Federal prosecutors are pushing for the maximum five-year sentence for the criminal informant who was shaping up to be their star witness in the case against San Francisco's MS-13 clique. But his future took a turn when Roberto Acosta was instead convicted for lying
to his handlers about his mass-murdering past. He will be sentenced next Wednesday in federal court.
Acosta, known as "Bad Boy," was a member -- some gang members would argue a leader -- of the San Francisco 20th Street clique at the time that he was tape recording meetings and turning that information over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.
As covered in an April cover story
, the federal grand jury indicted him in March for lying to his handlers about the amount of people he'd killed in his native Honduras. He was convicted by a jury in July, and never ended up testifying in the trial that came to an end in August when six of the seven MS-13 defendants were found guilty of RICO conspiracy.
In court documents filed Tuesday, federal prosecutors said they were "tricked" by Acosta, and are asking that he be locked up for 60 months, or five years -- the maximum sentence allowed under law. Meanwhile, Acosta's defense attorney, Elena Condes, says Acosta has already served eight months of time and should be let out of jail now.
Prosecutors say Acosta should get the maximum amount of time behind bars "for the defendant's murders of at least eight people and his attempt to wring benefits from the government by lying about those murders," the court filing states. "He gamed the system by lying about his past, and he should not be rewarded for it."
Acosta received immigration parole, work permits, and relocation costs for himself and his family.
"..The defendant was not entitled to trick the government into giving him immigration benefits and cash rewards, albeit in exchange for valuable information, by lying about his own criminal conduct," the court filing reads. "As Special Agent [Christopher] Merendino testified, the defendant would never have been given the opportunity to act as an informant for the government if the agents knew that he had committed eight murders."
Acosta, who signed on as an ICE informant in March 2005, was debriefed many times in 2008 by a team investigating his criminal history in the United States and Honduras, according to the court document: "...despite being asked point blank about whether he had committed murder, the defendant denies having done so." At the same time, as covered in our story, one MS-13 gang member says Acosta bragged about his past murders to increase his street cred in San Francisco.
Yet in a February meeting with federal agents meant to prepare Acosta for the impending trial, Acosta admitted to shooting a robbery victim in the shoulder. The prosecutor pushed further, asking how many times he'd fired a weapon. Acosta said he'd shot a gun more than 20 times, but didn't know whether he had fired more 30 rounds.
Then the gruesome details started to pour out: Acosta said that after his time in prison he was sent from the industrial town of San Pedro Sula to the capital of Tegucigalpa to help run the "struggling" MS-13 gang clique there. He was supposed to solidify MS-13's drug strongholds in certain neighborhoods and make sure people were following the gang's rules, according to court testimony. As came out at the MS-13 trial, the rules of the gang usually involve paying dues and committing acts of violence against rivals.
That's when Acosta's string of murders started. Acosta admitted to the handlers he killed five people himself, and "orchestrated the murder of three others," according to the court document. He shot a rival drug dealer dead in the street on orders from the gang. He killed two other rival gang members after he and other MS-13 gang members riding in a car spotted them crossing the street. The fourth victim was a woman who he and another gang member drove to the outskirts of Tegucigalpa and shot dead. The fifth was a female MS-13 member, who begged for her life before he shot her execution-style.
Acosta was ordered to kill two other women who were not members of the gang, but he testified at his trial he instead got other members of the gang to take them "out into the woods and strangle them, and then ... had taxi drivers come and pick up the bodies and dispose of the bodies."
Up tomorrow: Acosta's defense attorney makes a case for letting him out of jail.