Brother of Laken Riley's killer accused of having connections to violent Venezuelan gang

Diego Ibarra
Diego Ibarra | Screengrab/Atlanta News First

The brother of the illegal immigrant accused of murdering 22-year-old Laken Riley is facing up to 10 years in prison for possessing a fraudulent green card, and federal prosecutors also believe the man has ties to a violent prison gang in Venezuela. 

Diego Ibarra, 28, was arrested last month after he presented law enforcement with a fake green card when they questioned him about his brother, Jose Ibarra, who was later arrested in connection with Riley’s murder. The Augusta University nursing student was murdered while out for a jog on the University of Georgia campus, and authorities later determined she died from blunt force trauma. 

According to a court filing provided to The Christian Post, Ibarra appeared in federal court and faces 10 years in prison if convicted. The filing added that U.S. Magistrate Judge Charles Weigle deemed Ibarra a potential “flight risk” and ordered that he remain detained pending trial. 

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The document also states that Homeland Security Investigations is handling the case with assistance from the FBI, GBI, Athens-Clarke County Police Department, University of Georgia Police Department and Clarke County Sheriff’s Office. Assistant U.S. Attorney Mike Morrison is prosecuting the case, according to the document. 

A memorandum provided to CP detailed evidence used to support the motion for detention. Federal prosecutors believe Ibarra has ties to Tren de Aragua, one of Venezuela’s largest criminal organizations. The prosecution shared photos of Ibarra posing with illegal guns and flashing gang signs affiliated with Tren de Aragua. 

According to the memorandum, Ibarra has a “lengthy history” of encounters with immigration officials. U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehended him on April 3, 2023, the day he illegally entered the U.S. through Eagle Pass, Texas. CBP returned him to Mexico, only for him to re-enter the country illegally 27 days later. 

On April 30, 2023, a physical altercation ensued with Border Patrol agents after Ibarra and a man identified as Jose Lozado-Salas illegally entered the U.S. Lozado-Salas assaulted one of the agents who attempted to handcuff him. 

“Simultaneously, the other agent attempted to take Ibarra into custody. Ibarra resisted the agent’s efforts and grabbed his CBP issued radio and threw it into a nearby yard,” the document stated. “At one point, Ibarra attempted to bite the agent. The agents grappled with Ibarra and Lozado-Salas for approximately four minutes before members of the National Guard arrived and assisted the agents in subduing both men.” 

Ibarra wasn't prosecuted for the incident; however, Lozado-Salas entered a guilty plea in August 2023 and was charged with assaulting a federal officer and improper entry of an illegal alien. 

ICE placed Ibarra in the Alternatives to Detention Program in May 2023, which required him to wear an ankle monitor. Ibarra was later removed from the ATD program after he removed his ankle monitor. The man eventually traveled to Athens, Georgia, where he had several encounters with law enforcement, including an arrest for Driving Under the Influence.

As Fox5 reported on Feb. 27, Ibarra and his brother had previous encounters with police before the latter became a suspect in Riley’s murder. An October 2022 field report from Athens-Clarke County police cited by the news affiliate showed that both Ibarra and his brother, Diego, were charged with shoplifting from Walmart. 

Ibarra’s brother, Jose, entered the country illegally on Sept. 8, 2022, through El Paso, Texas. He was reportedly released due to a lack of detention space.

Earlier this month, Allyson Phillips, Riley’s mother, expressed gratitude in a Facebook post for the support she and her family have received in the wake of the young woman’s death. The mother also shared an image of her daughter’s name inside a black-and-white heart with the hashtag: “#SayHerName.” 

“As I sat down to write this message, I really just have no words. My family has faced the most devastating, unimaginable loss that anyone could ever be forced to endure,” Phillips wrote. "I would like to thank my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, for being with me and my family during this heartbreaking time. I encourage everyone to have a personal relationship with Jesus. I give Him all the glory for getting us through this."

“It would be really easy to lose our faith in mankind because of this senseless and avoidable tragedy,” the mother continued. “The amount of love, support and help that we have received during this horrific nightmare is overwhelming.”

Samantha Kamman is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: Follow her on Twitter: @Samantha_Kamman

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