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35 years in prison for Latin Dragons member who admitted to 2017 murder
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35 years in prison for Latin Dragons member who admitted to 2017 murder

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HAMMOND — A Latin Dragons gang member was sentenced Friday to 35 years in prison for killing a man in 2017 and his role in two other homicides and three shootings between 2011 and 2017.

Manuel Diaz, 29, fatally shot Charles Berrios, 50, of Hammond, in the head Sept. 30, 2017, near Indianapolis Boulevard and Howard Avenue when Berrios drove between Diaz's car and another vehicle Diaz was pursuing.

Diaz pleaded guilty March 4 during a hearing before U.S. District Judge Philip Simon to one count of conspiracy to participate in racketeering activity.

In a plea agreement, Diaz admitted he accompanied a co-defendant and another Latin Dragons member July 10, 2011, when they shot a rival gang member in the neck and ran him and a female companion over with a truck.

On July 1, 2012, Diaz accompanied two Latin Dragons members when they shot and killed a 49-year-old man they mistook for a rival gang member.

Diaz and other Latin Dragons members were involved in a pursuit Dec. 22, 2012, that resulted in the shooting death of a person they later learned was a Latin Dragons member.

Diaz and other Latin Dragons members shot at a rival gang member April 30, 2017, and Diaz was driving a vehicle July 14, 2017, when a co-defendant shot a rival gang member in the back, court records say.

Coming Sunday, see the fifth installment in the "Riding Shotgun with NWI Cops" series, which features Dyer Police Department's Matthew Voss.

U.S. Attorney Thomas L. Kirsch II said an investigation by multiple local, state and federal agencies showed Diaz has been a member of the Latin Dragons since 2007, when he was a teenager.

“A lengthy, 35-year sentence is appropriate and should send a strong message that gang activity and associated criminal acts will not be tolerated," Kirsch said. "Gang members should know that together with our law enforcement partners, my office will continue to investigate and prosecute criminal gang activity."

In a plea agreement filed this week, Diaz's co-defendant, Ralph Mendez Jr., admitted to a role in the homicides of Jose "Toro" Gomez and Mike Whitford in summer 2017 in Chicago.

Mendez also admitted he and other gang members were involved in four separate shootings between 2014 and 2017 that wounded four people.

A shooting Oct. 25, 2014, in Whiting left a rival gang member permanently paralyzed.

Mendez shot a suspected rival gang member in the back Nov. 11, 2014, before going to another neighborhood where a co-defendant shot someone else, records allege.

Mendez also admitted to shooting two people April 8, 2017, in Chicago and another person May 22, 2017.

If Simon accepts his plea agreement, he would be sentenced to 42 1/2 years in prison.

Recent arrests booked into Lake County Jail

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