COLUMBUS (WCMH) — A Columbus man identified as the leader of the violent MS-13 gang pleaded guilty in federal court Monday to charges related to five murders. 

Martin Neftali Aguilar-Rivera (aka Momia), 34, will avoid the death penalty but agreed to serve life in prison with no chance for parole.

A separate plea agreement was filed with the court for Jose Bonilla-Mejia (aka Espia), 30, of Santa Maria, Calif. The agreement says Bonilla-Mejia will accept responsibility for his role in three of the murders and likewise will serve life in prison without the possibility of release.

Aguilar-Rivera pled guilty to conspiring to commit racketeering and murder in aid of racketeering. Aguilar-Rivera accepted responsibility for participating in five murders.

Ben Glassman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, said Aguilar-Rivera’s guilty plea is a big step forward in the fight against MS-13.

“This investigation and this prosecution have succeeded in dismantling MS 13’s organization here in Ohio,” Glassman said. “I want anyone who is a member of MS-13 through the United States to know that Momia has pled guilty. He will spend the rest of his life behind bars.”

Kristin Beggs, an FBI special agent supervisor, said input from the Latino community was extremely helpful to investigators.

“Residents decided they were not going to be intimidated and they stood up,” Beggs said. “They contacted law enforcement and the information they provided was crucial to this investigation.”

Bonilla-Mejia has agreed to accept responsibility for his role in three murders. His plea agreement has yet to be accepted by a judge and will be considered at a later date.

In February 2018, 23 people were indicted and alleged to be members and associates of MS-13 in Columbus.

The indictment charged the individuals in a racketeering conspiracy, which included five murders as well as attempted murder, extortion, money laundering, drug trafficking, assault, obstruction of justice, witness intimidation, weapons offenses, and immigration-related violations.

Among the charges listed in the 2018 indictment are:

  • the December 2016 killing of Jose Mendez, a suspected confidential informant, in Perry County
  • the November 2008 murder of Ramon Ramos on Lockbourne Road in Columbus
  • the mid-2015 murder of Carlos Serrano-Ramos, a suspected rival gang member, near Innis Road in Columbus
  • the November 2015 murder of Wilson Villeda near Innis Road in Columbus
  • the December 2016 murder of Salvador Martinez-Diaz, a suspected rival gang member, on Melroy Avenue in Columbus

Court documents state the killings often involved the defendants using weapons like machetes, knives, and hammers to attack and kill their victims. In two of the murders, the victims were stabbed and slashed with bladed weapons before being buried in a nearby park.

Plea agreements were also filed Monday for two other defendants in the case.

Both Jose Manuel Romero-Parada (aka Russo), 24, of Columbus, and Jose Salvador Gonzalez-Campos (aka Danger), 28, of Columbus, have agreed to plead guilty to racketeering conspiracy and accept responsibility for taking part in multiple homicides and other gang-related crimes, including drug trafficking, extortion and money laundering.

Attorneys for both sides have recommended a sentence of 35 to 40 years in prison for Romero-Parada and Gonzalez-Campos.

Chief Judge Sargus will consider those plea agreements at future hearings.