{"code":"26451","sect":"El Salvador","sect_slug":"el-salvador","hits":"1411","link":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/en\/202210\/el_salvador\/26451","link_edit":"","name":"Salvadoran AG Favored Former Clients, Top Players in MS-13 Money Laundering Scheme","slug":"salvadoran-ag-favored-former-clients-top-players-in-ms-13-money-laundering-scheme","info":"Rodolfo Delgado, imposed as attorney general by the Nuevas Ideas party in May, 2021, previously worked for two and a half years as defense attorney for one of the main collaborators of the Mara Salvatrucha-13, hotel operator Jorge Manuel Vega Knight. Once installed as attorney general, Delgado chose the judge who exonerated his client as his number two prosecutor, dropped the money laundering and document forgery charges against Vega\u2019s wife, and unfroze their hotels.","mtag":"Gangs","noun":{"html":"\u003Cspan class='tint-text--dark' data_href='\/user\/profile\/elemus'\u003E Efren Lemus\u003C\/span\u003E y Juan Mart\u00ednez","data":{"efren-lemus":{"sort":"elemus","slug":"efren-lemus","path":"efren_lemus","name":"Efren Lemus","edge":"0","init":"0"},"juan-martinez":{"sort":"","slug":"juan-martinez","path":"juan_martinez","name":"Juan Mart\u00ednez","edge":"1","init":"0"}}},"view":"1411","pict":{"cms-image-000038160-jpg":{"feat":"1","sort":"38160","name":"cms-image-000038160.jpg","link":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000038160.jpg","path":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000038160.jpg","back":"","slug":"cms-image-000038160-jpg","text":"<p>Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado appears before the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador in November, 2021. Photo: Twitter<\/p>","capt":"\u003Cp\u003EAttorney General Rodolfo Delgado appears before the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador in November, 2021. Photo: Twitter\u003C\/p\u003E"},"cms-image-000038161-jpg":{"feat":"0","sort":"38161","name":"cms-image-000038161.JPG","link":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000038161.JPG","path":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000038161.JPG","back":"","slug":"cms-image-000038161-jpg","text":"<p>Auto Hotel La Pir\u00e1mide, along the highway from Acajutla to Sonsonate. Phot: V\u00edctor Pe\u00f1a\/El Faro<\/p>","capt":"\u003Cp\u003EAuto Hotel La Pir\u00e1mide, along the highway from Acajutla to Sonsonate. Phot: V\u00edctor Pe\u00f1a\/El Faro\u003C\/p\u003E"},"cms-image-000038162-jpg":{"feat":"0","sort":"38162","name":"cms-image-000038162.jpg","link":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000038162.jpg","path":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000038162.jpg","back":"","slug":"cms-image-000038162-jpg","text":"<p>One of the checks that the Salvadoran Police found on an SD card in November, 2017, tying Vega's bank account to business transactions of the San Cocos clique in Sonsonate. They also found pictures of Marvin Eduardo Garc\u00eda Castro, alias \"Clever,\" one of the gang members allegedly involved with Vega.<\/p>","capt":"\u003Cp\u003EOne of the checks that the Salvadoran Police found on an SD card in November, 2017, tying Vega's bank account to business transactions of the San Cocos clique in Sonsonate. They also found pictures of Marvin Eduardo Garc\u00eda Castro, alias \"Clever,\" one of the gang members allegedly involved with Vega.\u003C\/p\u003E"},"cms-image-000038163-jpg":{"feat":"0","sort":"38163","name":"cms-image-000038163.jpg","link":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000038163.jpg","path":"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/images\/cms-image-000038163.jpg","back":"","slug":"cms-image-000038163-jpg","text":"<p>Photo of Jorge Manuel Vega Knight,\u00a0published by the Attorney General's Office at the time of his arrest on Aug. 27, 2018.<\/p>","capt":"\u003Cp\u003EPhoto of Jorge Manuel Vega Knight,\u00a0published by the Attorney General's Office at the time of his arrest on Aug. 27, 2018.\u003C\/p\u003E"}},"pict_main__sort":38160,"date":{"live":"2022\/10\/31"},"data_post_dateLive_YY":"2022","data_post_dateLive_MM":"10","data_post_dateLive_DD":"31","text":"\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Ca href=\"\/es\/202210\/el_salvador\/26427\/El-fiscal-general-trabaj%C3%B3-29-meses-para-uno-de-los-principales-colaboradores-de--la-MS-13.htm\"\u003E\u003Cem\u003ELeer en espa\u00f1ol\u003C\/em\u003E\u003C\/a\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EEl Salvador\u2019s Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado, a key official in what President Nayib Bukele has called a \u201cwar against gangs,\u201d worked for over two years as defense attorney for two of MS-13\u2019s top collaborators, Jorge Manuel Vega Knight and his wife, Vanessa Beatriz Arg\u00fcello de Vega. Criminal investigations found that the gang used La Pir\u00e1mide and La Estancia, Vega and Arg\u00fcello\u2019s motels in Sonsonate, as the sites of drug transactions and gang meetings and to hide from police.