Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
The first day of testimony began Wednesday in Las Cruces as the long-running federal racketeering prosecution of members of the Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico prison gang nears an end.
Angel DeLeon, a Mexican national, is charged in the 2001 murder of Frank Castillo, an inmate at the Southern New Mexico Correctional Facility.
DeLeon was indicted in 2015 in the first phase of the FBI-led investigation, which was triggered in part by the discovery of a murder conspiracy to kill top state Corrections Department officials.
DeLeon, who was not involved in that foiled plot, is alleged to have helped strangle Castillo to death while both were incarcerated at the prison, outside Las Cruces. He had been deported to Mexico in 2002, and the case remained unsolved for years. He has pleaded not guilty.
DeLeon, 42, was one of 30 defendants indicted on the federal racketeering charges in recent years, but he wasn’t arrested until 2019 after being extradited from Mexico.
The federal prosecution has resulted in more than 150 arrests of SNM members and associates, most of whom have been convicted. Ten SNM members have been convicted at trial on charges of engaging in violent crimes in aid of racketeering to further the gang’s criminal enterprise.
The SNM gang, operating since 1980, is ultraviolent and has had up to 500 members inside and outside prison walls, federal prosecutors say.