December 2, 2015

MS-13 Gang Member Admits Role in Witness Retaliation Murder Conspiracy

NEWARK, NJ—A MS-13 gang member from Somerset County, New Jersey, today admitted relaying instructions to murder government witnesses from incarcerated gang members, New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman and Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division announced.

Jose Romero-Aguirre, a/k/a “Conejo,” 29, of North Plainfield, New Jersey, pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Stanley R. Chesler to Count 26 of an indictment charging him with conspiracy to commit murder in furtherance of a racketeering enterprise known as La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.

According to the documents filed and statements made in court:

MS-13 is a national and international gang composed primarily of immigrants or descendants from El Salvador. Branches, or “cliques,” of MS-13 operate throughout the United States, including Plainfield, New Jersey. MS-13 members are required to commit acts of violence to maintain membership and discipline within the gang.

According to statements made by Romero-Aguirre in court, he was a member of the Plainfield Locos Salvatrucha (PLS) clique of MS-13 from at least August 2011. Romero-Aguirre admitted that he conspired with other members of MS-13 to engage in racketeering activity, including acts of murder, robbery, extortion and drug trafficking.

Romero-Aguirre admitted that one of the central rules of MS-13 forbids any member from ever providing information about the gang’s criminal activity to the police. According to Romero-Aguirre, MS-13 members began investigating the arrest of several members of his clique in or around July 2011. Romero-Aguirre participated in phone calls with other incarcerated MS-13 members and discussed the need to find and kill the witnesses responsible for these arrests. Romero-Aguirre agreed to relay the murder instructions from the incarcerated members to the other MS-13 members at large, including a message that the MS-13 members had 24 days to eliminate one of the government witnesses. Romero-Aguirre also admitted that he agreed to pass these murder instructions because he believed it would preserve his own position within MS-13.

The conspiracy charge to which Romero-Aguirre pleaded guilty carries a maximum potential penalty of ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine. He remains detained pending his sentencing, which is currently scheduled for March 16, 2016.

Twelve additional members and associates of the PLS clique of MS-13 are scheduled for trial in front of U.S. District Judge Stanley R. Chesler on February 9, 2016. The charges include several counts of murder, attempted murder, robbery, extortion, witness retaliation and sexual assault.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Newark Division, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge Kevin Kelly, and the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Richard M. Frankel in Newark, for the investigation leading to today’s plea. They also thanked the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Acting Prosecutor Grace H. Park, and the Plainfield Police Department, for their work on the case.

The government is represented by Assistant United States Attorneys James Donnelly and Jamari Buxton of the U.S. Attorney’s Office Criminal Division in Newark as well as Trial Attorney Kevin L. Rosenberg with the Justice Department Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section.

Defense counsel: Christopher L. Patella Esq., Bayonne, New Jersey