Acting Assistant Attorney General Nicole M. Argentieri Delivers Remarks at Memphis Violent Crime Initiative Announcement
A federal jury convicted eight defendants today of multiple charges related to a racketeering enterprise known as La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, after a 16-week trial.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman of the District of New Jersey and Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher of the FBI’s Newark, New Jersey, Division made the announcement.
Santos Reyes-Villatoro, aka Mousey, 43, of Bound Brook, New Jersey; Mario Oliva, aka Zorro, 29, of Plainfield, New Jersey; Roberto Contreras, aka Demonio, 27, of Bound Brook; Julian Moz-Aguilar, aka Humilde and Demente, 28, of Plainfield; Hugo Palencia, aka Taliban, 24, of Plainfield; Jose Garcia, aka Chucky and Diabolico, 24, of Plainfield; Cruz Flores, aka Bruja, 30, of Plainfield; and Esau Ramirez, aka Panda, 25, of Plainfield, were convicted in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey. Reyes-Villatoro, Oliva, Contreras, Moz-Aguilar, Palencia, Ramirez and Garcia were each convicted of one count of racketeering conspiracy; Reyes-Villatoro, Oliva, Palencia and Moz-Aguilar were each convicted of one count of murder in aid of racketeering, one count of using and carrying a firearm during a crime of violence and causing death through use of a firearm; Contreras was convicted of one count of accessory after the fact to murder in aid of racketeering; Garcia was convicted of one count of murder-for-hire conspiracy, one count of travel in interstate commerce with intent to commit murder and two counts of conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering; Flores was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering and one count of murder in aid of racketeering; and Ramirez was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering.
Sentencing is scheduled for Sept. 7, 2016, before U.S. District Judge Stanley R. Chesler of the District of New Jersey.
According to evidence presented at trial, MS-13 is a national and transnational gang with branches or “cliques” operating throughout the United States, including in Plainfield. All of the defendants were members of the Plainfield Locos Salvatrucha (PLS) Clique of MS-13, and Reyes-Villatoro, Oliva and Contreras all served as “First Word,” or leader, of the PLS Clique.
According to evidence presented at trial, from at least 2007 through September 2013, MS-13 members from the PLS Clique committed five murders in furtherance of MS-13. On Feb. 9, 2009, Reyes-Villatoro, acting as the leader of the PLS Clique, drove Moz-Aguilar and other MS-13 members through the streets of Plainfield searching for rival gang members, eventually stopping at the Plainfield Train Station. There, Moz-Aguilar used a firearm previously provided by Reyes-Villatoro to murder a victim who was believed to be a member of the Latin Kings, a rival gang. On Feb. 27, 2010, Oliva drove a female member of MS-13 to an empty parking lot in Piscataway, New Jersey, and murdered her because she was suspected of working with law enforcement. Oliva then fled the state of New Jersey with the assistance of Contreras and hid from law enforcement with the MS-13 Pinos Clique in Oxon Hill, Maryland. On Nov. 11, 2010, Palencia drove another MS-13 member to the area around Barack Obama Academy in Plainfield, where they encountered students challenging MS-13. Palencia pulled over, handed a firearm to another MS-13 member and instructed him to shoot at one of the individuals. The MS-13 member shot into the crowd, killing a bystander. On Jan. 10, 2011, Moz-Aguilar, Roberto Contreras and other MS-13 members were in a car when they spotted a suspected 18th Street gang member in front of a restaurant. Contreras stopped the vehicle and an MS-13 member exited, approached the suspected rival gang member and shot him in the head. On May 8, 2011, Flores carried out an MS-13 murder on a victim who was caught socializing with 18th Street gang members. Flores and another MS-13 member cut the victim’s throat, beat him with a bat and stabbed him in the back 17 times. An MS-13 member involved in this murder fled New Jersey and was driven to Maryland soon after law enforcement began search for him.
Evidence at trial also showed that Garcia recruited and hired MS-13 members from the Maryland-based Pinos Clique to come to New Jersey and murder a woman in exchange for $40,000. The Pinos Clique members were arrested by authorities as they pulled into Plainfield. After several MS-13 members were arrested in July 2011, Ramirez and Garcia used phones from inside the Union County, New Jersey, Jail to order the murder of three witnesses believed to be cooperating with police and responsible for their arrests. According to evidence presented at trial, members of the PLS Clique were responsible for an attempted murder of suspected Latin King members near a car wash in Plainfield; the attempted murder of suspected Latin King members in January 2009; a machete attack in May 2011 and another in June 2011 on the train tracks passing through Plainfield; an attempted murder shooting in Plainfield in May 2011; and several other additional violent crimes including extortion, robbery and several weapons offenses.
In addition to these convictions, five of the 14 other defendants charged in this investigation have pleaded guilty to their roles in the racketeering conspiracy. One defendant remains a fugitive.
The FBI’s Newark Field Office, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations and ICE Homeland Security Investigations investigated the case. The Union County Prosecutor’s Office provided substantial assistance in the investigation. The Somerset County, New Jersey, Prosecutor’s Office; Middlesex County, New Jersey, Prosecutor’s Office; U.S. Attorney’s Offices of the Eastern District of Virginia and the District of Maryland; Plainfield Police Department; Union County Police Department; Union County Sheriff’s Office; Elizabeth, New Jersey, Police Department; North Plainfield, New Jersey, Police Department; Union County Department of Corrections; Prince George’s County, Maryland, Police Department; and the U.S. Marshals Service also provided assistance in this matter. Trial Attorney Kevin L. Rosenberg of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys James Donnelly and Jamari Buxton of the District of New Jersey prosecuted this case.