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Government witness gunned down outside home

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

A man who testified against a violent New Mexico prison gang last year was gunned down outside his home late Monday night, according to the Las Vegas Police Department.

LVPD Investigator Caleb Marquez said 48-year-old Leroy “Smurf” Lucero, a former member of Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico who later became a government witness, was shot multiple times around 11:30 p.m. in front of his house in the 200 block of San Miguel.

Marquez said police have no suspects in custody and have not determined a motive in the slaying.

“We have no reason to believe anybody else is in danger,” he said.

Marquez gave no other details and would not say whether the FBI was involved in the investigation.

An FBI spokesperson would neither confirm nor deny that the agency was investigating the shooting.

As recently as last summer, Lucero’s lawyer told a federal judge during trial in the SNM murder in aid of racketeering case against Anthony “Antone” Cordova that his client didn’t want to testify in the case.

“Someone came to his door with a gun asking for Smurf,” the attorney told the court.

Lucero didn’t take the witness stand and left the Albuquerque courtroom shortly thereafter.

But Lucero was a key witness for the government in the trial of seven SNM defendants in May 2018.

During that trial, Lucero testified about SNM crimes, including the directive that led to the murders of two inmates at the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility in 2001.

In a case that had gone unprosecuted until the FBI initiated its racketeering investigation in 2015, inmates Frank Castillo and Rolando Garza were strangled to death at the same time in separate areas of the prison outside Las Cruces on Mar. 26, 2001.

Lucero said the murders occurred after he was transferred out of the prison, but he was aware they were being planned.

Defendants Joe Lawrence Gallegos, Edward Troup and Billy Garcia were found guilty in Castillo’s murder, and Garcia was also convicted in Garza’s death. All three were sentenced to life in federal prison last month.

During the trial, lead FBI case agent Bryan Acee testified that during Lucero’s time with the prison gang he had been “regarded as senior member (of SNM) and well-respected.”

In the 1990s, Lucero served state prison sentences for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and possession of heroin. He testified that he joined the prison gang in 1990 “by committing assaults.”

He also said he had used heroin since the age of 15, and had done time at six different state and federal prisons.

He was, for a time, one of the leaders of the SNM gang at the Las Cruces area state prison, testimony showed.

Lucero told the federal court jury that he “dropped out” of the gang in about 2007 or 2008.

“I just threw in the towel,” Lucero said of his decision to “debrief” with law enforcement while he was serving time at a federal maximum security prison in Pennsylvania. “I wanted to go home.”

At the time of his court testimony last year, Lucero was back in the community after finishing up a federal prison sentence months earlier related to a charge of felon in possession of a 12-gauge Mossberg shotgun, which he kept under a mattress at his home.

During the FBI-led investigation of SNM, which had formed after the deadly 1980 prison riot at the state Penitentiary of New Mexico in Santa Fe, numerous gang leaders and members were convinced to cooperate with the government.

The prosecution, which also helped solve at least seven cold case murders, showed that all understood the gang’s potential payback for informants.

“If you snitch, you get killed,” said one of the cooperators and former SNM leaders on the witness stand.

Last summer, the FBI also investigated threats against the family of another witness against the gang.

According to a search warrant affidavit, inmate Billy Cordova, who was in protective custody, received a written note that referenced a violent kidnapping and murder.

The note claimed that the author had photos of Cordova’s ex-wife and Cordova’s children.

The note was found inside a cheese sandwich sent to Cordova in a sack lunch.

Cordova did not usually receive sack lunches and was suspicious of the package when he received it.

Agents were investigating two minimum security inmates who packed the lunches and who were recorded on video writing the note and putting it into the sack lunch delivered to Cordova.

The Journal couldn’t find any criminal charges resulting from the investigation.

According to an obituary printed in the Las Vegas Optic, Lucero left behind a wife as well as several children and grandchildren. “He was Catholic. He enjoyed fishing with his son and grandkids. He enjoyed baseball and spending time with his family,” the obituary states.

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