Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
An FBI team sent a Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico prison gang member to work undercover as a prospective hit man in the race to foil the gang’s plot to kill top state Corrections Department officials in 2015, according to federal court testimony Wednesday.
That SNM member-turned-cooperator helped thwart the murder mission and provided other key information for the effort to dismantle the violent prison gang, FBI Special Agent Bryan Acee told a federal court jury in Albuquerque.
For instance, the cooperator, Mario Montoya, revealed that he’d been involved a decade ago in another SNM murder conspiracy, and the target ended up dead.
That information, and other corroboration, led to the federal prosecution of the alleged gunman in the 2005 fatal shooting of Shane Dix in the South Valley, testified Acee, the lead case agent in the massive three-year federal investigation.
Anthony “Antone” Cordova, 53, is now on trial on federal charges of committing a violent act, namely Dix’s murder, to further the SNM’s racketeering enterprise. Cordova, whose attorneys say he has never been an SNM member, could face life in prison if convicted.
He has pleaded not guilty, and on Wednesday one of his attorneys, Marcia Morrissey, told jurors that the cooperator, Montoya, can’t be believed and is just one of the criminals “who have hopped on the gravy train operated by the government. They have to sing for their supper.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Beck told jurors that Cordova, an alleged SNM associate, was paired with Montoya to commit the murder on the orders of SNM’s main drug dealer on Albuquerque’s streets, Chris Garcia. Garcia had been shot in the stomach a year earlier by Dix, a member of a rival gang. Garcia in January pleaded guilty in the Dix murder as well as the corrections officials’ attempted murder.
Beck told jurors that Garcia’s shooting was an act of disrespect to the SNM, whose message is “you will respect us, or end up dead.”
Up until the FBI became involved, the Dix murder was a “cold case,” unsolved for a decade by the Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office.
SNM, which has controlled the state’s prisons for years, became the focus of the federal investigation after the FBI learned in March 2015 that SNM leaders in prison were recruiting members on the streets to kill then-state Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel, and two other high-ranking officials in the corrections security threat unit.
As an SNM member under FBI scrutiny, Montoya was arrested on drug charges in September 2015. He agreed to cooperate and ultimately wore a body wire when he picked up a gun from Garcia for the corrections officials’ murder on Nov. 29, 2015. After listening to the recording, the FBI team took less than a week to seek indictments and arrest 40 people in the case in December 2015.
Altogether, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has indicted 90 SNM members and associates, about 30 charged with federal racketeering and other offenses. Cordova, who isn’t implicated in the Marcantel attempted murder, is the last defendant arrested in the federal prosecution to go to trial.