Mendota’s MS-13 gang leader pleaded guilty Friday in a Fresno federal courtroom to assault with a deadly weapon and several drug distribution charges.

Denis Barrera-Palma, 25, captained La Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), a violent street gang known to engage in racketeering, murder, kidnapping, extortion, and drug trafficking.

A multi-agency investigation into the gang began after reports that MS-13 had set up shop in Mendota, which is 35 miles west of Fresno.

Twenty-Five Gang Members Arrested in 2018

Investigators found evidence of broad criminal activity, including murder, assault, firearms possession, and drug trafficking activity, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. In August 2018, 25 suspected MS-13 members were arrested on federal and state charges.

According to court documents, on May 14, 2018, Barrera-Palma committed assault with a pipe in front of a Mendota elementary school to burnish his MS-13 credentials.

The MS-13 Prosecution Team

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ross Pearson, Kathleen Servatius, and Kimberly Sanchez are prosecuting the Barrera-Palma case and related cases.

Fresno County Senior Deputy District Attorney Dennis Lewis prosecutes related cases in Fresno County Superior Court.

Four Others Pleaded Guilty Earlier

Four of Barrera-Palma’s co-defendants have pleaded guilty. On Jan. 27, Claudia Lizaola, 40, of San Bernardino, received 10 years in prison for conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine.

Trial for other co-defendants is set for April 14.

40-Year Prison Term Possible

U.S. District Judge Dale A. Drozd will sentence Barrera-Palma on July 10. He faces a maximum of 40 years in prison and a $1.25 million fine.

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