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe Anti-Drug Division of the National Civil Police has profiled Vega as an important member of the San Cocos Locos Salvatruchos, an MS-13 clique that controls several cities in Sonsonate. Through informants, tracing of bank operations and real estate transactions, and testimony of a gang leader-turned-protected witness who was murdered in March, 2022, investigators concluded that Vega also supplied the gang with marijuana, crack, and cocaine and allowed them to invest in the motels with earnings from extortion and drug sales.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EDelgado represented Vega since the day of his arrest in October, 2018, on charges of money laundering and association with terrorist organizations, according to three sources from the Attorney General\u2019s Office who spoke with El Faro and InSight Crime on the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. \u201cRodolfo Delgado was always the defense attorney\u2026 he handled the case from the beginning,\u201d said one of the sources.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003ECourtroom documents from the Specialized Trial Court of Santa Ana, the Specialized Chamber of Santa Tecla, and the Supreme Court of Justice confirm that Delgado worked for Vega for 28 months. When he took on the case, barely ten months had passed since he left a decades-long career at the Attorney General\u2019s Office, where he worked as the head of the Organized Crime Unit from 2004 to 2014 and as advisor to Attorney General Douglas Mel\u00e9ndez until October, 2017.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EDelgado won an acquittal for Vega in September, 2020, by the Specialized Trial Judge of Santa Ana, Carlos Rodolfo Linares Ascencio, but at the time the motels remained forfeited because the case against Arg\u00fcello was still open. The couple recovered La Pir\u00e1mide and La Estancia in October, 2021, after Nayib Bukele\u2019s party, Nuevas Ideas, \u003Ca href=\"\/en\/202105\/el_salvador\/25452\/New-Legislative-Assembly-Ousts-Supreme-Court-Magistrates-and-Attorney-General.htm\"\u003Eillegally instated Delgado as attorney general\u003C\/a\u003E in May, 2021.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003ETwo weeks after his installation, Delgado named Linares Ascencio, the judge who acquitted Vega, as assistant attorney general, his second in command. Delgado then dismantled the Special Investigation Commission, a group of prosecutors who between 2014 and 2018 investigated Vega and dozens of other gang members.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\t\t\u003Cfigure class=\"pict pict_land pict_move_posc 0 cs_img cs_img--curr rule--ss_c\" data-shot=\"pict\" data-hint=\"pict\"\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"pict__pobj text-overflow\"\u003E\u003Cimg src=\"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/get_img?ImageWidth=3000&ImageHeight=1997&ImageId=38160\" class=\"pobj\" style=\"max-width: 100%\" rel=\"resizable\" alt=\"Attorney General Rodolfo Delgado appears before the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador in November, 2021. Photo: Twitter\" \/\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"pict__line block edge--ss_lax edge--ss_rax padd--ss_l0x padd--ss_r0x line--ss_s0b lineh rule--ss_c\"\u003E\u003Cspan class=\"block-inline full-width align-middle lineh__rect tint-back--nake\"\u003E\u003Cspan\u003E\u00a0\u003C\/span\u003E\u003C\/span\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003Cfigcaption class=\"pict__text cs_img_caption folk_content typo_buttons line--ss_s0c line--ss_s0c--auto block full-width text-overflow rule--ss_l relative\"\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"__content block-inline full-width align-top tint-text--idle relative\"\u003EAttorney General Rodolfo Delgado appears before the Legislative Assembly of El Salvador in November, 2021. Photo: Twitter\u003C\/div\u003E\u003C\/figcaption\u003E\u003C\/figure\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe Special Investigation Commission was created in 2014 with funding from the U.S. Embassy. The Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) bought cars, computers, furniture, and air conditioners for the commission. Its first investigation was dubbed \u201cJaque,\u201d an operation launched in August, 2015, to dismantle MS-13\u2019s finances. Information was so abundant that Jaque led authorities to open a string of derivative operations, including \u201cPacific Harpoon,\u201d the case that led to the arrest of Vega and Arg\u00fcello between August 2018 and September 2019.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EFive months after Delgado was appointed attorney general, the money laundering case against Arg\u00fcello was temporarily closed, and in October, 2021, the Trial Court of Santa Ana unfroze the motels. Five months ago, in May, Arg\u00fcello sold La Pir\u00e1mide to a company managed by her husband.