The Santa Muerte death cult was the crew’s calling card, prosecutors said.
“They were a team and that was their team logo,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Nina Ricci at Cerda’s March trial.
Members had the “Fear Me” image and logo stamped on stickers on their vehicles, tattoos on their bodies, shrines in their homes and even Santa Muerte-stamped bands to hold their cash.
The crew sold powder cocaine but also robbed and killed would-be customers, according to prosecutors, court testimony and records.
Cerda’s sentencing last week, came seven years after his arrest. He will spend a life time behind bars for the 2010 killings of two drug dealers and the middleman who helped set up the deal.
Roberto Cerda, then 24, was charged with first-degree murder for the deaths of three men found in a vehicle in the 4800 block of South Whipple Street on May 18, 2010.
He is the first crew member to be convicted.
Roberto Cerda [top left], and some members of the La Santa Muerte Crew. Cerda was sentenced May 2 to life in prison for three 2010 murders. Raul Segura-Rodriguez, [bottom left], has been implicated in 7 murders
Handing down the life sentence,Cook County Judge Timothy Joyce upbraided Cerda: “This was a vicious, cold-hearted scheme … to execute in this cold-blooded manner three persons whose only sin was getting involved in low-level drug dealing,” Judge Joyce told the impassive Cerda.
No trial date has been set for two other members of the outfit, the uncle of Cerda’s girlfriend, Raul Segura-Rodriguez, 42, and the alleged ringleader’s cousin Augustin “Auggie” Toscano, 36.
Between them, they are charged with a total of seven murders straight out of “Breaking Bad,” including four men who were bound with duct tape and shot dead in front of two young children in a Southwest Side garage.
The ever present La Santa Muerte image – Roberto Cerda was wearing this La Santa Muerte T-shirt he was arrested.
The crew’s alleged ringleader, 37-year-old Arturo Ibarra, is dead. He was killed in a wild shootout, in 2011 with Chicago police after he, Segura-Rodriguez and Toscano allegedly slit the throats of three men, only one of whom survived.
The toll of the violence was on stark display at Cerda’s trial.
“That’s the person who took my husband’s life,” Angelica Foeller angrily told jurors during the trial as she identified Cerda, who stared straight ahead. Though they were never married, she said that Andres Butron, 34, had proposed to her the day their daughter was born.
“My hatred for Mr. Cerda is strong because of the horrible acts he committed,” Foeller said.
Butron himself led a dual existence, working full time at a suburban candy factory and also setting up drug deals for the crew. It was not for long. He was found suffocated in the trunk of a car where two buyers were fatally shot, point blank.
To Cerda, it was all part of his job as enforcer, prosecutors said.
Gang leader Arturo Ibarra died in police shootout
A former drug dealer testified at trial that Cerda served as the muscle when the crew did business. Renoras McDonald, who testified that he once sold drugs but now owns a South Side jerk chicken restaurant, said he once asked Ibarra, the alleged ringleader, why Cerda remained silent at meetings.
“He’s not there to talk,” Ibarra allegedly responded, making a gesture as if he were shooting a gun.
“It meant he a shooter,” McDonald testified. “He there if something go wrong.”
But Cerda’s attorney, Richard Kling, said that at trial there were no eyewitnesses or any physical evidence that tied his client to the triple homicide. Kling says there is no evidence that his client was involved in any of the other murders, some of which happened after his client was locked up.
The ‘Calling Card’. The La Santa Muerte image is tattooed on their bodies and emblazoned on all their artifacts
Like Cerda, Rodriguez and Ibarra also had day jobs. Theirs worked at a West Side roofing company where they were highly regarded employees, their boss previously told the Tribune. Toscano, who has a Scarface tattoo on his right arm, was on public aid, according to court records.
Authorities trace the beginning of the crew’s reign of death and violence to 2009.
after 43-year-old Victorino Chavez, 43, was found dead inside his blue Kia Sportage that August. The vehicle had crashed into the El Milagro tortilla factory building in Brighton Park, according to a search warrant affidavit filed by police. Chavez had been shot twice.
