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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

San Francisco MS-13 Gang Wasn't Violent Enough for Edwin Ramos, Witness Says

Posted By on Wed, Apr 27, 2011 at 4:10 PM

Accused murderer of the Bologna family jumped into a more violent clique in Richmond, witness testifies. One attorney alleges the murders could have been prevented had federal agents deported Ramos when they first knew about his crimes.

Edwin Ramos wasn't indicted with the 24 alleged MS-13 gangsters in Operation Devil Horns.
  • Edwin Ramos wasn't indicted with the 24 alleged MS-13 gangsters in Operation Devil Horns.
Edwin Ramos is a toxic name in San Francisco. He's the Salvadoran accused of killing an innocent father and his two sons in the Excelsior in 2008, setting off a nationwide blowback against San Francisco's sanctuary city policy. Ramos is facing state charges and is scheduled for trial in San Francisco Superior Court in June.

Even Ramos' attorney, Marla Zamora, says some friends have spurned her for defending him.

Ramos was not included when the feds indicted the MS-13 gang for racketeering conspiracy in 2008. But new details about him have emerged during the federal trial of seven accused gangsters -- the subject of our cover story today.

Abraham Martinez, an ex-MS-13 member, testified against his former homeys in the trial earlier this month. He said that Ramos had been a member of the transnational gang's 20th Street Clique in the Mission, going by the moniker "Popeye," until he decided the gang wasn't violent enough around 2005.

Meanwhile, another attorney defending an alleged gangster in the trial says that federal immigration authorities didn't deport Ramos so that they could construct a mega-indictment against the gang. A ICE spokeswoman denied comment on this story, given the ongoing trial.

Hunting for rivals

Zamora says Ramos wasn't an active member of MS-13, and that another gang member was the triggerman in the killing. The feds "didn't have crapola on Edwin," she says. "If they did, he would have been indicted. My argument is he wasn't active." (See update at the foot of this post.)

Martinez testified that Ramos was indeed a member. "We used to go hunting for Nortenos on a daily basis," Martinez said, referring to the time between 2003 and 2005. "Not with firearms, but with bats, bottles, chains -- stuff like that." He continued, "At the very least 10 to 15 times, one of us would get out of the car, assault someone with a bat -- that sort of thing."

You might call Martinez a biased source -- or a knowledgable one. Ramos was married to his sister, and the couple had a child together. Ramos lived with the family in their Richmond home.

Martinez says Ramos had grown restless with 20th Street's lax program of violence before 2005; he was instead drawn to the allegedly more militant Pasadena Surenos Locos clique, or PLS, a Southern California-based clique which had established a new turf in Richmond.

NEXT: Why Ramos wanted to join an even more violent street gang.

Ramos wanted into a more violent clique of the MS-13

"He felt there was more work being put in by PLS, more freedom in L.A. to commit crimes over there, and he felt more at home over there," Martinez testified. In the sinister terms of the MS-13, "work," or jale in Spanish, is the word for attacks on rival gang members. "He didn't feel 20th Street was out there as much and not doing as much things as in L.A., where in Pasadena [they're] doing all sorts of crimes, and he felt more at home doing those crimes."

Martinez said that wasn't the only reason Ramos wanted out. He said Ramos had had a "falling out" over a "personal problem" with Martinez's uncle, Jaime Martinez, an older member who worked on the sly as a government informant. "Because of [the personal problem], he felt Mickey might try to greenlight him over some rumors and went to be jumped into Pasadena, and I felt like it was a coward move to do that." ("Greenlight" means to put a hit on someone.)

Ramos then annoyed some 20th Street members by wearing a 49ers jacket to the Mission -- which is considered a Norteno team. Surenos, the umbrella group that includes MS-13, wear blue, preferring Dodgers or Dallas Cowboys gear, former gang task force officer Mario Molina said during the trial.

