New Jersey Leaders and Members of Violent, International Street Gang Indicted in Racketeering Conspiracy
Plainfield-Based Gang Allegedly Supported the Enterprise with Murder, Extortion, Plots to Kill Witnesses and a Law Enforcement Officer, and Sexual Assault
|U.S. Attorney’s Office September 25, 2013|
NEWARK, NJ—Three former leaders of a New Jersey branch of the violent international street gang La Mara Salvatrucha—including the branch’s founding member—are charged with racketeering and murder in an indictment that also charges 11 other alleged members of the gang with related crimes, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman of the District of New Jersey announced today.
Santos Reyes-Villatoro, a/k/a “Mousey,” allegedly founded the Plainfield Locos Salvatruchas (PLS)—a subset or “clique”—of La Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, in the 1990s and served as its leader until his arrest in 2009 for attempted murder. Two other former leaders of the local PLS clique, Mario Oliva, a/k/a “Zorro,” and Roberto Contreras, a/k/a “Demonio,” are also charged in a 26-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury.
In all, the indictment charges 14 alleged members of the gang with racketeering conspiracy and a host of other violent crimes.
“The indictment describes an extraordinarily dangerous criminal enterprise whose entire reason for being revolves around imposing its leaders’ will through violence and intimidation,” U.S. Attorney Fishman said. “They have inflicted on the people of Plainfield and surrounding areas a reign of terror, backed up by physical assaults and murders. No community should have to endure such lawlessness.”
“The brazenness of the conduct charged in today’s indictment is deeply troubling,” Acting Union County, New Jersey Prosecutor Grace H. Park said. “The defendants allegedly showed no reluctance to react to perceived or real slights with immediate and reckless violence—and when they were caught, they plotted to retaliate against those who they believed to be responsible. Combatting gang-related crimes in Plainfield and all of our communities is one of the top priorities of this office, and it is reflected in today’s charges against the leaders of a particularly violent criminal enterprise.”
The federal indictment, which charges members of PLS with a racketeering conspiracy, four murders, multiple conspiracies to commit murder, extortion, robbery, and a variety of other crimes, is the culmination of a three-year investigation that started in the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and expanded to include other local, state, and federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI. Among those named in the indictment are individuals who were arrested and charged with state crimes in the summer of 2011. Today’s indictment incorporates many of the acts charged at the state level and adds additional criminal activity uncovered during the subsequent investigation.
All but one of the defendants are currently in custody; Walter Yovany-Gomez remains at large. Those in custody are scheduled to make their initial appearances later today before U.S. Magistrate Judge Joseph A. Dickson in Newark federal court.
According to the indictment:
The PLS clique was founded in the mid-1990s by Reyes-Villatoro and operated in New Jersey in Union, Somerset, and Middlesex Counties. Reyes-Villatoro served as “first word,” or leader, of the group until he was arrested in 2009 and charged with attempted murder. The first word is responsible for “greenlighting,” or authorizing, all murders committed by members of the clique.
Reyes-Villatoro relinquished the position to his “second word,” or deputy, Oliva, who held the position until he allegedly murdered a member of MS-13 in February 2010 and fled New Jersey. Contreras then took over. He is implicated in the sexual assault with Oliva of two underage girls.
The indictment charges numerous violent acts committed by PLS members as part of the racketeering conspiracy, some of which targeted members of rival gangs, such as the Latin Kings and the 18th Street gang, and some of which targeted MS-13 members perceived as being disloyal.
Among the charges are four gang-related murders:
- February 8, 2009, Julian Moz-Aguilar, a/k/a “Humilde,” allegedly murdered a Latin King (described in the indictment as Victim 5) at Reyes-Villatoro’s instruction;
- February 27, 2010, Oliva and another MS-13 member allegedly murdered a member of MS-13 (Victim 10) who had been previously “greenlighted” by Oliva;
- November 11, 2010, Hugo Palencia, a/k/a “Taliban,” allegedly instructed another MS-13 member to fire a gun at a rival gang member, which resulted in the death of another individual (Victim 11) near a high school in Plainfield, New Jersey; and
- May 8, 2011, Cruz Flores, a/k/a “Bruja,” and Walter Yovany-Gomez, a/k/a “Cholo,” allegedly murdered an individual (Victim 15) because they believed the person was associating with the rival 18th Street gang.
“Today, HSI and our law enforcement partners have struck a serious blow to the core of this gang organization,” Andrew McLees, special agent in charge of ICE, Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) Newark, said. “MS-13 gang members and their associates are serious career criminals who have a callous disregard for human life. HSI is determined to remove the MS-13 menace from New Jersey’s communities.”
“Today’s indictment is the result of a long-term, multi-agency investigation,” Aaron T. Ford, FBI Special Agent in Charge in Newark, said. “Dedicated personnel from agencies at all levels of government worked in unison to combat this dangerous and violent criminal enterprise. This cooperation is, and will continue to be, a critical factor for successfully defending threats that endanger the citizens of New Jersey.”
In 2011, law enforcement arrested a number of PLS members in Plainfield. While detained at the Union County Jail, PLS members plotted to retaliate against those they believed were responsible for their arrest, including witnesses, law enforcement, and fellow gang members they suspected were cooperating with the government. PLS members allegedly sought revenge against a Plainfield detective involved in the case by planning to firebomb the residence of the detective’s mother.
Six defendants—Reyes-Villatoro, Oliva, Julian Moz-Aguilar, Hugo Palencia, Cruz Flores, and Walter Yovany-Gomez—are charged with murder in aid of racketeering, which is punishable by a mandatory sentence of life in prison. The charge is a death penalty-eligible offense subject to a decision by the U.S. Attorney General.
U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of ICE-HSI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge McLees, and the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Ford. Fishman specifically thanked the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Acting Prosecutor Park, for long, close collaboration on the case. He also thanked the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Prosecutor Geoffrey D. Soriano; and the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Acting Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey, for their roles. He also acknowledged the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Eastern District of Virginia and the District of Maryland for their assistance in the ongoing investigation.
The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys James M. Donnelly and Andrew J. Bruck of the U.S Attorney’s Office Organized Crime/Gangs Unit in Newark.
The charges and allegations contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.