Targeting MS-13 means overlooking victims' immigration status, chief says

After murders of undocumented workers, deputies arrest 6 accused gang members

By Andrea Torres - Digital Reporter/Producer
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Courtesy of PBSO

LAKE WORTH, Fla. - Palm Beach Sheriff's Office Chief Frank DeMario told reporters Central American members of the feared MS-13 gang are targeting undocumented workers.

DeMario said he wants undocumented migrants who are victims of crimes to know that he will not be reporting them to federal authorities if they report their aggressors.  

Deputies arrested Victor Manuel Fuentes, 20, and five teenagers ages 16 and 17 accusing them of being involved in armed robberies and two murders. They were all identified as undocumented MS-13 gang members, who DeMario said showed no remorse. 

"We don't go  chasing down people to see if they are illegal or  not," DeMario said. "We don't even have the time to do the things that we have to do, and I know [the feds] don't do that as well. You know so, we are looking at criminals, people who come here to commit crimes and to commit murder."       

Sgt. Christopher Karpinski said they found the gang members while investigating two  murders, Oct. 30 and Nov. 5, and three armed robberies  in Lake Worth. Fuentes had the weapon they believe was used in the crimes.   

  "Our suspects were targeting their victims, because they believed their victims would not report it," Karpinski said. "We are asking not matter who our victims are in Palm Beach County, we are going to work your case."       

According to deputies, Fuentes said a demon inside his head made him pull the trigger when he killed Lucio Velasquez-Morales about 7 a.m., Oct. 30. After robbing the 33-year-old undocumented worker, he shot him in the heart and liver.  

Karpinski said Fuentes also killed Octavio Sanchez-Morales Nov. 5. The 25-year-old undocumented worker was riding his bike when Fuentes robbed him, shot his jaw and right arm, and left him for dead.   

"These guys were specifically targeted because of who they were," Karpinski said about Sanchez-Morales and Velasquez-Morales. 

Karpinski said two of the accused were from Honduras and four were from El Salvador. They were all undocumented. The investigation is still ongoing.   

"We not only should but must cooperate with our partners on the federal side, specifically ICE," DeMario said. 

In July, President Donald Trump promised he was going to "destroy" the "animals" belonging to MS-13 and federal authorities were going to send them to jails and back to their countries.

Although U.S. Customs and Border Patrol assisted PBSO, Karpinski said the six arrests were not related to "Operation Raging Bull," a crackdown that federal authorities say netted 267 MS-13 gang members and associates after an 18-month probe.

DeMario said anyone with information about members of the MS-13 gang need to call  Palm Beach County Crime Stoppers to remain anonymous  at 1-800-458-8477. 

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