Six MS-13 Members with Ties to New Jersey Indicted on Gang-Related Charges, Including Racketeering Conspiracy, Murder, and Multiple Murder Conspiracies
NEWARK, N.J. – A grand jury returned a seven-count superseding indictment today charging six members of the violent street gang MS-13, including one who is incarcerated in El Salvador, with various gang-related offenses, including racketeering conspiracy, murder in aid of racketeering, and conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, U.S. Attorney Craig Carpenito, District of New Jersey, Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, Special Agent in Charge Gregory W. Ehrie of the FBI’s Newark Division, Field Office Director John Tsoukaris of the 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, announced.
Five of the defendants, all citizens of El Salvador, are members 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; Jose Rivera-Robles, aka “Layo,” 33, a member of the Hudson Locotes clique; and Juan Garcia-Gomez, aka “Scooby,” 22, a Hudson County MS-13 recruit, all of Union City, New Jersey. The sixth defendant, Christian Linares-Rodriguez, aka “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 court documents and statements made in court:
The defendants and other Hudson County MS-13 members and associates allegedly engaged in various forms of illegal racketeering activity on behalf of the gang between late 2014 and late 2015. This included: the execution of a suspected rival gang member in West New York, New Jersey, on July 1, 2015, which resulted in Garcia-Gomez, the shooter, becoming eligible to join MS-13; a failed May 2015 plot to kill a member of the rival 18th Street gang, who had been lured to New Jersey by a female MS-13 associate; a plot to kill a member of the Hudson Locotes clique, whom Salvadoran MS-13 leaders had “green-lighted” – or ordered to be killed – because the Hudson Locotes clique member was suspected of violating the gang’s core rule, which prohibits assisting the authorities; extorting the proprietor of a Hudson County restaurant by threatening harm if the proprietor did not pay money to the gang; and conspiring 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
Shortly after midnight on July 1, 2015, Garcia-Gomez shot and killed a person identified in the superseding indictment as Victim-3 as the victim was entering an apartment building in West New York. Surveillance cameras mounted outside the apartment building captured the murder from multiple angles. Several angles show a male, later identified as Garcia-Gomez, approach Victim-3 from behind, level a revolver at Victim-3, and then fire a single shot into the back of Victim-3’s head. Additional angles show a male, later identified as Sanchez-Aguilar, watching the murder from across the street, and another male, later identified as Rivera-Robles, lingering close by and meeting with Garcia-Gomez moments after the execution.
Investigators also retrieved surveillance footage showing Garcia-Gomez boarding a bus after the murder, and later, entering a residence in Union City, New Jersey. Investigators visited the Union City residence and located Garcia-Gomez. Investigators also obtained a warrant to search Garcia-Gomez’s residence and recovered, among other things: a pair of distinctive jeans that Garcia-Gomez wore when he committed the murder; and a box of .44-caliber ammunition, which matches the caliber of the bullet recovered from Victim-3’s body.
Through additional investigation, including witness interviews and numerous lawfully recorded telephone conversations, some of which were obtained from the Salvadoran government, investigators discovered that Garcia-Gomez shot and killed Victim-3, a suspected rival gang member, so that he could become a full member of MS-13. The investigation further revealed 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’ 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
Around May 2015, Hudson County MS-13 members and associates engaged in a plot to kill a member of the rival 18th Street gang from the Maryland/Virginia area, identified in the superseding indictment 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.
Victim-2 arrived in Hudson County around May 25, 2015. Upon Victim-2’s arrival, Escalante-Melgar ordered three MS-13 members – identified in the superseding indictment as Co-Conspirator-1, Co-Conspirator-2, and Co-Conspirator-4 – to carry out the murder. When their initial attempts to make contact with Victim-2 did not go as planned, the MS-13 members decided to secure a room for Victim-2 at a local motel, and offered to transport Victim-2 back to the Maryland/Virginia area the following day. At Escalante-Melgar’s direction, the MS-13 members agreed to stab the victim to death at some point during the trip, and then dispose of the body.
The murder was foiled the following day when Victim-2 – sensing that the MS-13 members planned to harm Victim-2 – jumped from Co-Conspirator-1’s vehicle outside a tollbooth on the way to the Maryland/Virginia area. The MS-13 members later received beatings for failing to kill the rival 18th Street gang member.
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 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.
Arraignment will be scheduled at a later date.
The investigation was conducted by special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Ehrie in Newark; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations, under the direction of Field Office Director Tsoukaris; ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations, Newark, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Michael; FBI’s Transnational Anti-Gang Unit and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Prosecutor Esther Suarez. The Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs, the Union City Police Department, the West New York Police Department, and North Bergen Police Department also assisted in this investigation.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jamari Buxton of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey’s Criminal Division in Newark and Trial Attorney Matthew Hoff of the DOJ Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section.