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EEl 19 de octubre de 2022, El Faro e InSight Crime llamaron al fiscal Delgado y le dejaron mensajes en una aplicaci\u00f3n de mensajer\u00eda electr\u00f3nica para solicitarle una entrevista. Adem\u00e1s, ese mismo d\u00eda, se le envi\u00f3 un correo electr\u00f3nico a la unidad de prensa de la Fiscal\u00eda con una serie de preguntas sobre la relaci\u00f3n laboral que tuvo con Vega Knight. Al cierre de esta nota no se obtuvo ninguna respuesta.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EOn October 19, El Faro and InSight Crime called Delgado, left written messages in a digital messaging app requesting an interview, and wrote an email to the press contact of the Attorney General\u2019s Office with a series of questions on the top prosecutor\u2019s work for Vega. At publication time there was no response.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003ECalls to a phone number listed five months ago under Vega\u2019s name in the Commercial Registry were also unsuccessful. The man that answered said he does not know Vega. \u201cSeveral people have called me asking for the same person. Maybe he changed numbers,\u201d the man said. Vega did not return calls or messages on social media sent to several of his businesses.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cstrong\u003EVega\u2019s Story\u003C\/strong\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EVega is a businessman from Sonsonate whose relationship with the San Cocos clique spans two decades. Documents from the Attorney General\u2019s Office and multiple witnesses both from in and outside MS-13 report that Vega has had a close commercial relationship with seven gang leaders, in particular Juan Carlos Melgar Montes, alias \u201cPoison,\u201d who prosecutors profiled as his \u201cpartner\u201d based on wiretaps and testimonies of four protected witnesses.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EAccording to a protected witness identified in court records under codename Capricornio, multiple drug transactions between MS-13 cliques in western El Salvador took place inside two motels managed by Vega\u2019s Grupo Pir\u00e1mide Inversiones in the department of Sonsonate: La Pir\u00e1mide and La Estancia. According to Capricornio and other three witnesses, Vega actively participated in and profited from the gang\u2019s activities on the properties.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EEl Faro and InSight Crime interviewed Capricornio \u2014a \u003Cem\u003Eranflero\u003C\/em\u003E, or leader of the gang, before retiring in 2014\u2014 multiple times between 2021 and 2022. His cooperation as main witness in Operation Jaque, in exchange for the dismissal of charges against him, was key to the trial of MS-13 leadership and, for the first time, the seizure of the gang\u2019s properties, vehicles, and businesses.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003ECapricornio says he met Vega as a founding member of San Cocos in the 1990s. Vega was a 17-year-old from the upper middle class in Sonsonate. According to Capricornio and another six neighbors, acquaintances, and others close to his family, he had a particularly bad relationship with his father, who kicked him out of the house for his drug and alcohol use.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn 1995, Vega became friends with a gang member known as El Jute. According to Capricornio, Vega approached him in 1996 with an exceptional request: to murder his father for money. Vega was looking to collect inheritance money and take control of some of his father\u2019s businesses. \u201cWe killed Vega\u2019s father,\u201d said Capricornio. \u201cHe asked our clique to kill him so he could claim some properties and bank accounts.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EAnother gang member, speaking on the condition of anonymity, seconds this account. He was a member of the Western Locos Salvatruchos clique who defected from MS-13 after running one of the gang\u2019s programs, or cluster of cliques, in El Salvador. He was a part of the first generation of gang members who joined in California in the 80s and were deported to El Salvador in the early 90s. He\u2019s originally from Sonsonate and, while not a member of San Cocos, has known the clique since its beginnings.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThis second gang member says that Vega agreed to pay El Jute 300,000 Salvadoran colones to murder his father. \u201cVega gave 150,000 colones to El Jute that same day. They were in a palenque, during a bullfight. He paid the other 150,000 little by little. He has worked with the clique ever since,\u201d he said, adding: \u201cThe hitmen were homeboys known as Mikey and El Enano.