Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal
With an unprecedented federal prosecution pending against dozens of its members and associates, the notorious Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico prison gang has fought back in recent months by marking victims, witnesses, informants and even perceived informants for death, according to newly released court documents.
Gang members have gone so far as to have discussed killing FBI agents and blowing up a federal building in response to the multi-agency investigation and prosecution of Syndicato members.
In response, an FBI-led team of law enforcement agents earlier this month conducted simultaneous nighttime raids on eight homes in Albuquerque and other locations to send a message to SNM to stop the intimidation and threats.
The Syndicato tactics outlined in court documents are stunning.
• A victim scheduled to testify in an aggravated battery case against an SNM member was beaten with clubs and hit in the head with a machete until he lost consciousness and was left for dead.
• Another was shot several times just days after trying to order heroin from the mother of an SNM member who got suspicious and refused to make the sale.
• A woman whose husband was considered a “snitch” has resorted to wearing a bullet-resistant vest, which she uses to cover her young child when they travel in the car.
• SNM even discussed a plot for a gang member to get arrested on a federal parole violation so he could go to federal prison and gain access to and kill a former SNM leader, the first defendant to plead guilty in an agreement that implicated a top gang boss.
• Just recently, discovery material in the ongoing federal criminal racketeering prosecutions of incarcerated SNM members was secretly passed around by the defendants to try to identify cooperators and witnesses for possible hits.
The law hits back
Federal authorities seeking a U.S. Magistrate’s permission to conduct the searches stated in court documents that they hoped to find more evidence of the threats being perpetrated.
“I believe the mere execution of the requested search warrants, combined with subject interviews, will likely dissuade the Target subjects and mitigate the threats,” lead FBI agent Bryan Acee said in an 80-page search warrant affidavit unsealed last week.
Drugs, weapons and other items were seized, according to search warrant records which listed a dozen target suspects.
SNM has been in existence since about 1980 and has “amassed dozens of homicides in furtherance of the gang,” according to the affidavit.
“SNM-generated crimes are not random, SNM members do not act alone, SNM affairs are widespread within the prison system and on the streets, and SNM members engage in criminal activity for sustained periods of time,” the affidavit stated.
Speaking with law enforcement is forbidden and to do so “may result in the SNM member’s violent death at the hands of his fellow gang members,” the affidavit stated.
The Justice Department’s pending violent crimes and racketeering case in New Mexico against SNM members is “perhaps the single largest and most complicated prosecution this district has ever seen,” according to a Sept. 7 defense team motion that noted the allegations span three decades.
One of the key houses searched on Sept. 8 was a Valley Gardens Circle residence in the South Valley that has been raided three times since March by various law enforcement agencies investigating different crimes.
It was raided last March by the Albuquerque SWAT team and more recently by agents with the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms – even while FBI agents assigned to the SNM case had it under surveillance.
The search warrant affidavit also says that SNM may have been involved in supplying the weapon used in the Feb. 5 murder of Army veteran Tyler Lackey during a robbery attempt at an ATM in southeast Albuquerque.
The SWAT officers on March 31 of this year, acting on behalf of Albuquerque police homicide detectives, executed a search warrant at the home to look for a handgun used in the murder.
An SNM member told detectives that he had sold the gun used in that murder for $200 to a known parolee who frequented the Valley Gardens house for drugs.
The 5 a.m. search of the home Sept. 8 by the FBI-led SNM team resulted in the recovery of two handguns, but it was unclear if either was linked to the Army veteran’s murder. The suspect in Lackey’s death, Matthew Chavez, is serving a three-year prison sentence in Oklahoma for a robbery committed days after the Lackey murder, while the murder case against him in Albuquerque is on hold.
Murder plot foiled
The FBI set its sights on SNM as a criminal racketeering enterprise in March 2015 when word leaked that an SNM leader was planning to kill New Mexico Corrections Secretary Gregg Marcantel and another top corrections department official. The plot was to involve SNM members who had been in prison but were now living on the streets.
After months of collecting intelligence, including telephone intercepts, more than 24 SNM members were indicted in December on charges of violent crimes in aid of racketeering and the murder plot was foiled.
The FBI dubbed its crackdown “Operation Atonement.”
Then, in April, a new round of indictments added four new defendants. Meanwhile, undercover agents were infiltrating the gang, and making scores of drug and weapons arrests of associates and others linked to SNM. At least 79 defendants have been caught up in the crackdown, according to the affidavit.
To date, all but two defendants in the racketeering case have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial in U.S. District Court.
