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Fresno County MS-13 Gang Member Gets 10 Years in Prison



Denis Barrera-Palma, 27, is the last of 16 MS-13 gang members from Operation Blue Inferno to be sentenced on federal charges. (GV Wire File)
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More than three years after his headline-making arrest, a Mendota MS-13 gang leader is headed to federal prison for 10 years and a month.

Denis Barrera-Palma, 27, received his sentence Tuesday at the federal courthouse in downtown Fresno.

He pleaded guilty to assault with a deadly weapon and drug trafficking conspiracy charges on Feb. 28, 2020.

According to a news release from U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert, Barrera-Palma led the Mendota chapter of La Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), a violent criminal street gang that engages in racketeering, murder, kidnapping, extortion, and drug trafficking.

Pipe Attack at Mendota Elementary School

On May 14, 2018, Barrera-Palma, along with others, assaulted another individual with a pipe in front of an elementary school in Mendota. The motivation for the assault, according to court documents, was to enhance Barrera-Palma’s standing in MS-13.

Court documents also state that the gang, through Barrera-Palma, would acquire drugs, and distribute them among members with a directive that they sell the drugs within a certain period of time and return all proceeds to the gang.

Profits from the drug sales funded trips to buy more drugs and commit violent acts, put money “on the books” of incarcerated MS-13 members, and send money to MS-13 leaders in El Salvador.

Arrests Announced at News Conference

In August 2018, 25 individuals associated with MS-13 were arrested on federal and state charges after a year-long multi-agency investigation dubbed “Operation Blue Inferno.”

Then state Attorney General Xavier Becerra attended a news conference announcing the arrests, as did Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims and Fresno County District Attorney Lisa Smittcamp.

“When you talk about maiming human life, scarring them to the point that you don’t recognize them, I don’t know if you would call them human beings,” Becerra said of MS-13.

All 15 of Barrera-Palma’s federal co-defendants were sentenced previously.

The Prosecutors

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ross Pearson and Kimberly Sanchez prosecuted this case.

Senior Deputy District Attorney Dennis Lewis is working with the team and prosecuting related cases in Fresno County Superior Court.

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email

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