Former FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitive Pleads Guilty to Murder
Earlier today at the federal courthouse in Central Islip, New York, Juan Garcia, also known as “Cruzito,” a member of La Mara Salvatrucha, also known as the MS-13 street gang, pled guilty to murder in aid of racketeering. During the guilty plea allocution, Garcia admitted that he and another MS-13 member shot and killed 19-year-old Vanessa Argueta, and a third MS-13 member executed her two-year-old son, Diego Torres, in Central Islip, New York, on February 5, 2010. As detailed in prior court proceedings and filings, after committing the murders, Garcia and his co-conspirators, Adalberto Ariel Guzman (“Gringo”) and Rene Mendez Mejia (“Zorro”), fled to El Salvador. Garcia was a fugitive for over four years until March 2014, when, after being placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List, he surrendered to law enforcement authorities in Nicaragua, waived extradition, and was returned to the United States for prosecution.
The guilty plea was announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York; George Venizelos, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office; and Thomas C. Krumpter, Acting Commissioner of the Nassau County Police Department.
“After cold-bloodedly executing a young mother and her two-year-old child, Garcia and his fellow MS-13 members fled to El Salvador. For over four years, Garcia was able to evade justice, hiding out in different parts of Central America. However, thanks to the tenacious efforts of the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force and FBI components around the world, Garcia was captured, returned to the United States, and held accountable for his reprehensible acts. He will now be held accountable for his allegiance to the killing machine known as MS-13,” stated United States Attorney Lynch. Ms. Lynch expressed her sincere gratitude to the members of the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force, the FBI’s Violent Criminal Threat Section, and the FBI’s Legal Attaches for El Salvador and Panama, for their unwavering commitment to bring Garcia and his co-conspirators to justice for the Argueta and Torres murders.
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Venizelos stated, “The MS-13 street gang is infamous for its senseless and depraved acts of violence, but even for the MS-13, these vicious crimes demonstrated exceptional immorality. Stopping at nothing to seek retribution, Garcia and other gang members lured Argueta and her two-year-old son into a secluded wooded area where retribution took the form of murder. After more than four years on the run, Garcia finally faces the justice he couldn’t escape. Today’s guilty plea should remind these exceedingly violent criminals that we remain committed to working with our local, state, national, and international partners to disrupt and dismantle this violent gang.”
As established at prior court proceedings, Garcia and other MS-13 members, including MS-13 leader, Heriberto Martinez, also known as “Boxer,” Guzman, and Mejia plotted to kill Argueta because they believed she had disrespected the MS-13 by sending rival gang members to attack Garcia. On February 4, 2010, when Garcia, Guzman, and Mejia planned to kill Argueta, she was with her son, and the MS-13 members decided to murder him as well. Garcia, Guzman, and Mejia lured Argueta and Torres into a secluded wooded area in Central Islip, where they executed the mother and child, shooting Argueta in the head and chest, and Torres twice in the head. Specifically, the evidence establishes that Garcia and Mejia shot and killed Argueta, while Guzman fired the two fatal shots to Torres’s head. After they murdered Argueta and Torres, Garcia, Guzman, and Mejia fled to El Salvador.
Garcia’s three co-conspirators, Martinez, Guzman, and Mejia were also arrested and indicted in connection with the Argueta and Torres murders. Martinez was convicted in March 2013, following a six-week trial, and later sentenced to life in prison, plus 60 years. Guzman was convicted in September 2013, following a three-week trial, and later sentenced to life in prison, plus 35 years. Mejia pled guilty to the murders and is pending sentence.
The convictions of Garcia and his codefendants are the latest in a series of federal prosecutions by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York targeting members of the MS-13, a violent international street gang comprised primarily of immigrants from El Salvador and Honduras. With numerous branches, or “cliques,” the MS-13 is the largest street gang on Long Island. Since 2003, more than 250 MS-13 members, including dozens of clique leaders, have been convicted on federal felony charges in the Eastern District of New York. More than 150 of those MS-13 members have been convicted on federal racketeering charges. Since 2010 alone, this Office has obtained indictments charging MS-13 members with carrying out more than 20 murders in the Eastern District of New York, and has convicted more than 35 MS-13 members in connection with those murders. These prosecutions are the product of investigations led by the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force, comprising agents and officers of the FBI, Nassau County Police Department, Nassau County Sheriff’s Department, Suffolk County Probation, Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, Rockville Centre Police Department, and Suffolk County Police Department.
When Garcia is sentenced by United States District Judge Joseph F. Bianco, which is currently scheduled for February 6, 2015, he faces a sentence of up to life in prison.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys John J. Durham and Raymond A. Tierney.
- JUAN GARCIA, also known as “Cruzito”
- Baldwin and Inwood, New York
- Age: 21