Two Hudson County, New Jersey MS-13 Gang Members Charged with Conspiring to Kill Suspected Witness
NEWARK, NJ—Two Hudson County, New Jersey, men appeared in federal court today to face charges that they conspired to kill a gang member who was suspected of cooperating with law enforcement, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.
Juan Pablo Escalante-Melgar, a/k/a “Humilde,” 26, and Elmer Cruz-Diaz, a/k/a “Locote,” 27, both of Union City, New Jersey, are charged in a one-count criminal complaint with conspiring to kill an individual to prevent them from communicating with a law enforcement officer. Escalante-Melgar and Cruz-Diaz made their initial appearances this afternoon before U.S. Magistrate Judge James B. Clark III and were detained. Both were originally taken into custody on Sept. 3, 2015 for immigration charges.
According to the complaint:
Escalante-Melgar and Cruz-Diaz are members of the international street gang Mara Salvatrucha, commonly known as “MS-13.” Multiple sub-sets, or “cliques,” of MS-13 operate in Hudson County including Pinos Locos Salvatrucha (the “Pinos clique”) and Hudson Locotes Salvatrucha (the “Hudson Locotes clique”). Escalante-Melgar was the “First Word,” or leader, of the Pinos clique; Cruz-Diaz was the First Word of the Hudson Locotes clique.
MS-13’s rules strictly prohibit cooperating with law enforcement, and it is well understood within the gang that police informants will be punished by death. The process of obtaining authorization to kill a disobedient gang member is known as “green lighting.” Obtaining a “green light” typically requires the authorization of a clique leader and, in some cases, approval from gang leaders in California or El Salvador. When preparing to kill disloyal or disobedient gang members, MS-13 often assigns gang members to follow the targeted individuals to learn their patterns and movements, enabling the gang to carry out the murders at opportune times without alerting law enforcement.
On Aug. 11, 2015, law enforcement intercepted a telephone call between a high-ranking MS-13 member in El Salvador (“Gang Leader-1”), Escalante-Melgar and another MS-13 member. During the call, Gang Leader-1 told Escalante-Melgar and the other MS-13 member that they needed to kill three individuals, including Victim-1, a member of the Hudson Locotes clique who was suspected of cooperating with law enforcement.
Four days later, on August 15, 2015, law enforcement intercepted a telephone call between Cruz-Diaz and another MS-13 member. During that call, Cruz-Diaz confirmed that senior MS-13 members in El Salvador had authorized the green lighting – or murder – of Vicitm-1, and went on to state that the gang would likely assign members of another MS-13 clique to “watch” Victim-1 in preparation for the killing.
On the evening of Aug. 16, 2015, Escalante-Melgar spoke by telephone with another MS-13 member and confirmed that four individuals, including Victim-1, had been green lighted. Escalante-Melgar explained to the other MS-13 members that the gang would take its time carrying out the murders in order to prevent gang members from being arrested.
On the evening on Aug. 31, 2015, Cruz-Diaz and Escalante-Melgar had separate telephone conversations with another member of MS-13. During the calls, the MS-13 member informed Cruz-Diaz and Escalante-Melgar that he had seen Victim-1 on the street in Union City, New Jersey.
Cruz-Diaz ordered the MS-13 member to follow Victim-1 to see what time Victim-1 left and returned home. Cruz-Diaz informed the caller that another MS-13 member had previously been assigned to follow Victim-1. Escalante-Melgar likewise ordered the caller to follow Victim-1, and instructed the caller to contact Escalante-Melgar with developments.
The conspiracy charge carries a maximum potential penalty of life in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The charge and allegations in the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are considered innocent unless and until proven guilty.
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 charges. He also thanked the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Acting Prosecutor Grace H. Park, the Union City Police Department, and the West New York 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.
- Escalante-Melgar: Leigh-Anne Mulrey Esq., Newark
- Cruz-Diaz: Perry Primavera Esq., Hackensack, New Jersey