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Prosecutors make ‘extremely rare’ move in case against alleged gang leader

Updated March 29, 2024 - 1:44 pm

Prosecutors on Thursday moved to dismiss an indictment against a man accused of being a high-ranking leader in the international MS-13 gang.

The dismissal would allow for his release nearly four years after he was charged in a sweeping indictment against members of the group accused of selling drugs and guns in Las Vegas.

Adali Arnulfo Escalante-Trujillo was identified as the “shot-caller” for the gang when prosecutors announced the indictment against him and 12 others in Nevada in July 2020. But the U.S. attorney general’s office on Thursday filed a motion to dismiss the indictment without prejudice “in the interests of justice,” according to court documents.

“The government has recently learned about events that cast doubt on the credibility of a government witness who is integral to prosecution of this defendant,” according to the three-page motion.

The motion did not elaborate on the identity of the witness or why the witness’ actions are being questioned. The U.S. attorney’s office for Nevada declined to comment beyond what was written in the motion.

Escalante-Trujillo’s defense attorney, Chris Rasmussen, said such a move by prosecutors is “extremely rare.” He said he expects a judge to promptly rule on the motion, although no ruling had been filed as of Thursday evening.

“When they called to tell me, the first person I called was his wife,” Rasmussen said. “She called it a miracle.”

Prosecutors moved for the case to be dismissed without prejudice, meaning prosecutors could refile charges, but Rasmussen said he plans to ask the judge to prevent the case from being refiled again.

Rasmussen said that Escalante-Trujillo was “wrongfully targeted” when he was charged with 20 counts, including engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise, conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, distribution of a controlled substance, and conspiracy to deal in firearms without a license.

“He had withdrawn himself from that organization a long time ago,” Rasmussen said Thursday.

MS-13 is a transnational gang made up primarily of immigrants or descendants of immigrants from El Salvador. MS-13 has been in the U.S. since at least the 1980s.

Prosecutors had previously accused Escalante-Trujillo of bringing other high-ranking members of MS-13 to Las Vegas in order to distribute drugs and sell guns. Agents seized at least 10 pounds of “pure or basically pure” methamphetamine from two of the men led to the valley by Escalante-Trujillo, prosecutors said when the indictment was announced in July 2020.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240.

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