A Honduran man who prosecutors hoped would be a star witness in an MS-13 gang trial has been convicted in a San Francisco federal court of lying when he failed to reveal his role in eight murders in his native country.
Former MS-13 gang member Roberto Acosta was convicted by a jury in the court of U.S. District Judge Charles Breyer on Tuesday of making a false statement to federal authorities. He will be sentenced Oct. 5 and faces up to five years in prison.
Acosta became an informant and infiltrated a San Francisco branch of the gang in 2005 and 2006 and again in 2008, when he returned illegally to the United States after having been deported.
Federal prosecutors had expected him to give key testimony in the racketeering and murder conspiracy trial in San Francisco of seven members of MS-13’s 20th Street Clique, which was based at 20th and Mission streets in The City. That trial began in April in the court of U.S. District Judge William Alsup and is expected to continue into August.
In February, Acosta revealed to federal prosecutors and immigration agents that he had taken part in eight gang-related murders in Honduras in 2003 and 2004, participating in five and arranging for three others.
Prosecutors then canceled plans to use Acosta as a witness.
He had not previously disclosed those murders to his handlers, despite repeatedly having been asked to reveal previous acts of violence, according to a trial brief filed by prosecutors.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Chris Merendino testified that he did not know of Acosta’s participation in the Honduran murders until another agent told him about the revelation in February. He said he was told that Acosta’s unexpected disclosure at a debriefing session was “unsolicited, impromptu.”
The defendants in Alsup’s court are among about three dozen MS-13 gang members who were indicted in four successive indictments in 2008 and 2009.
As part of their defense strategy, attorneys for the seven men claim that Acosta and another informant induced gang members to engage in violent acts, in violation of Justice Department guidelines for informants. FBI and ICE agents have denied those claims during their testimony.