Chavez, who had a prior drug conviction, was in financial trouble and had recently fallen behind on his mortgage payments, his wife told detectives.
Investigators zeroed in on gang leader Ibarra because a witness saw a white SUV similar to the suspect’s white GMC Yukon emerge from an alley and ram into Chavez’s car after three gunshots rang out.
Just before the death and crash, the victim had a cellphone conversation with a person whose phone was using the cell tower closest to Ibarra’s home.
Ibarra was never charged with Chavez’s murder. Police later cited the killing in the search warrant affidavit after Cerda and his fellow crew members were arrested.
La Santa Muerte shrine – Roberto Cerda kept this shrine to La Santa Muerte in his home
Eight months later, in April 2010, Officers found the bound bodies of Stephen Bailey and Tyrece Bailey, two sibling drug dealers, as well as Crawford Davis — their driver, inside a Mercury sedan parked on a Street.
The three men had been r had been beaten to death and robbed. Police learned the three had been scheduled to meet Ibarra’s crew for a drug purchase,. Although officers found no physical evidence tying the crew to the murders, Toscano and Segura-Rodriguez eventually were charged with homicide in those killings.
Emboldened, the crew struck again on May 18, 2010 with another triple homicide and robbery. At this point, Chicago police had put Ibarra under surveillance, according to the prosecution.
Then in September, 2010 the crew allegedly robbed and fatally shot Noel Cazares, 25, Luis Santillan and Roberto Rivera, both 30, and 32-year-old and Alonso Pena-Villareal in a West Lawn garage after binding their arms and legs with duct tape in front of Cazares’ two small children. cbslocal reported that Segura-Rodriguez was eventually be charged with these murders.
In the case of Butron who had done time with Ibarra in federal prison, the struggling ex-con jumped at the chance to more than double the small salary he earned at the candy factory job, setting up drug deals for his old jail mate Ibarra.
Raul Segura-Rodriguez has been implicated in seven homicides and charged with four counts of first-degree murder
On the night he died Butron was setting up a meet for Ibarra that night with Ernesto Alequin, 42, a father of five, and Hector Romero, 28, who had a narcotics past but was working for a gang-mediation organization called CeaseFire Illinois.
Alequin and Romero were found dead on May 18 in the back seat of a car on the Southwest Side, their faces covered with duct tape and hands zip-tied together. Butron was found suffocated in the trunk, possibly after Ibarra’s crew forgot they had shut him inside and he asphyxiated, prosecutors said.
Police began watching Ibarra’s house nearby when Cerda pulled up, went inside the home and walked out with what prosecutors said was a sawed-off shotgun hidden under a jacket. Cerda was pulled over, and police said they found the shotgun — which was not the murder weapon — and a rifle in his car. Cerda was arrested on a gun charge. He was wearing a black Santa Muerte T-shirt.
Later that day, police found the actual murder weapon when they searched Cerda’s home, along with $4,000 that prosecutors said was his cut on the robbery and triple murder.
Ironically Cerda was convicted in part because security video showed a vehicle similar to his Grand Marquis, with its distinctive Santa Muerte window decal, leaving the isolated area where the bodies were found in the car.
Cerda was arrested and held on the gun charge, the rest of the crew were nabbed nearly a year later.
Police surveillance on the crew paid off in early in 2011. That February, police saw the trio of Ibarra, Toscano and Segura-Rodriguez leave an apartment building about the same time police had been called about a shooting there.
in the ensuing chase the men crashed their gray Ford F-150 into a police car and opened fire, striking a Chicago gang intelligence officer, non-fatally in the leg. Ibarra died in the shootout.
According to the search warrant affidavit, police found Joel Diaz, 33, and Ramiro Mendoza, 37, inside the apartment dead, restrained with duct tape, throats slit. A third man would survive and identified the three members of the crew as the killers,
Segura-Rodriguez and Toscano were arrested that day.
In court last Tuesday, Cerda, who has a tattoo on his shoulder depicting a Santa Muerte figure holding a dog by a chain, declined to say anything before he was sentenced.
“Tell him no,” he ordered a Spanish interpreter when the judge asked if he wished to speak.
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