Wheels of justice: Cases at center of violent summer advance through courts

Wheels of justice: Cases at center of violent summer advance through courts

From the Las Vegas Optic

single bullet pierced Cruz Gallegos’ rib cage in the early morning hours on June 15, 2019. Stumbling past his girlfriend in the doorway of a home on Chavez Street, Gallegos collapsed in the yard. Police and first responders attempted to save his life and prepared to airlift the 27-year-old to a hospital in Albuquerque, but before the helicopter arrived, Gallegos was dead.

His death marked the first of three deadly shootings during a violent summer in Las Vegas. Weeks after Gallegos’ death, on the evening of July 22, Leroy “Smurf” Lucero was gunned down in the driveway of his home. Then, on Aug. 3, police responded to two shootings within minutes of each other — one that wounded a man and one that left Marcos “Mark” Carrillo dead.

Police have linked one man to all four shootings: Marcos R. Ruiz, a 43-year-old Las Vegas man who was recently convicted of federal drug trafficking offenses.

Gallegos Murder

Following a lengthy investigation, police determined Max J. Lucero fired the bullet that killed Gallegos.

Lucero, now 58, pleaded guilty Nov. 9 to second-degree murder as part of a plea agreement that avoided trial. Under the terms of the deal, he will serve 12 years in prison and two years parole after release.

Although Lucero is the only person charged in Gallegos’ death, he was not the only person in the house on Chavez Street that night. According to various witness statements included in police reports obtained by the Optic through a records request, three people were inside the home when Gallegos and his girlfriend Jordan Sisneros, who was 24 at the time, arrived at the house around 3 a.m. that June morning.

They’d gone to the house so Gallegos could talk to his uncle, Ruiz, according to Las Vegas Police Department incident reports. Before going inside, Gallegos warned Sisneros to be careful around Ruiz, saying, “You know how he is.”

Inside the house, Sisneros and Gallegos found Lucero, Ruiz and his brother Arturo Ruiz waiting for them. As the five chatted, Marcos Ruiz made a sarcastic comment, according to witness statements, and then pointed a gun at Gallegos and Sisneros. Marcos Ruiz was upset with Gallegos and accused him of trying to set him up “with the cops.”

After handing the gun to Lucero, Marcos Ruiz told Sisneros to wait outside while he talked to Gallegos. However, she didn’t make it out of the house before hearing a gunshot. She then found herself staring down the barrel of the gun as Lucero pointed it at her.

“Not her,” Marcos Ruiz said before taking the gun from Lucero, according to witness statements. Marcos Ruiz threw a cellphone at Sisneros, called her an expletive and told her to call the police.

Marcos Ruiz, Arturo Ruiz and Lucero then got into a vehicle and drove away.

The Black Car

Leroy “Smurf” Lucero turned 48 on July 22, 2019. He spent the day at the lake with family, and the evening at home watching TV, according to LVPD incident reports obtained by the Optic.

When a car pulled into the driveway and honked, Lucero went outside to see who it was. Gunshots rang out, with three bullets striking Lucero. He died in his driveway.

Witnesses told police they saw three people hop into a black car and drive away. One witness identified Marcos Ruiz as the driver of the car; however, another witness told police it was a different man.

Lucero was a member of the Syndicato de Nuevo Mexico prison gang, and was responsible for recruiting new members for SNM, according to multiple affidavits filed in U.S. District Court. He also testified against other SNM members in federal court, breaking a cardinal rule of SNM, according to federal agents.

SNM operates under a “blood in, blood out” philosophy, which means someone joining the gang must be initiated by beating or killing someone for the gang, according to the FBI. The only way out of the gang is death.

Agents allege that Marcos Ruiz is an SNM associate, and that his brother Arturo Ruiz is a former member of Los Carnales, a prison gang the FBI believes is currently at peace with SNM.

To date, no one has been charged in the death of Lucero.

Double Shootings

Less than two weeks after Leroy Lucero was gunned down, Vegas was shaken by more violence and another death.

Police received a call on the evening of Aug. 3, 2019, about a man who’d been shot in the stomach. Minutes later, police responded to a call blocks away where they found 42-year-old Marcos “Mark” Carrillo dead on the floor of Marcos Ruiz’s house, the victim of gunshot wounds.

Ruiz was arrested Aug. 4, 2019, and ultimately charged with first-degree murder and attempted murder.

Agents with the DEA and FBI served multiple search warrants at homes across Las Vegas on Sept. 19, 2019, including at Ruiz’s home in the 600 block of Union Street. Following the raids, he was indicted on federal charges of distribution of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine.

Federal Charges

A federal indictment, filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque in September 2019, names Marcos Ruiz and 11 others suspected of trafficking illegal narcotics in Las Vegas and other parts of New Mexico.

This July, Ruiz accepted a plea agreement in the case, pleading guilty to possession with intent to distribute a mixture containing cocaine, possession with intent to distribute a mixture containing cocaine base and unlawful use of a communication device for using a telephone to “commit, cause or facilitate” the possession and distribution of cocaine.

Ruiz faces up to 20 years in prison for the first two charges, and up to four years for the third charge. He would also be subject to supervised probation of at least three years after release from prison. He has also waived the right to appeal the convictions or any sentence imposed.

A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Dec. 8 in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque.

Ruiz is also scheduled to go to trial early next year in Fourth Judicial District Court in Las Vegas to face charges of first-degree murder, attempt to commit first-degree murder, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and possession of a firearm by a felon.

Fourth Judicial District Attorney Tom Clayton told the Optic his office is ready for trial; however, the trial could be delayed.

“The lawyer that’s representing (Ruiz) is retiring in December,” Clayton said. “New counsel is going to be appointed, but when that happens, and how fast he or she is up to speed, we don’t know.”

A 10-day trial is currently scheduled to begin Jan. 10. Ruiz remained in federal custody as of this writing.