Former SNM leader, Gerald “Styx” Archuleta, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiring to seriously injure another gang member in a deal in which he implicated the current SNM boss, Anthony “Pup” Baca.
Archuleta will receive no more than three years in prison under the deal. A sentencing date hasn’t been set. According to the search warrant affidavit, SNM members believe Archuleta is a “snitch.” He is now a marked man.
A second defendant, Roy Paul Martinez, pleaded guilty in Las Cruces on Thursday to participating in the murder plot of Corrections chief Marcantel. Martinez also implicated Baca and said the hit of Corrections officials was to be payback for sending Baca to an out-of-state prison a few years ago.
Discovery material exchanged
SNM has about 200 members inside New Mexico state prisons but its reach extends to gang members who have served time and are now selling drugs and committing other crimes in Albuquerque and elsewhere.
Just last month, SNM leaders out on the streets called for a meeting among members “to re-organize the gang and ‘hit’ certain informants and witnesses who were suspected of cooperating with the FBI,” the search warrant affidavit stated.
That same month, as part of the legal discovery process in the case, SNM racketeering defendants were provided discovery showing the evidence against each of them via Samsung Tablet devices. The devices contain thousands of pages of discovery material prosecutors are obligated to turn over to defense lawyers in such cases.
The material included recorded conversations and videos.
“The discovery material created a renewed call for violence against anyone who had ‘snitched’ or cooperated with the government,” the affidavit stated.
FBI agent Acee stated in the affidavit that he became aware in early September “that some SNM racketeering defendants have been secretly exchanging Samsung Tablet devices that contain the discovery … to show other members who some of the informants and cooperators are.”
An Aug. 4 search of an SNM pod at the Torrance County Detention Center that holds 18 SNM defendants awaiting trial turned up three “shanks,” according to the affidavit.
SNM members outside prison walls are also buying brand new bullet-resistant vests.
The search warrant affidavit states that the FBI is working with certain SNM members as informants. “I recognize that their (the informants) cooperation with the FBI is a serious betrayal to the SNM. I am certain that all … informants, once their identities are revealed will be marked for death by the gang,” FBI agent Acee stated in the affidavit.
The affidavit listed 10 examples of the SNM’s threats since February.
For instance, an SNM member was heard on a “covert FBI recording device” talking to other known SNM members about killing FBI agents and blowing up a federal building due to the FBI’s investigation of SNM.
In July, a confidential informant was the victim of a fire-bombing at his home, in which someone threw a Molotov cocktail incendiary device into his residence and started a fire.
Meanwhile, another informant who suffered wounds from a machete has apparently recovered.
Before SNM member Samuel Silva was to be tried for a 2014 carjacking, he provided addresses and photos of the two carjacking victims to “get members on the street organized and to hit the two victims” before his trial started this summer. But a confidential informant got wind of the plot, and the victims weren’t harmed. On Aug. 16, Silva was found guilty of carjacking and using a firearm during a crime of violence after a one-day trial. Court records show that the two victims didn’t testify.
In another case, an incarcerated SNM member had a “female on the outside that was pulling police reports” and trying to locate a victim and a witness. SNM member said his female friend could be trusted because “she knew where a body was and she never said (anything),” the affidavit stated.
SNM uses female family members and girlfriends to pass messages to other members of the gang and smuggle drugs into prison, the affidavit added.
The affidavit also revealed that SNM’s influence has now spread to the federal prison system.
After forming in the New Mexico prison system after the 1980 state penitentiary riot, SNM has dozens of members serving time in federal prison or on federally supervised probation or parole, the affidavit states.
For instance, one of the search warrants was executed on the Beaumont, Texas, federal prison cell of Frankie Gallegos, a “validated member of the SNM,” who is believed to be the highest ranking member of the SNM within the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. Two of his brothers are charged in the New Mexico SNM prosecution.
SNM in the federal system appears to be preparing for an influx of defendants once the New Mexico racketeering prosecution is over.
“The SNM in the feds … would ‘hit’ Styx (Archuleta) and a few other ‘vatos’ once they arrived,” the affidavit quoted two SNM members as saying. “They needed to keep their federal brothers informed on the progress of the case so they (the fed SNM) could receive the ‘good brothers’ and ‘hit all the ratas.’ ”
Another former member of SNM, who left the gang several years ago and went through a gang dropout program at the state Corrections Department, has also been targeted to be killed, the affidavit stated.
Discussions at the Valley Gardens home in the South Valley included plans on how to get a perceived informant hit once he was lured to the house, and how to get rid of the body, the affidavit stated. “The group discussed the benefits of giving him a ‘hotshot’ (lethal dose of heroin) versus just shooting him.”