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Press Release

Five Ms-13 Members Admit Racketeering, Murder Conspiracy, Gang Activity

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of New Jersey
Leaders in California and El Salvador Conspired with East Coast Gang Members to Create Cohesive National Organization Based on Drug Trafficking, Extortion Payments, and Violence

NEWARK, N.J. – Five members of the international street gang “Mara Salvatrucha” (also known as MS-13) – including two top-ranking members who were directing gang operations from California prison cells – today admitted their roles in crimes including racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder, extortion and drug trafficking, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

The defendants include Amilcar Romero, 47, a/k/a “Chichi,” and Joel Antonio Cortez, 41, a/k/a “Pee Wee,” both currently serving state prison sentences in California, and both of whom served as chief deputies to the leader of Mara Salvatrucha’s “national program.” They pleaded guilty today before U.S. District Judge Stanley Chesler in Newark federal court.

According to documents filed in this case and statements made in court:

The “national program,” also known as the “unification of the barrio,” sought to bring all of Mara Salvatrucha’s local sets, or “cliques,” in the United States under a single, cohesive leadership structure. The goal of the national program was to increase the nationwide collection of extortion proceeds, known as “rent,” and to use these rent-collection networks to establish new drug distribution channels from California to the East Coast.  Mara Salvatrucha leaders allegedly struck a deal with the Mexican Mafia, a California prison gang, and certain Mexican drug cartels, including La Familia Michoacana, to supply methamphetamine and other drugs at cheap prices to gang members on the East Coast, including in New Jersey.

Three members of the “Hudson Locotes Salvatruchas”—a local branch, or “clique,” based in Hudson County, New Jersey, pleaded guilty to their roles in conspiring to murder an MS-13 member that had violated the gang’s rules and the member’s brother, who was alleged to belong to a rival gang.  Luis Lopez-Guzman, 26, a/k/a “Nino, of Union City, New Jersey;” Hector Carranza-Solis, 32, a/k/a “Blackie;” of West New York, New Jersey, and Rudy Gutierrez, 24, a/k/a “Chiqui,” of Union City, admitted that they participated in telephone calls and other discussions with the leadership of the gang in the United States and El Salvador to seek permission to kill the rival gang members. Law enforcement learned of the murder plot during the course of this investigation and arrested the defendants before it could be completed.

Romero and Cortez served as the top deputies to Jose Juan Rodriguez-Juarez. Rodriguez-Juarez was a made member, or “carnale,” in the Mexican Mafia, and he leveraged his status within the powerful prison gang to assert control over all Mara Salvatrucha activities in the United States. Within Mara Salvatrucha, Rodriguez-Juarez was known by his gang moniker, “Dreamer,” but when he assumed control of the national program, he became known as “Sacerdote,” Spanish for “the priest.”

By autumn 2013, Rodriguez-Juarez had assigned Romero to serve as the primary point-of-contact between the leadership of Mara Salvatrucha in the United States and El Salvador, while Cortez assumed responsibility for recruiting Mara Salvatrucha cliques on the East Coast to join the national program. Both are also alleged to have ordered violence on the East Coast, including Cortez’s authorization of the November 2013 murder plot in Hudson County, and Romero’s order to east coast-based gang members to collect money on behalf of the gang by force and violence. Romero and Cortez collaborated with MS-13 gang leaders in New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, and elsewhere to establish a distribution chain for cheap Mexican cartel drugs, including heroin and crystal methamphetamine. Part of the profit from that drug distribution chain would then be funneled back to the gang’s leadership in California to further promote the gang’s criminal activity.

All five defendants who pleaded guilty today will be sentenced Sept. 14, 2016. (See chart below.)

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher in Newark, with the investigation leading to today’s guilty pleas. The investigation also involved substantial assistance from multiple FBI field offices, including the Los Angeles, California, office. U.S. Attorney Fishman also thanked the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Prosecutor Esther Suarez, and the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Acting Prosecutor Grace H. Park, for their work on this case. He also acknowledged the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California for their assistance in the ongoing investigation.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys James M. Donnelly and J. Jamari Buxton of the U.S Attorney’s Office Organized Crime/Gangs Unit in Newark.

Defense counsel:

Romero: John P. McDonald Esq., Somerville, New Jersey

Cortez: Howard Brownstein Esq., Union City, New Jersey

Carranza-Solis: Laurie M. Fierro Esq., Kinnelon, New Jersey

Gutierrez: Jerome A. Ballarotto Esq., Trenton, New Jersey

Lopez-Guzman: A. Paul Condon Esq., Jersey City, New Jersey


Maximum Penalties




Maximum Penalty


Racketeering Conspiracy




Life in prison

(Romero, Cruz)

20 years in prison



Conspiracy to Commit Murder in Aid of Racketeering




10 years in prison


Updated September 2, 2016

Drug Trafficking
Violent Crime
Press Release Number: 16-174