APPEALS FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO Hon. William E. Smith, U.S. District
M. Sánchez La Costa for appellant José
R. Valldejuli for appellant Pedro L. Ramírez-Rivera.
O. Acevedo-Hernández, Assistant United States
Attorney, with whom Rosa Emilia
Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney,
Mariana E. Bauzá-Almonte, Assistant United States
Attorney, Chief, Appellate Division, and Francisco A. Besosa-
Martínez, Assistant United States Attorney, were on
brief, for appellee.
Howard, Chief Judge, Thompson and Barron, Circuit Judges.
Thompson, Circuit Judge.
government charged "La ONU" gangbangers José
Laureano-Salgado and Pedro Ramírez-Rivera (sometimes
collectively called "appellants") with helping
murder a "La Rompe ONU" gangbanger nicknamed
"Pekeke" (real name Christian
Toledo-Sánchez), among other crimes - thus violating
the Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering ("VICAR")
statute, see 18 U.S.C. § 1959(a)(1), as well as
a statute banning the use or carry of a firearm in relation
to a crime of violence, see 18 U.S.C. §
924(c)(1)(A). Killing La Rompe members, the government
alleged and proved, was central to La ONU's mission. And
ultimately convicted Laureano-Salgado and
Ramírez-Rivera of these and other gang-related crimes.
And we affirmed. See Ramírez-Rivera, 800 F.3d
at 12. Laureano-Salgado and Ramírez-Rivera later moved
the district judge for a new trial premised on allegations of
newly-discovered evidence that supposedly showed Pekeke died
at the hands of La Rompe, not La ONU. The judge denied the motion,
however. Unhappy with this ruling, Laureano-Salgado and
Ramírez-Rivera ask us to reverse. Unpersuaded by
their arguments (discussed in a bit), we affirm.
at Appellants' Trial About Pekeke's Murder
the witnesses called at appellants' trial were three
cooperating coconspirators: ex-La ONU members Wesley
Figueroa-Cancel, José Gutiérrez-Santana, and
Christian Figueroa-Viera. Pieced together, their testimony
presented the following picture of the events leading to
Gutiérrez-Santana, and Laureano-Salgado attended a
meeting in August 2010 where La ONU bosses planned
Pekeke's murder. Their plot contemplated that a man named
"Joshua" would do the deed (Joshua was a non-La ONU
member whose grandmother lived right next door to Pekeke). La
ONU members - including Ramírez-Rivera (who
participated by speakerphone during the meeting) - promised
to pay Joshua for his service. Following the orders of their
La ONU superiors to a T, Gutiérrez-Santana gave Joshua
a gun and Laureano-Salgado gave Joshua a car. La ONU leaders
also promised to send a rescue team to get Joshua out of the
housing project after he offed Pekeke, just in case
Pekeke's La Rompe allies fought back.
killed Pekeke the next day (Joshua called Figueroa-Cancel on
a cellphone during the killing so Figueroa-Cancel could hear
Pekeke die) - with Laureano-Salgado, Ramírez-Rivera,
Gutiérrez-Santana, and at least two other La ONU
members serving on the rescue squad. At a meeting held right
after the shooting, La ONU associates - including
Laureano-Salgado and Ramírez-Rivera - told
Figueroa-Viera what had happened.
Motion for New Trial And the Judge's Ruling
to after we affirmed Laureano-Salgado's and
Ramírez-Rivera's convictions and sentences.
Defense counsel wrote the government, saying that he had
heard that ex-La Rompe members Luis Yanyoré-Pizarro
and Oscar Calviño-Acevedo testified in proceedings
against La Rompe associates that La Rompe had killed Pekeke
as part of a power struggle within La Rompe. Convinced that
this testimony undercut the theory pushed by prosecutors in
Laureano-Salgado and Ramírez-Rivera's case -
i.e., that La ONU had murdered La
Rompe-leader Pekeke as part of the La ONU
racketeering conspiracy - counsel asked the government to
turn over materials "regarding"
Yanyoré-Pizarro's and Calviño-Acevedo's
allegations. Despite disputing any notion that these
allegations exculpated the defendants, the government gave
counsel a package containing the documents in its possession.
and Ramírez-Rivera then asked the judge for a new
trial, claiming that the produced materials constituted
newly-discovered evidence showing La Rompe had murdered
Pekeke, not La ONU. And their court filings walked the judge
through the relevant statements: Yanyoré-Pizarro's
grand-jury testimony in May 2015, his interviews with agents
from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives
(usually referred to as "ATF") in January 2016, and
his trial testimony in October 2016; plus
Calviño-Acevedo's trial testimony in December 2015
- all given in a case against La Rompe members.
hit the highlights, offering only what is needed to help put
some of the arguments (discussed later) into perspective.
questioning about La Rompe's inner workings before the
grand jury, Yanyoré-Pizarro recounted his relationship
with La Rompe members "Trenza" and "Papito
Mojica." "They were my leaders when they killed
[Pekeke]," Yanyoré-Pizarro said. Pekeke "was
our leader, so they kept the - so they took over."
Yanyoré-Pizarro added that, although they remained
with La Rompe, Pekeke's death triggered an internal war
for power. "What happened," he said, "was when
my leader, [Pekeke], was killed, there were people involved
from . . . La Rompe . . . itself because of this very same -
for power," and "they ended up dividing up"
Pekeke's drug points. After Pekeke's death, Trenza,
according to Yanyoré-Pizarro, became "in charge
of around fourteen drug points, which is what [Pekeke]
interview with the ATF, Yanyoré-Pizarro mentioned some
tension between La Rompe leaders in the months before
Pekeke's death. For example, Yanyoré-Pizarro
discussed how some La Rompe bosses at the La Rompe-controlled
housing project in Alturas de Cupey had asked Pekeke
"for help" with their drug business (because he had
ties to marijuana traffickers on the mainland, apparently).
But Pekeke had refused their request. Yanyoré-Pizarro
also mentioned a conversation he had had with a La Rompe
member named "Endrick." Endrick said that he told a
La Rompe member named "Frank" that Pekeke was the
"boss" - a statement that caused Frank to slap
Endrick's face. Pekeke later told Yanyoré-Pizarro
that he told Frank to apologize to Endrick because Endrick
was right about who the "boss" was. But Frank just
looked at him and left.
Yanyoré-Pizarro disclosed to ATF agents that Joshua
was from the Luis Llorén Torres housing project and
that Pekeke had supplied "the vehicles and the
firearms" used to kill "Shaka," a drug-point
leader there. Joshua "used to hang out with
Endrick," though Endrick swore Joshua "was not part
of the rival gang."
still, Yanyoré-Pizarro admitted that although he was
not there when Pekeke died, he later spoke to someone named
"Pipen" who was. And Pipen fingered Joshua - who
lived with his [Joshua's] grandmother in the same housing
project as Pekeke - as the killer. Pipen also said that when
Pekeke's cousin wanted a piece of the profits from
Pekeke's old drug points, Pipen warned him "to stop
talking in a threatening manner" or else "something
could happen to him like what happened to [Pekeke]."
by the government at a La Rompe trial, Yanyoré-Pizarro
testified (in response to questions from the prosecution
about how he got involved with La Rompe) that when Pekeke
moved to the Los Lirios housing project and became "the
head honcho," he (Yanyoré-Pizarro) started
running Pekeke's drug points, committing robberies, and
killing people. But when Pekeke "was killed,"
Yanyoré-Pizarro fled from Los Lirios because
Pekeke's men thought Yanyoré-Pizarro had flipped
and had helped kill Pekeke. Asked to discuss his killing