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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Eastern District of New York

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

18th Street Gang Leader Indicted for Ordering Murder of 15-Year-Old Victim on Long Island

Two 18th Street Gang Members Also Charged with Attempted Murder of Rivals

Junior Zelaya-Canales, a regional leader of the 18th Street gang, will be arraigned this afternoon before United States Magistrate Judge Robert M. Levy in federal court in Brooklyn on a fourth superseding indictment charging him with murder in aid of racketeering in connection with the September 2016 fatal shooting of 15-year-old Josue Guzman in Hempstead, New York; conspiracy to murder rival gang members; and attempted murder of rival gang members.  The superseding indictment also charged 18th Street gang members Jonathan Zelaya-Diaz with conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder in aid of racketeering, and Eric Chavez with attempted murder and assault in aid of racketeering.  Chavez was arrested on Tuesday and ordered detained pending trial.  Zelaya-Diaz remains at large.

Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), announced the charges.

As alleged in the superseding indictment and other court filings, the 18th Street gang is a violent street gang with members and associates in Jamaica, Queens, and in various locations across the United States.

“The superseding indictment and arrests announced today are a significant step in dismantling a violent street gang in our district,” stated United States Attorney Donoghue.  “This Office, with the assistance of local and federal law enforcement partners, will not relent until violent street gangs that endanger communities have been eradicated.”  Mr. Donoghue expressed his grateful appreciation to the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office, Nassau County Police Department, Queens District Attorney’s Office and the New York City Police Department (NYPD) for their assistance with the investigations.  

"It defies comprehension these gang members are allegedly murdering and attempting to murder human beings for respect in their gang or in retaliation for some perceived slight,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney.  “Josue Guzman was just 15-years-old when he was shot and killed because someone deemed him to be disrespectful. We may never be able to change the mindlessness of a teenager being killed for no reason, but we can certainly make sure anyone who commits such a grotesque act will suffer the consequences.”

The Guzman Murder

In September 2016, Zelaya-Canales allegedly directed two lower-level gang members to kill Josue Guzman to demonstrate their allegiance to 18th Street gang.  The murder was ordered, in part, because Guzman was believed to have offended 18th Street gang members.  On September 12, 2016, at approximately 1:00 a.m., the Hempstead Police Department responded to a report of shots fired near the intersection of Linden Avenue and Laurel Avenue in Hempstead.  There, the police officers found Guzman’s body lying near the curb, shot once in the back of the head.  Guzman was pronounced dead at the scene.

Attempted Murder of Rival Gang Members

On July 9, 2017, Zelaya-Canales, Zelaya-Diaz and another 18th Street gang member allegedly directed the shooting of rival gang members over a turf dispute in Woodhaven, Queens.  At approximately 10:30 p.m., NYPD officers responded to a 911 call about shots fired in the vicinity of 86th Road in Woodhaven.  There, the police officers recovered nine 9-millimeter shell casings.  

On August 9, 2017, NYPD detectives investigating the shooting executed a search warrant at Zelaya-Canales’s apartment and recovered a 9-millimeter Ruger handgun with a defaced serial number, four rounds of 9-millimeter ammunition, 56 rounds of .357 magnum ammunition, 34 rounds of .380 caliber ammunition and 23 rounds of .38 ammunition.  Ballistic tests subsequently revealed that the Ruger handgun was the weapon that fired the 9-millimeter shell casings found at the scene of the shooting in Woodhaven.

Attempted Murder of “John Doe

On September 20, 2017, in Jamaica, Queens, Eric Chavez allegedly shot “John Doe” for the purpose of maintaining and increasing his own position in the 18th Street gang, incorrectly suspecting that “Doe” was a member of the rival MS-13 gang.  Chavez and another gang member approached “Doe” with guns drawn and searched him for MS-13 gang tattoos, but discovered none.  Nevertheless, they shot and wounded “Doe” as he fled. 

The charges in the superseding indictment are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Soumya Dayananda and Jonathan P. Lax.

The Defendants:

JUNIOR ZELAYA-CANALES (also known as “Terco”)
Age: 23
Queens, New York

JONATHAN ZELAYA-DIAZ (also known as “Scooby”)
Age:  25
Hempstead, New York

ERIC CHAVEZ (also known as “Lunatico”)
Age:  20
Queens, New York

E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 18-139 (S-4) (LDH)


Firearms Offenses
Violent Crime
John Marzulli United States Attorney’s Office (718) 254-6323
Updated December 11, 2019