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EEl Faro and InSight Crime obtained court documents showing that Vega was arrested for his father\u2019s murder. In February, 1999, he filed a writ of habeas corpus, accusing the police in Sonsonate of harassment despite his subsequent acquittal. The Constitutional Court dismissed the petition. These two sources and three others close to Vega say the murder sealed his relationship with MS-13.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EOperation Jaque, launched in 2015 by the Attorney General\u2019s Office, revealed the first evidence of Vega\u2019s ties to the gang. \u201cHe was mentioned, but we weren\u2019t sure about his role, so we continued to investigate him,\u201d says one of the state attorneys who carried out the investigation.\u00a0\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThree years later, in 2018, prosecutors filed Pacific Harpoon, a new offensive against MS-13 in which Vera was the protagonist. In one document alone, his name was mentioned 377 times. Prosecutors detailed his business dealings with MS-13 at great length, filing accounts of dozens of phone calls between Vera and gang members including Juan Carlos Melgar Montes, \u201cPoison,\u201d the leader of the San Cocos clique sentenced in 2020 to eight years in prison for money laundering.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EProsecutors also presented bank slips showing that Vera and one of his relatives transferred $3,360 to Poison between September, 2011, and July, 2013. Based on Capricornio\u2019s testimony, the state attorneys asserted that the money was a \u201creturn\u201d on Poison\u2019s investments in La Pir\u00e1mide Motel.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\t\t\u003Cfigure class=\"pict pict_land pict_move_posc 0 cs_img cs_img--curr rule--ss_c\" data-shot=\"pict\" data-hint=\"pict\"\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"pict__pobj text-overflow\"\u003E\u003Cimg src=\"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/get_img?ImageWidth=3000&ImageHeight=2000&ImageId=38161\" class=\"pobj\" style=\"max-width: 100%\" rel=\"resizable\" alt=\"Auto Hotel La Pir\u00e1mide, along the highway from Acajutla to Sonsonate. Phot: V\u00edctor Pe\u00f1a\/El Faro\" \/\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"pict__line block edge--ss_lax edge--ss_rax padd--ss_l0x padd--ss_r0x line--ss_s0b lineh rule--ss_c\"\u003E\u003Cspan class=\"block-inline full-width align-middle lineh__rect tint-back--nake\"\u003E\u003Cspan\u003E\u00a0\u003C\/span\u003E\u003C\/span\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003Cfigcaption class=\"pict__text cs_img_caption folk_content typo_buttons line--ss_s0c line--ss_s0c--auto block full-width text-overflow rule--ss_l relative\"\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"__content block-inline full-width align-top tint-text--idle relative\"\u003EAuto Hotel La Pir\u00e1mide, along the highway from Acajutla to Sonsonate. Phot: V\u00edctor Pe\u00f1a\/El Faro\u003Cdiv class=\"photographer text_italic rule--ss_l tint-text--idle\"\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003C\/figcaption\u003E\u003C\/figure\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EVega also did real estate business with other leaders of MS-13. In these ventures, Vega always lost money, according to Property Registry records reviewed by El Faro and InSight Crime.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn February, 2009, Vega bought a lot at El Sunzal beach for $50,000. Six months later, he sold it for $40,000 to Juan Carlos Ayala Hern\u00e1ndez, \u201cEl Chacal,\u201d the leader of the Acajutla Locos Salvatruchos, an important clique in the drug trade known for its robberies out at high sea. Capricornio told prosecutors that El Chacal did not pay the money, causing a rift between San Cocos and Acajutla. El Chacal was murdered in 2010.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EVera also did business with others with no apparent gang ties, in which he similarly always lost money.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn October, 2017, for example, he bought a plot of land in Nahuilingo, Sonsonate, for $20,000. Four months later, in February, 2018, he resold it to the prior owner, Elvia Lizeth Saucedo, for $10,000. One month later, he bought a second plot of land from Saucedo, for $20,000, convincing prosecutors that he had committed a crime: \u201cThis practice [of losing money] is one of the characteristics of money laundering.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003ECapricorn\u2019s testimony and the tracing of financial and real estate transactions were among the evidence collected by prosecutors, but the police stumbled by accident upon one of the most incriminating elements tying Vega to the gang.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn November, 2016, a police squad reported that they were patrolling near a basketball court in Sonsonate when gang members fled, leaving behind a plastic bag. Inside was a micro SD card with information on the inner workings of MS-13: two pieces of written gang correspondence called \u003Cem\u003Ewilas\u003C\/em\u003E, pictures of two checks, and nine audio files of conversations that gang member Marvin Eduardo Garc\u00eda Castro, \u201cClever,\u201d had with Vega and Poison. The Anti-Drug Division listed the findings in a police report in court the following November, 2017.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe first wila revealed friction between the Vatos Locos Salvatruchos and San Cocos cliques over the refusal of one of Vega\u2019s hotels to pay extortion. \u201cWe want the Barrio to know that for seven years our clique has charged rent from a hotel on our turf called La Estancia. Six months ago, our guys went to pick up the payment and the guards told them that if they showed their faces again they would kill them, because the owner was the friend of Poison and another guy, but we\u2019re not sure about that because they haven\u2019t given any proof,\u201d wrote the Vatos Locos.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe San Cocos responded in the second wila: \u201cWe confirm that our homey Poison and his business partner bought Hotel La Estancia, and we can prove it.\u201d According to the police report, San Cocos sent pictures of two checks, one for $13,000 and the other for $38,000, to show that Poison and his partner had bought the motel. The checks were issued from Vega\u2019s account, according to the authorities.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cstrong\u003EDelgado\u2019s Client\u003C\/strong\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EVega was arrested in August, 2018, in the exclusive San Benito neighborhood in San Salvador, on charges of money laundering and association with \u201cterrorist organizations.\u201d Early in the morning, Rodolfo Delgado, the former head of the Organized Crime Unit of the Attorney General\u2019s Office, traveled to the site of the raid and presented himself as Vega\u2019s defense attorney.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u201cThe operation began around one or two in the morning. [Delgado] arrived at the scene,\u201d a source from the Attorney General\u2019s Office told El Faro. A second source corroborated the account: \u201cWhen they arrested him [Vega], he [Delgado] appeared at the raid. That\u2019s unusual. We had worked the case with quite a bit of secrecy, but he had sources in the Attorney General\u2019s Office and other places.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EDuring the arrest, another police unit raided Vega\u2019s hotels. At La Pir\u00e1mide, the police found more documents tying him to MS-13: he had the sentence from a conviction of Poison and another gang member, El Ara\u00f1a, for homicide and terrorism; a copy of the registration of a vehicle belonging to a front man working for Marvin Adaly Ramos Quintanilla, \u201cPiwa,\u201d accused in Jaque as an MS-13 administrator; and the sales paperwork of a motorcycle tied to Reina Romero, the wife of one of the founders of San Cocos. On site the police also reportedly found cocaine and an altar to Saint Death.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\t\t\u003Cfigure class=\"pict pict_land pict_move_posc 0 cs_img cs_img--curr rule--ss_c\" data-shot=\"pict\" data-hint=\"pict\"\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"pict__pobj text-overflow\"\u003E\u003Cimg src=\"https:\/\/elfaro.net\/get_img?ImageWidth=3000&ImageHeight=2000&ImageId=38163\" class=\"pobj\" style=\"max-width: 100%\" rel=\"resizable\" alt=\"Photo of Jorge Manuel Vega Knight,\u00a0published by the Attorney General's Office at the time of his arrest on Aug. 27, 2018.\" \/\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"pict__line block edge--ss_lax edge--ss_rax padd--ss_l0x padd--ss_r0x line--ss_s0b lineh rule--ss_c\"\u003E\u003Cspan class=\"block-inline full-width align-middle lineh__rect tint-back--nake\"\u003E\u003Cspan\u003E\u00a0\u003C\/span\u003E\u003C\/span\u003E\u003C\/div\u003E\u003Cfigcaption class=\"pict__text cs_img_caption folk_content typo_buttons line--ss_s0c line--ss_s0c--auto block full-width text-overflow rule--ss_l relative\"\u003E\u003Cdiv class=\"__content block-inline full-width align-top tint-text--idle relative\"\u003EPhoto of Jorge Manuel Vega Knight,\u00a0published by the Attorney General's Office at the time of his arrest on Aug. 27, 2018.\u003C\/div\u003E\u003C\/figcaption\u003E\u003C\/figure\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThese documents corroborate testimony, given by Capricornio to El Faro and InSight Crime weeks before his murder early this year, that the hotels served as meeting- and hidingplaces for gang members, drugs, and guns. He said the gangs considered them \u201csafehouses.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIn September, 2018, a judge from the Specialized Trial Court of Santa Ana ordered Vega to pre-trial detention, writing that \u201cthere is evidence of an organization that can be cataloged as a segment of organized crime.