A grand jury in Newark, New Jersey returned a seven-count superseding indictment today charging six members of the violent street gang MS-13 with various gang-related offenses, including racketeering conspiracy, murder in aid of racketeering, and conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, announced Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito for the District of New Jersey, Special Agent in Charge Gregory W. Ehrie of the FBI’s Newark Division, Field Office Director John Tsoukaris of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations and Acting Special Agent in Charge Brian Michael of ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Newark.
Five of the defendants, all citizens of El Salvador, are alleged members and/or associates of MS-13 sub-units, or “cliques,” operating in Hudson County, New Jersey: Juan Escalante-Melgar, aka Humilde, 28, the former leader of the Pinos Locos Salvatrucha clique (the “Pinos clique”); Elmer Cruz-Diaz, aka Locote, 29, the former leader of the Hudson Locotes Salvatrucha clique (the “Hudson Locotes clique”); Oscar Sanchez-Aguilar, aka Snappy, 22, a member of the Pinos clique and Juan Garcia-Gomez, aka Scooby, 22, a Hudson County MS-13 recruit, and Jose Rivera-Robles, aka Layo, 33, a member of the Hudson Locotes clique. The sixth and final defendant, Christian Linares-Rodriguez, aka Burro or Donkey, 38, is a high-ranking MS-13 member who is currently incarcerated in El Salvador, and who allegedly authorized and directed much of the illegal activity described in the superseding indictment.
“MS-13 is one of the most violent and vicious gangs in America today,” said Attorney General Sessions. “The gang has more than 10,000 members following its barbaric motto of ‘kill, rape, and control’ across 40 states, and that threatens law-abiding Americans. Today’s indictment makes clear that the Trump Administration and this Department will be relentless in taking the fight to MS-13 with every lawful tool at our disposal. I want to thank the FBI, ICE, and DOJ Trial Attorneys for their hard work on this case, part of our aggressive effort to dismantle MS-13 and get its members off our streets for good.”
“Our office has been pursuing and successfully prosecuting the members of the violent transnational gang MS-13 for the crimes they have committed in New Jersey and elsewhere,” U.S. Attorney Carpenito said. “The facts described in the indictment returned today make it clear why: This is a vicious organization with no regard for human life or for the laws of our country. We will continue to focus our resources to ensure that the people of New Jersey are made safe from this violence.”
According to the superseding indictment, the defendants and other Hudson County MS-13 members and/or associates engaged in various forms of illegal racketeering activity on behalf of the gang between late-2014 and late-2015. The alleged illegal conduct included: a July 1, 2015 execution of a suspected rival gang member in West New York, New Jersey (the “July 1, 2015 Murder”); a May 2015 plot to stab to death a member of a rival 18th Street gang who was lured into a vehicle but managed to escape (the “May 2015 Murder Plot”); a plot “green lighted” by Salvadoran MS-13 leaders to kill a member of the Hudson Locotes clique who disobeyed an order to kill a rival gang member and was suspected of assisting the authorities (the “Suspected Informant Murder Plot”); an extortion scheme targeting the proprietor of a North Bergen, New Jersey restaurant entailing threats of violence if the proprietor did not pay money to the gang; and a conspiracy to sell cocaine on behalf of the gang.
The murder and murder conspiracies charged in the superseding indictment are described below:
The July 1, 2015 Murder
As alleged in the superseding indictment, on July 1, 2015, Garcia-Gomez shot and killed a suspected rival gang member identified as Victim-3 at Victim-3’s residence in West New York. Garcia-Gomez approached Victim-3 and fatally shot him with a revolver handgun, while Rivera-Robles and Sanchez-Aguilar watched nearby.
The indictment alleges that Garcia-Gomez shot and killed Victim-3 so that he could become a full-member of MS-13. The indictment further alleges that Escalante-Melgar – one of the highest-ranking Hudson County MS-13 members at the time – directed Garcia-Gomez to carry out the execution, with Linares-Rodriguez’s approval from El Salvador. Escalante-Melgar also ordered Sanchez-Aguilar and Rivera-Robles to accompany Garcia-Gomez and serve as lookouts. Prior to the murder, Sanchez-Aguilar had been surveilling the victim, while Rivera-Robles and others had test-fired the murder weapon, which belonged to Escalante-Melgar.
The May 2015 Murder Plot
According to the superseding indictment, around May 2015, Hudson County MS-13 members and/or associates engaged in a plot to kill a member of the rival 18th Street gang from the Maryland/Virginia area, identified as Victim-2. The plot involved a female associate of MS-13, identified in the superseding indictment as Co-Conspirator-3, befriending Victim-2, and then luring Victim-2 to the New Jersey area so that MS-13 members could execute Victim-2.
The indictment alleges that Victim-2 arrived in Hudson County around May 25, 2015 to visit Co-Conspirator-3. Upon Victim-2’s arrival, Escalante-Melgar ordered three MS-13 members to carry out the murder. The three MS-13 members allegedly offered to transport Victim-2 from a motel back to the Maryland/Virginia area and, at Escalante-Melgar’s direction, agreed to stab the victim to death at some point during the trip.
According to the indictment, the murder was foiled when Victim-2 – sensing that the MS-13 members intended harm – jumped from the backseat of the vehicle and escaped.
The Suspected Informant Murder Plot
As alleged in the superseding indictment, Salvadoran MS-13 leaders, including Linares-Rodriguez, issued a green light to kill a member of the Hudson Locotes clique suspected of assisting the authorities, identified as Victim-1. Linares-Rodriguez allegedly issued one green light after Victim-1 refused to carry out instructions to kill a member of the rival 18th Street gang in September 2014, and then issued a second green light when Victim-1 was suspected of assisting law enforcement in early 2015. Escalante-Melgar, Cruz-Diaz, and others discussed the kill order on Victim-1, as well as plans to carry out the kill order, which included assigning MS-13 members and/or associates to surveil Victim-1 in preparation for the murder.
Count one charges all six defendants with racketeering conspiracy. Count two charges Escalante-Melgar and Linares-Rodriguez with conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering based on the May 2015 murder plot. Count three charges Escalante-Melgar, Cruz-Diaz, Sanchez-Aguilar, Rivera-Robles, and Garcia-Gomez with murder in aid of racketeering based on the July 1, 2015 murder. Count four charges all six defendants with conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering based on the July 1, 2015 murder. Count five charges all six defendants with discharging a firearm during a crime of violence, and aiding and abetting that crime. Count six charges Escalante-Melgar, Cruz-Diaz, Sanchez-Aguilar, Rivera-Robles, and Garcia-Gomez with causing death through the use of a firearm based on the July 1, 2015 murder. Count seven charges Escalante-Melgar, Cruz-Diaz, and Linares-Rodriguez with conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering based on the Suspected Informant Murder Plot. The arraignment has not been scheduled.
The investigation was conducted by the FBI, ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations, FBI-led Transnational Anti-Gang Unit, Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office and ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the Justice Department’s Office of Prosecutorial Development Assistance and Training, the Union City Police Department, the West New York Police Department, and North Bergen Police Department also assisted in this investigation.
The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorney Matthew Hoff of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Jamari Buxton of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey.