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Cheese sandwich warning for an SNM ‘rat and a liar’

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — At age 9, Billy Cordova prowled what was known as Albuquerque’s “War Zone” with his street gang.

Billy Cordova

Years later, as a Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico prison gang member, Cordova arranged for a rival drug dealer to be given a “hotshot” balloon of heroin mixed with rat poison. Cordova came by later to pick up the body, which he dumped outside a neighborhood church.

Cordova testified about his criminal past and the lure of the SNM gang as a cooperating witness in the federal SNM racketeering prosecution this year.

To avoid looking weak to his gang, Cordova testified that he beat his wife until she bled internally. He broke her jaw, ribs, arm and the top bridge of her mouth after she violated SNM rules by having an “inappropriate” conversation with another SNM member.

Cordova recalled how he committed home invasions, waterboarding those inside until they confessed to the location of drugs and money.

And he “happily” took orders from SNM leaders to intimidate jurors in the trial of fellow SNM member Michael Astorga, who was ultimately convicted of fatally shooting Bernalillo County sheriff’s deputy James McGrane Jr. in a 2006 traffic stop.

“I was raised as a gangster,” Cordova testified in July. “I learned how to sell drugs from my mom and my dad.”

“Now I’m a rat. I threw away my career being a successful gangster mafioso.”

“In the SNM I felt like a human with superpowers. Once I stripped that from myself, I didn’t know how to feel. I lost that identity. I lost all my friendships,” Cordova added.

The conversion of 34-year-old Cordova from violent criminal to government informant has “been like learning how to walk, talk and crawl again,” he testified.

But Cordova realized when he was approached by an FBI-led team investigating the SNM in 2016 that “they could help me walk away from the life I was living.”

“I was a bad person,” Cordova testified. “I was an awful person. I was a parasite of the community. Now I’m a work in progress … at least I took the step to be one less parasite on the streets of Albuquerque.”

Cordova, who said he has 20 more months to serve in state prison on a manslaughter charge, hadn’t yet been charged in the federal racketeering case when he agreed to become a cooperator.

“I was tired of all the violence,” he testified. “I was tired of all the betrayal. Once you get so far up in the organization, you start seeing there’s no brotherhood, there’s no loyalty. It’s all politics. Dirty politics.”

Though SNM operates from New Mexico prisons, the gang relies on members released from prison to further its criminal enterprise through drug trafficking and violent crimes, he testified. SNM furnishes “start-up” kits of drugs, weapons and money to help convicts returning to the streets, cooperators testified.

“SNM is our everything. Our religion. Our beliefs. It comes before your family, your kids, even before yourself. It’s what we call ‘onda’; it’s our destiny.”

After assaults, murders, attacks on corrections officers and earning his “bones” to become an SNM brother, “you get tired,” Cordova said.

For instance, on deliveries with other SNM members, he testified, “You’re thinking, ‘Am I going to come out alive of this house?’ ”

He told jurors he wanted only one SNM “brother” at a time with him when he drove places “because I couldn’t trust four brothers with me in my car. That’s how bad it got within that organization.”

Cordova testified he was tired of “always having to carry a shank up my rectum, never knowing when you’re going to come off the (prison) tier and the politics was not going to be in your favor that time, and you’ll be next on the list.”

Cordova hopes to someday “maintain a civil life, a regular life” in a federal witness security program. But in April he was indicted on a charge of assaulting a correctional officer at the Southern New Mexico Correctional facility. Trial is set for December.

Two days after testifying in July, Cordova found a sack lunch outside his prison cell. The sandwich inside contained an anonymous note inserted between two pieces of cheese, according to an FBI search warrant affidavit. The note called him a “rat and a liar” and threatened his family.

No arrests were made in the threat, but the affidavit shows that the FBI discovered the sack lunch came from another state prison more than 78 miles away.

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