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Ex-gang members help break grip of massive prison gang SNM


Lupe Urquizo is the latest alleged Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico gang member to be charged in a massive federal racketeering investigation led by the FBI. (Source: New Mexico Department of Corrections)

Copyright © 2017 Albuquerque Journal

Loyalty is prized within the notorious Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico prison gang. But it only goes so far, as revealed in a new criminal complaint filed in the massive New Mexico federal racketeering prosecution.

More than 30 former members and leaders of SNM have been secretly cooperating with law enforcement to help break the decades-old grip of the alleged murderous New Mexico prison gang, according to an FBI arrest warrant affidavit filed Aug. 31.

More than 20 members inside the gang are described as “confidential human sources,” according to the affidavit written by FBI Special Agent Bryan Acee, the lead investigator in the case.

The affidavit relates to the arrest of Lupe Urquizo, aka “Marijuano,” who is accused of assaulting inmates, correctional officers, committing arson, and acting as a messenger within the prison system to help communicate planned hits on other inmates.

He is the latest suspect charged.

Over the past two years, about 114 suspected members and associates of the gang have been arrested. More than 80 have been charged with federal crimes, Acee’s affidavit states.

The majority of those have pleaded guilty, the affidavit stated. Court records show that less than 15 defendants are awaiting trial, which has been delayed until next July.

The prosecution contends that SNM is a violent and powerful racketeering enterprise that extends beyond prison walls.

But at least one defense attorney has claimed that some people have been threatened by law enforcement agents with “inclusion” in the racketeering prosecution if they didn’t agree to cooperate and give statements.

“There is a great risk that these coercive police tactics will produce involuntary statements,” stated a motion filed in February by attorney Amy Sirignano, who represents defendant Christopher Garcia.

Garcia, in April, lamented that FBI agents came to his jail cell in Santa Fe to obtain a court-approved DNA sample.

“You make it look like people are talking to you,” Garcia told the agents. “You know, divide and conquer.” His conversation was revealed in a transcript filed in the criminal case.

Security was tight when members of the Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico prison gang were transported to U.S. District Court in Albuquerque for a pre-trial hearing in 2016. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

The SNM gang has roots dating back to the 1980 deadly riot at the state Penitentiary in Santa Fe. It grew to about 500 members over the years.

Release from prison didn’t necessarily end a gang member’s affiliation, Acee’s recent affidavit stated.

“When SNM Gang members or associates completed their sentences and rejoined their communities, they were expected to remain loyal to the SNM Gang and work to further the goals of the … gang outside the prison environment,” he wrote.

“Those who failed to show continued loyalty to the gang were disciplined in various ways, to include murder and assault. One of the significant goals of the gang was to control and profit from narcotics trafficking,” Acee’s affidavit added.

The FBI-led investigation began in early 2015 after the FBI received word that SNM leaders planned to kill then-state Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel and another top corrections official. Investigators learned later that year that incarcerated leaders “directed members on the street to acquire firearms and kill the NMCD officials,” the affidavit stated.

The plot was ultimately foiled with the first of three waves of federal grand jury indictments against SNM members and associates.

In Urquizo’s case, he is alleged to have discussed killing another gang member believed to have cooperated with law enforcement during an investigation. Under SNM protocol, “paperwork” must be produced detailing the reasons or proof of wrongdoing before a “hit” can occur.

Urquizo maintained the paperwork for the hit and agreed to take it to other members at the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility in March 2014, the affidavit alleges.

This is one of the tattoos authorities found on the torso of a member of the Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico prison gang. (Source: New Mexico Department of Corrections)

Urquizo also allegedly discussed the fact that one of SNM’s gang leaders had failed to cover a security camera during the March 7, 2014, fatal stabbing of SNM member Javier Molina. That gang leader, identified as Daniel Sanchez, was also blamed for failing to dispose of the shank used in the stabbing. The “hit” on Sanchez was averted when corrections officials transferred him to a prison out of state.

Urquizo was also alleged to have been found with a homemade tattoo machine in his prison cell. SNM members are known to identify themselves by their tattoos, Acee’s affidavit stated.

Meanwhile, court records show there has been at least one hitch as the parties prepare for trial. The U.S. Attorney’s Office provided the defendants with discovery materials via electronic tablets because of the thousands of documents generated in the investigation.

But in April, U.S. District Judge James O. Browning ordered the tablets seized, at least temporarily, after a confidential witness at the Sandoval County Detention Center told FBI agent Acee that the security controls on the tablets “can be bypassed and reset,” allowing defendants to wipe away the discovery material from the tablets and gain access to the Internet and camera functions of the tablets.

As proof, court records state, the confidential witness sent Acee an email and a photo he had taken of himself in his jail cell.