July 17, 2014

National and International Leadership of MS-13 Indicted in New Jersey for Racketeering Conspiracy

NEWARK, NJ—A dozen top-ranking members of the violent international street gang “Mara Salvatrucha” (MS-13)—including the California man claiming control over the gang’s United States operations—are charged by indictment with racketeering, drug trafficking and related crimes, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced today.

Jose Juan Rodriguez-Juarez, 34, allegedly served as the leader of MS-13’s “national program.” This program, also known as the “unification of the barrio,” sought to bring all of MS-13’s local sets, or “cliques,” in the United States under a single, cohesive leadership structure, led by Rodriguez-Juarez and his deputies, including Amilcar Romero, 44, and Joel Antonio Cortez, 40.

“Members and leaders of MS-13 allegedly conspired to bring all United States cliques under a central command,” said U.S. Attorney Fishman. “According to the charges, the defendants wanted to use this new formalized structure to open new drug distribution channels facilitated by cartel alliances and bloodshed. Today’s indictment reaches gang leaders and members responsible for crime and violence in New Jersey, whether they were on the streets of Jersey City or on smuggled cell phones in a California or Central American jail.”

“Dismantling violent gangs is a continuing priority for the FBI,” Aaron T. Ford, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI, Newark Division, said. “Our efforts to address gang violence are not new, but we are working with our partners with increased manpower and increased urgency to address current circumstances. This cooperation is, and will continue to be, a critical factor for successfully defending threats that endanger the citizens of New Jersey.”

According to the indictment returned today, documents in this and related cases and statements made in court:

The goals of the national program were 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. Rodriguez-Juarez and other 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 MS-13 gang members on the East Coast, including in New Jersey.

Three MS-13 leaders in El Salvador and multiple clique leaders in New Jersey played a role in ordering—or “greenlighting”—the murder of a rival gang member in Hudson County, New Jersey, in November 2013. Law enforcement learned of the murder plot during the course of this investigation and arrested multiple conspirators before it could be completed.

All but one of the defendants are currently in law enforcement custody. Many of the gang’s top leaders conducted criminal activity while incarcerated in California, Virginia, or El Salvador—typically by using contraband cell phones smuggled into the prison facilities. The five New Jersey-based defendants, who were charged by criminal complaint in March 2014 for the murder plot, are scheduled to make their initial appearances on the indictment tomorrow, July 18, 2014, before U.S. Magistrate Judge Madeline Cox Arleo in Newark federal court. The remaining defendants will make their initial appearances on dates to be determined.

In autumn 2013, Rodriguez-Juarez declared himself the leader of the new national program for MS-13 in the United States. He was also a made member, or “carnale,” in the Mexican Mafia, and he leveraged his status within the powerful prison gang to assert control over all MS-13 activities in the United States. Within MS-13, 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.”

Amilcar Romero, 45, and Joel Antonio Cortez, 40, served as two of Rodriguez-Juarez’s top deputies. In autumn 2013, Rodriguez-Juarez assigned Romero to serve as the primary point-of-contact between the leadership of MS-13 in the United States and El Salvador, while Cortez assumed responsibility for recruiting MS-13 cliques on the East Coast to join the national program. Both are also alleged to have ordered acts of violence on the East Coast, including Cortez’s authorization of the November 2013 murder plot in Hudson County. Another defendant, Pedro Romero-Cruz, 28, who is incarcerated in a Virginia state prison, served as the regional leader of a program in northern Virginia and facilitated the trafficking of methamphetamine to New Jersey. Romero-Cruz also discussed efforts to expand the gang’s activity to Spain, explaining in a phone call how the expansion would be lucrative for the gang.

Carlos Sandoval-Batres, 40, currently incarcerated in a Salvadoran prison, was a top member of the gang’s leadership in El Salvador and assisted efforts to create the new “national program” in the United States. Sandoval-Batres, along with two other Salvadoran leaders, Jose Elias Garcia-Hernandez, 35, and Cristian Linares-Rodriguez, 34, also authorized the November 2013 Hudson County murder plot.

Carlos Andrew Valdez, 27, served as the leader, or “First Word,” of a northern New Jersey clique known as “Hudson Locotes Salvatrucha.” Marvin Garcia-Cruz, 31, served as the leader of another Hudson County clique, known as “Pinos Locos Salvatrucha.” They are charged along with three other members of the Hudson Locotes clique for their role in the November 2013 murder plot. Valdez and others worked with Cortez and other top gang leaders to bring all of New Jersey’s MS-13 cliques under the control of Rodriguez-Juarez’ national program. Valdez and others focused on resolving issues created when leaders of “Plainfield Locos Salvatrucha,” a Plainfield, New Jersey, clique, were arrested by federal law enforcement in autumn 2013.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Ford in Newark, with the investigation leading to the charges. The investigation involved multiple FBI Field Offices, with substantial assistance provided by the FBI Field Office in Los Angeles. U.S. Attorney Fishman also thanked the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Acting Prosecutor Gaetano T. Gregory; and the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Acting Prosecutor Grace Park, for their work on this case. He also acknowledged the U.S. Attorney’s Offices 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 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.

Defendants Charged, Penalties Per Count

Count Charge Defendants Maximum Potential Penalty
1. Racketeering Conspiracy Rodriguez-Juarez Amilcar Romero Cortez Romero-Cruz Sandoval-Batres Valdez Rudy Gutierrez

Life in prison (Rodriguez-Juarez, Amilcar Romero, Cortez, Romero-Cruz)

20 years in prison (All others)

$250,000 fine

2. Drug Distribution Conspiracy Rodriguez-Juarez Amilcar Romero Cortez Romero-Cruz

Life in prison

$10 million fine

3. Drug Distribution Cortez Romero-Cruz

Life in prison

$10 million fine

4. Conspiracy to Commit Murder in Aid of Racketeering Cortez Sandoval-Batres Garcia-Hernandez Linares-Rodriguez Valdez Gutierrez Hector Carranza-Solis Luis Lopez-Guzman Marvin Garcia-Cruz

10 years in prison

$250,000 fine

5. Conspiracy to Possess Firearm Garcia-Hernandez Linares-Rodriguez Valdez Gutierrez Carranza-Solis Lopez-Guzman Garcia-Cruz

20 years in prison

$250,000 fine

6. Conspiracy to Use Interstate Facility to Commit Violent Crime Cortez Sandoval-Batres Garcia-Hernandez Linares-Rodriguez Valdez Gutierrez Carranza-Solis Lopez-Guzman Garcia-Cruz

Five years in prison

$250,000 fine

7. Conspiracy to Use Interstate Facility to Distribute Proceeds of Unlawful Activity Rodriguez-Juarez Amilcar Romero Cortez Romero-Cruz Sandoval-Batres Valdez Rudy Gutierrez

Five years in prison

$250,000 fine

Charged Defendants

Last Name First Name a/k/a Age
Rodriguez-Juarez Jose Juan “Sacerdote” 34
Romero Amilcar “Chi-Chi” 45
Cortez Joel Antonio “Pee Wee” 40
Romero-Cruz Pedro “Payaso” 28
Sandoval-Batres Carlos “Trusty” 40
Linares-Rodriguez Cristian “Burro” 34
Garcia-Hernandez Jose Elias “Eterno” 35
Valdez Carlos Andrew “Catracho” 27
Carranza-Solis Hector “Blacky” 30
Gutierrez Rudy “Chiky” 22

Lopez-Guzman a/k/a Lopez-Mendez

Luis “Nino” 24
Garcia-Cruz Marvin “Buffalo” 31