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DA holds news conference to discuss 16 indicted street gang members

By Gheni_Platenburg
Oct. 18, 2010 at 5:18 a.m.

Top row: 1. Richard Carisalez, 2. Jose Celis, 3. Hilario Figirova, 4. Gilbert Llamas.
Second row: 5. Robert John Lindstrom, 6. Angel Lozano, 7. Joe Brian Martinez, 8. Joe Mendoza IV.
Third row: 9. Timothy Mendoza III, 10. Marcus Perez, 11. Christopher Allen Rivera, 12. Ramiro Eddie Salas.
Fourth row: 13. Robert Joshua Saldana, 14. Jeffrey Soto, 15. John Anthony Trevino, 16. Joe G. Villarreal.

Grand jury indictments of 16 gang members last week may lead to closure of murder and attempted murder cases that date back to 2001.

The gang members belonged to the gang Hermanos Pistoleros Latinos. The indictments are one of the largest crackdowns on that gang in Victoria's history, said Victoria County District Attorney Steve Tyler on Monday during a news conference.

"This jurisdiction put a heavy dent in the HPL," Tyler said.

The Victoria County Sheriff's Office, Victoria Police Department, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Texas Department of Public Safety collaborated on the indictments, which are linked to six different cases.

The cases, all of which are murder or attempted murder cases, span from 2001 to 2008.

The evidence needed to solve the cases stemmed from a May 2009 drug bust, during which a Victoria police K-9 Unit intercepted a package of marijuana.

With the help of the Victoria police's special crimes unit, of which former police Sgt. Sam Eyre was a member, officers were able to convince one of the people affiliated with the marijuana case to cooperate with law enforcement, which led to the HPL being infiltrated, Tyler said.

The infiltration resulted in 17 indictments. Information gathered from pursuing those cases led to 16 of the men being indicted last week, some of whom were indicted multiple times.

"Each one of these cases, we got some fresh evidence," Tyler said. "Each one of these were kept alive by their respective agencies."

All but three of the men have already been arrested.

Next, the defendants will go to trial, the first of which is Jose Celis, aka "Tiger," who is set to go to trial in February on murder and aggravated assault charges.

Tyler credited the law enforcement agencies for their help.

"When the officers keep these cases alive, when the officers help disrupt the gang, they protect our communities and our families," Tyler said. "I think they should be congratulated on the work that they've done."

The Victoria County Sheriff's Office and the Department of Public Safety declined to comment on the indictments, and I.C.E. officials did not immediately return The Advocate's messages seeking comment.

Eyre, who now works as an investigator for the Victoria County District Attorney's Office, was instrumental in helping to not only keep the cases alive, but also for his help in solving them.

"They shouldn't be forgotten just because they are old murders," said Eyre, who worked on many of the original cases during his time with Victoria police. "It was important to me at the District Attorney's Office to talk with the district attorney to see what we could possibly do to solve these unsolved crimes."

The indictments are just a portion of what Tyler said the District Attorney's Office has planned for the crackdown on the HPL, which starts its recruitment at middle schools and at 400 members including its esquinas is the largest of the Victoria-area gangs.

"We're working with both federal and state agencies to track back the funding, to track back the business of the HPL," Tyler said. "This is a real and imminent threat in our community."

He said 85 percent of all murders in this jurisdiction are gang-related.

Tyler hopes the indictments send a simple message to other gang members: "We don't want them in our community."



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