez is accused of murdering one man in the indictments.
Bad Boy recorded a meeting in which he was the first to bring up the subject of tattoos. He was an unlicensed tattoo artist, inking more than a dozen gang members — many of them just teenagers — with MS-13 symbols in his bedroom. He wielded a homemade contraption with a guitar string needle and a CD player motor, David remembers.
In December 2005, David participated in a press conference with his attorney, Karl Krooth, about being wrongfully targeted in the Mission gang sweep. Krooth was applying for asylum on his behalf. Bad Boy accused David of, ironically, being a snitch. "He said I was giving out information," he says. Bad Boy told him the only way to prove his loyalty was to get a tattoo. "What could I do? I couldn't refuse," David says.
When he spoke with SF Weekly, David lifted up his prison-issued shirt to reveal the devil's horns hand symbol etched into his chest. David says he showed it to Bad Boy after he'd gotten it done by a professional: "He knew that would ruin my immigration case." David knew it, too; he skipped his court date, knowing he was trapped inside MS-13 with no legal recourse. "Once you're inside the gang, you can't refuse to do things."
Meanwhile, the government showered Bad Boy with benefits, defense attorney Mark Rosenbush told the jury this month. He got immigration relief and work permits for himself, his wife, and mother-in-law, who were all in the country illegally. After he told ICE his family was threatened in Honduras for problems with the gang, ICE spent $18,000 to move 11 family members to the United States. The total bill to support him? $175,000.
Even before he revealed his murderous past to prosecutors, Bad Boy hadn't been the most reliable informant. In his first year of informing, he stopped reporting to his handlers, who then deactivated him. He was eventually deported in August 2006, says defense attorney Peter Goodman. Still, he returned to the country illegally, and contacted ICE to ask if they'd take him back. Bad Boy got his second chance.
In spring 2008, Abraham Martinez received a call from his Uncle Snoopy. With a shaved head and cartoonish mustache in the government's menacing snapshot, Snoopy (born Freddie Martinez) had been deported from San Francisco. He was using a cellphone he'd smuggled into prison, where he told Abraham he was being held for murder. His message: Check Uncle Mickey off the list. Have him killed. He's a snitch.
David says fellow gang members had always suspected Mickey, an attractive, curly-haired pot-smoking slacker who usually never had money or a job and was always asking people for rides.
Yet the MS-13 culture is surprisingly cautious about whacking suspected rats: Suspicions must be confirmed by documentation. Snoopy said Mickey's girlfriend had sent him a letter in which Mickey confessed to informing. Abraham testified that he didn't consider that strong enough evidence, and ignored it.
Of course, Mickey actually was an informant. He had been since two years prior, when he entered ICE custody after being arrested on a gun possession charge. He was set for deportation to El Salvador in January 2006 when Special Agent Christopher Merendino offered him a chance to stay if he'd snitch on his homeys, Mickey later testified. Mickey signed on, saying later it was for his family and his fear of being deported.
Suddenly Mickey was raking in $300 to $600 for a piece of information, he said; later on, he earned a steady $2,000 a month. He estimated the payments added up to $50,000 in all. The feds promised him an S-visa, nicknamed the "snitch visa," and also gave immigration relief and work permits to his common-law wife and grandmother. Defense attorney Mark Rosenbush says ICE spent $89,000 relocating the family to protect them.
The indictment shows that the great majority of the gang's gun offenses and all of the alleged homicides started after 2005. Abraham testified that the gang had started stowing guns in the garden of an apartment alongside Mission Playground, with a member designated to take them home at the end of the day. Mickey was right alongside — even in the driver's seat — of 20th Street's increasingly violent agenda.
In 2006, Mickey ordered Abraham to kill an affiliate of the Los Angeles 18th Street gang, a rival Sureño gang, after Abraham had been spotted hanging out with him in the Mission Playground. (Abraham claims he never saw the man again and didn't go through with the hit.)
After a clique meeting in 2007, Mickey and Abraham spotted men wearing Norteño red at a party near 20th and Shotwell streets, considered Sureño turf. This time it was Abraham's idea to shoot them for the perceived disrespect; Mickey agreed to drive him there. The gang's policy bans drive-by shootings, Abraham says, because there's a greater possibility innocent people will get hurt. (MS-13 rules usually allow attacks only on gang members.) So Mickey stopped the van down the block, where Abraham and an allied 19th Street Sureño member got out. With a shirt tied around his face, Abraham yelled "MS-13!" and unloaded two rounds from a sawed-off shotgun toward the crowd, while the 19th Streeter shot eight rounds from a .45. Mickey then sped the triggermen home, never knowing whether anyone was hit.