Because of all these factors, Ramos joined PLS while still technically a member of 20th Street. In MS-13, Martinez explained, "he did it all backwards." You're not supposed to "jump out" of one clique -- getting a beating from other gang members for usually 13 seconds, derived from the "MS-13" -- before "jumping into" another.

Martinez said his Uncle Mickey and another gang member, Douglas Largaespada, or "Droopy," had decided that they might as well jump Ramos out. "One of the rules we set is that he wouldn't come around the neighborhood anymore, [20th Street]. Mickey, Droopy, and I decided let's get him out of the way -- jump him out and forget about it."

NEXT: Did immigration authorities let Ramos stay in country to make their mega-gang case?



Allegation: Immigration authorities let Ramos stay in country to make their mega-gang case

Defense attorney Martin Sabelli, who represents a gang member currently on trial, says the government knew, through its informants, about Ramos long before he allegedly killed the Bolognas in 2008. In fact, Sabelli is alleging "outrageous government conduct" in the handling of Ramos, which has been reported in the Wall Street Journal.

Sabelli wrote in a motion filed earlier this year that the blowback against San Francisco's sanctuary city policy for allegedly shielding Ramos from deportation is misplaced. He says ICE blew its chance to take Ramos into custody.

The city had shielded Ramos twice from immigration authorities when he was arrested as a juvenile, because of the juvenile probation department's old policy. But Ramos was arrested on a gun possession charge in March 2008 as an adult and booked into San Francisco County Jail.

The issue of who goofed when letting Ramos fall through the cracks is in dispute. According to news reports, the San Francisco Sheriff's Department insisted it alerted ICE that Ramos was in custody no more than four hours after he'd been booked into county jail. Meanwhile, ICE counters that it learned about Ramos only two hours after he'd been released.

Still, Sabelli writes that the government's informants within the gang had been giving ICE information about Ramos' alleged conduct since 2006 -- including a shoot-out with Nortenos, a gun possession in 2008, and an alleged homicide. He said ICE had more than enough information  to swoop in and arrest him: He alleges "they knew he had lived at addresses in San Francisco and El Sobrante and that he frequented the El Toro nightclub and other MS-13 hangouts."

Sabelli has his own hypothesis. "It is apparent that the reason Ramos was repeatedly released and was allowed to remain in San Francisco was because he was a target in the 'Devil Horns' operation and the government wished to arrest the bulk of those targets in a near-simultaneous 'megacase' takedown," he wrote.

Federal agents arrested 26 alleged gang members on one day in October 2008 after a three-year investigation, putting together an indictment for MS-13's ongoing racketeering conspiracy since 1995.

Sabelli writes that ICE officers had attempted to arrest Ramos: Agents tried to find him in July 2006 at a house in El Sobrante to arrest him for his illegal immigrant status and gang affiliation. They had no luck, and it appears never tried again.

Reaction from the Bologna family

Matt Davis is the attorney for Danielle Bologna, the wife of Tony Bologna, and mother of their two sons, who were killed in the 2008 triple homicide. She sued the city soon after, alleging its sanctuary city policy had allowed Ramos back out on the streets where he allegedly killed her family. A Superior Court judge dismissed the lawsuit last year, saying San Francisco was not liable.

When told about the allegations in Sabelli's motion, Davis said he takes them with "a grain of salt," given they come from a defense attorney attempting to get the case against his client dropped.

Still, if Sabelli's accusations were to found to be true, that would be "distressing news," Davis told SF Weekly. "It would move the anger about what happened away from the city to some other folks if it turns out the feds did know he was here, committing crimes, and decided for other reasons not to move him away out of the country."

"It certainly washes the blood off the city's hands, and moves it elsewhere, but I don't know if it's true," he added.

Update, May 3: Ramos' defense attorney Marla Zamora says that she does not debate that Ramos was, indeed, an MS-13 member up until 2005. She says Ramos then "jumped out" of the gang and was no longer active.

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Lauren Smiley

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