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EAt the time Delgado was drawing from his political and business-sector connections in private practice. He left his role as advisor to Attorney General Douglas Mel\u00e9ndez a year earlier, in October, 2017.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EDelgado worked in 2019 as an advisor to Alba Petr\u00f3leos, a petroleum company funded by the Venezuelan government and FMLN mayors\u2019 offices, in which he worked directly with FMLN leader and political operative Jos\u00e9 Luis Merino, as well as to the Legislative Assembly. Also in 2019, he continued defending Vega alongside attorney Juan Carlos Rodr\u00edguez V\u00e1squez, the former legal director of the General Directorate of Assets and Customs when the institution was led by the current minister of security, Gustavo Villatoro. El Faro and InSight Crime have obtained court filings from Santa Ana documenting Delgado and Rodr\u00edguez\u2019s work for Vega.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EProsecutors from the Special Investigation Commission thought they had backed Vega into a corner. \u201cWe had the testimony of the man they murdered [Capricornio], but the most important evidence was the financial analysis: neither he nor his wife had sufficient income to pay a series of loans. The businesses were legal, but they were used to launder money,\u201d said a prosecutor. The court exonerated Vega in September, 2020, but condemned his presumed accomplices from the gang.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EPoison, for example, was condemned to eight years\u2019 prison time for laundering money through small used-clothing and chicken stores. One of the prosecutors says that Vega, as opposed to those who were convicted, was exonerated because of his defense attorney\u2019s connections: \u201cThe judge said there was no proof, but there was plenty of it: audio, the testimony of Capricornio. [...] There are people who for less than that were given 40 years.\u201d\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EDespite the exoneration, the motels remained forfeited because Vega\u2019s wife, Arg\u00fcello, registered as the owner of the motels, was facing a separate case for money laundering and document forgery. Delgado and Rodr\u00edguez also represented her, according to court filings. Delgado petitioned the Santa Ana Specialized Appeals Chamber and the Constitutional Chamber of the Supreme Court to order the release of the motels, but was rebuffed.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EIt finally happened after Delgado\u2019s appointment as attorney general in May, 2021, and the selection of the judge who exonerated Vega as the number-two state prosecutor. The Attorney General\u2019s Office then asked for a temporary stay of the case against Arg\u00fcello de Vega and on Oct. 4, 2021, the Specialized Trial Court in Santa Ana returned the motels.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EOn May 30, seven months after the suspension of the case against Arg\u00fcello, she sold La Pir\u00e1mide for $800,800 to AVB Cosmetic, a business owned by her husband. The sale price contrasts with documents from the Commercial Registry stating that in 2019, 2020, and 2021 the business did not report total assets worth more than $50,000. The secretary of AVB Cosmetic, per commercial records, is Juan Ram\u00f3n Flores Alfaro, who on LinkedIn says he works as typist for Grupo Villatoro, a business belonging to the current minister of security.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EVega has other construction and hotel companies like Prime Inversiones, JV Inversiones, and Inversiones Inmobiliarias Italia. The latter operates Las Hojas Resort and Beach Club, where Vega is listed as the administrator. During the pandemic the Ministry of Tourism allotted four contracts totalling $60,949 to use the resort for the Covid-19 quarantine.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003EThe notary who created some of Vega\u2019s businesses is his second defense attorney, Rodr\u00edguez, who did the same for the businesses of Rodolfo Delgado. In 2015, for example, Rodr\u00edguez created Delgado Montes S.A. de C.V., property of Delgado and his brother, Erick Antonio, who in January was contracted as chief of operations at the state bank Bandesal.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003ECapricornio was murdered on March 29 while still listed as a state witness. Two hitmen ambushed and shot him at least 14 times outside a bar in Sonsonate. Sources within MS-13 confirmed that the assassination was carried out by San Cocos, his former clique with ties to Vega.\u003C\/p\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cbr\/\u003E\u003Cp dir=\"ltr\"\u003E\u003Cem\u003EEditor's Note: This story was published in collaboration with InSight Crime.\u003C\/em\u003E\u003C\/p\u003E"}