Three MS-13 Members Plead Guilty to Kidnapping Conspiracy, Resulting in Murder of Victim
Gang Members Used Facebook to Lure Victim to Maryland, Where he was Drowned and Attacked With a Machete
Greenbelt, Maryland – Reynaldo Alexis Granados-Vasquez, age 23, of Gaithersburg, Maryland, pleaded guilty today to conspiracy to kidnap a victim. This guilty plea follows the guilty plea earlier this week of co-defendant, Neris Moreno-Martinez, age 22, of West New York, New Jersey, and the guilty plea last week of co-defendant Jose Israel Melendez-Rivera, age 21, of Germantown, Maryland, for their roles in the same conspiracy. According to court papers, the defendants kidnapped and murdered the victim, whom they believed to be a member of a rival gang. All three defendants were citizens of El Salvador and unlawfully present in the United States.
The guilty plea was announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur; Acting Special Agent in Charge Cardell T. Morant of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI); Chief J. Thomas Manger of the Montgomery County Police Department; Chief Mark P. Sroka of the Gaithersburg Police Department; and the Guttenberg Police Department, New Jersey.
“The convictions of these three defendants, and our ongoing work with our law enforcement partners to bring other gang members to justice, demonstrate our unflagging commitment to eliminate MS-13 and its campaign of wanton violence,” said United States Attorney Hur.
According to court papers, including the three plea agreements in this case, all three defendants were in the L.A. clique of MS-13. Moreno-Martinez lived in New Jersey and was a paro. Melendez-Rivera, a/k/a “Liar,” lived in Maryland and was an observation. Reynaldo Alexis Granados-Vasquez, a/k/a “Fuego,” also lived in Maryland and was a paro.
In the summer of 2016, Moreno-Martinez told Melendez-Rivera about the victim, Jordy Mejia (identified as Victim A in the Superseding Indictment), whom Moreno-Martinez alleged was a member of the rival 18th Street Gang. (There is no evidence suggesting that Mejia in fact was a member of any gang.) Moreno-Martinez and Melendez-Rivera sought and received approval from certain MS-13 homeboys to murder Mejia.
As part of the conspiracy, on or before October 1, 2016, Moreno-Martinez created a Facebook account in the name of “Shaila Smith.” Between on or about October 2, 2016, and October 15, 2016, Moreno-Martinez, using Facebook, posed as “Shaila Smith,” which included using the assistance of his minor girlfriend, and expressed to Mejia that “Shaila Smith” was romantically interested in Mejia. Moreno-Martinez undertook these actions with the knowledge and willful participation of Melendez-Rivera and Granados-Vasquez, with each having the knowledge that the end goal was to trick Mejia into coming to Maryland so that the three co-defendants could murder Mejia.
As further part of the conspiracy, Moreno-Martinez persuaded Mejia to travel from New Jersey to Maryland to meet in person; instructed Mejia regarding when to travel to Maryland and what interstate transportation service to use; and provided Mejia with the address of Melendez-Rivera on Pine Ridge Lane in Germantown, Maryland, as the location where Mejia should travel to meet “Shaila Smith.”
On the morning of October 15, 2016, Moreno-Martinez traveled from New Jersey to Melendez-Rivera’s basement apartment in Maryland. Later that same day, at the urging of Moreno-Martinez (acting as “Shaila Smith”), Mejia also traveled from New Jersey to Maryland. Once in Maryland, Mejia was instructed by Moreno-Martinez (acting as “Shaila Smith”) to go to a particular address on Pine Ridge Lane in Germantown, Maryland, which was Melendez-Rivera’s address.
Once Mejia arrived in Maryland, Melendez-Rivera drove Moreno-Martinez and Granados-Vasquez to a residence near a wooded area off Game Preserve Road, where the two were to lay in wait for Mejia. Melendez-Rivera then drove back toward his apartment, picked up Mejia, and returned to the vicinity of the residence off Game Preserve Road. When Mejia arrived, Granados-Vasquez and Moreno-Martinez chased Mejia. Granados-Vasquez first caught up to Mejia, kicking him into a small stream. Melendez-Rivera and Moreno-Martinez then held Mejia’s head underwater, drowning Mejia.
After murdering Mejia, Melendez-Rivera, Moreno-Martinez, and Granados-Vasquez carried Mejia’s body into the woods nearby, dug a shallow grave, and then each took turns stabbing Mejia’s dead body with two machetes they had brought.
La Mara Salvatrucha, a/k/a the MS-13 gang (“MS-13”), is a gang composed primarily of immigrants or descendants of immigrants from El Salvador, with members operating in the State of Maryland, including Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, and throughout the United States. MS-13 is a national and international criminal organization and is one of the largest street gangs in the United States. Gang members actively recruit members, including juveniles, from communities with a large number of Salvadorian immigrants.
MS-13 members are required to commit acts of violence both to maintain membership and discipline within the gang and against rival gangs. Participation in criminal activity by a member, particularly violent acts directed at rival gangs or as directed by the gang leadership, increased the respect accorded to that member, resulted in that member maintaining or increasing his position in the gang, and opened the door to a promotion to a leadership position. One of the principal rules of MS-13 was that its members must attack and kill rivals whenever possible. Rivals are often referred to as “chavalas.” One of the main rivals of MS-13 was the 18th Street Gang.
Prospective members who sought to join MS‑13 were required to complete an initiation process. Individuals who associated with and were friends of the gang were called “paisas.” Individuals who did favors and other acts for the gang were called “paros.” Persons being observed by the gang for potential membership were known as “observations.” Individuals who had advanced to the final level before being “jumped in” were called “chequeos,” or “cheqs.” Chequeos underwent a probationary period during which they were required to commit crimes on behalf of MS-13 to achieve trust and prove their loyalty to the gang. To join MS‑13 and become a full member or “homeboy,” prospective members were required to complete an initiation process, often referred to as being “jumped in” or “beat in” to the gang. During that initiation, other members of MS‑13 would beat the new member, usually until a gang member finished counting aloud to the number thirteen, representing the “13” in MS-13.
MS‑13 is an international criminal organization, and is organized in Maryland and elsewhere into “cliques,” that is, smaller groups operating in a specific city or region. Cliques operated under the umbrella rules of MS‑13.
Melendez-Rivera is scheduled for sentencing on April 25, 2019, at 1:00 p.m. before Judge Paula Xinis in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt, Maryland, and faces up to life in prison. Moreno-Martinez is scheduled for sentencing on May 3, 2019, at 1:00 p.m. before Judge Xinis and faces from 292 months to 365 months in prison. Granados-Vasquez is scheduled for sentencing on May 13, 2019, at 1:00 p.m. before Judge Xinis and faces from 240 months to 324 months in prison.
United States Attorney Robert K. Hur commended Homeland Security Investigations; the Montgomery County Police Department; the Gaithersburg Police Department; and the Guttenberg Police Department for their work in the investigation. Mr. Hur thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Thomas P. Windom and Timothy Hagan, who are prosecuting the case.