Newark Press Conference on Ten Most Wanted Fugitive Walter Yovany Gomez

On April 12, 2017, the Newark Field Office held a press conference to announce the addition of Walter Yovany Gomez to the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.

Video Transcript

Special Agent Michael Whitaker: You will all be hearing from Special Agent in Charge Timothy Gallagher, as well as Acting U.S. Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick. Additionally, we will be taking questions. And thank you very much, the press conference will begin shortly.

Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Timothy Gallagher: Good morning, I’m Tim Gallagher, I’m the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Newark Field Office. I’d like to introduce my partners in this investigation here. To my left, I have acting United States Attorney William Fitzpatrick; Special Agent Daniel Brunner to my right here; I have ICE’s Enforcement Removal Office under the direction of John Tsoukaris; and Captain Kevin O’Brien of the Plainfield, New Jersey Police Department.

Thank you for joining us today as we share the news of the latest addition to the FBI’s list of the Ten Most Wanted Fugitives. Fugitive Walter Yovany Gomez marks the 513th addition to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. He should be considered armed and dangerous. Walter Yovany Gomez is being sought for his alleged involvement in the murder of a young man from Plainfield, New Jersey in May 2011. According to investigators, Walter Yovany Gomez, in his early 20s at the time of the 2011 murder in Plainfield, New Jersey, was attempting to become a full member of the street gang MS-13 by carrying out a gang ordered killing. The target was Gomez’s friend. The victim had allegedly shown disrespect to the gang, to MS-13—this was the overriding concern—and they ordered Yovany Gomez to do the hit.

As part of the Plainfield Los Salvatruchas, or better known as the PLS crew, Gomez was assigned to the hit when his bosses heard that one of their associates had been seen socializing at a bar with members of the rival 18th Street gang. Ordering a murder for such a sign of disrespect is not uncommon for MS-13, a gang known for its extreme violence. To become a full-fledged member of MS-13, you have to kill someone on behalf of your local clique or crew. Only then can you become a member of MS-13 and have those letters tattooed on your body.

On May 11—oh, sorry, May 7, 2011, Gomez, known to his friends as Cholo, invited himself and a co-conspirator to the victim’s house for a night of socializing. They were all friends, and the victim had no reason to believe that he was going to be murdered. The victim, Julio Matute, spent the night socializing with people he thought were his friends. He awoke the next morning and dressed to go to work. At this point, Gomez allegedly swung a baseball bat, striking Matute in the head, and when he hit the floor, he sliced his throat and then stabbed him repeatedly with a screwdriver with the assistance of his co-conspirator. The victim was stabbed so many times that responding police officers who found the body one week later first surmised that he had been shot with a shotgun. Gomez’s fellow attacker was arrested and charged with the homicide.

When police went to Gomez’s residence to effect the arrest, he fled out the back window. Later investigation revealed that his was driven to Maryland by fellow members of the MS-13 gang. On September 19, 2013, a federal arrest warrant was issued in the District of New Jersey charging Gomez with murder in the aid of racketeering, which carries a mandatory life sentence. He is also charged with conspiracy to commit murder, which carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. In June of 2016, eight members of the PLS crew were found guilty of various racketeering crimes, including Gomez’s co-conspirator, who was sentenced to life in prison for his role in the murder of Julio Matute.

A Honduran citizen who came to this country illegally, Gomez is not believed to have left this country. He has ties to Maryland and Northern Virginia, where this is a large presence of MS-13 members. Gomez is known to have used a number of aliases, and I would like to refer you to the wanted poster, press releases that have all these aliases as well as additional identifiers for Gomez. Since the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list was established in March of 1950, 481 fugitives have been apprehended or located; 160 as a result of citizen cooperation. On a local note, the Newark division has placed 10 fugitives on the Top Ten list; prior to Gomez, eight out of the nine fugitives from Newark have been arrested and brought to justice for their crimes. The FBI is offering a reward of up to $100,000 for information leading to the arrest of Walter Yovany Gomez. I do want to warn anyone who may know where this suspect is located to avoid any interaction with him but to instead contact the nearest office of the FBI, local law enforcement, or if you’re abroad the U.S. Embassy for anyone who’s located outside of the us. All information can remain anonymous; confidentially is guaranteed. In the vast majority of fugitive cases, the FBI is looking for a tip, is looking for a location; we’re not seeking a testimony.

The publicity which the Top Ten list affords investigators cannot be overstated, as its continued success has shown. We no longer publicize the notorious 10 in post offices but via media, billboards, and social media platforms, some of which you carry around in your cell phones. Coupled with the expertise of our agents and federal and state partners, we are confident the large reward offer with generate publicity and tips leading to the capture of Gomez.

I’d now like to ask Acting U.S. Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick to come to the podium and make remarks.

Acting U.S. Attorney William Fitzpatrick: Thank you, good morning. At first I’d like to thank Special Agent in Charge Gallagher for his outstanding leadership and partnership not just in this investigation and this prosecution but in all the different areas in which the FBI partners closely with the Department of Justice, with the U.S. Attorney’s Office to serve the people of New Jersey as well as we possibly we can. Investigations and prosecutions like this don’t happen unless there is a strong and effective partnership between federal state and local law enforcement entities. That partnership is effected and fostered under the leadership of the FBI, the Union County Prosecutor’s Office, and in this case the Plainfield Police Department, and I would like to thank Special Agent in Charge Gallagher for everything he does to bring about that partnership and again in order to serve the people of New Jersey as well and as effectively as we possibly can.

MS-13 is without a doubt one of the most vicious and violent criminal street gangs in the United States. They’re trademark brutality is carried out up-close, in-person, with guns, with knives, with machetes. They kill rival gang members, they kill innocent civilians. Their brutality will not end until they are stopped. And that is exactly what happened with the Plainfield clique based on the leadership of the FBI, with their state and local partners, particularly in the Union County Prosecutor’s Office and the Plainfield Police Department. If they were not stopped, our brothers and sisters out on the street would still be in danger, would still be dying, and would still be threatened every day by this violent street gang. The results of the investigation speak for themselves: there were 14 people who were indicted, 13 of them were arrested and convicted. Five of them received life sentences—clearly a sign of the threat that the courts felt they posted to our community. But the job is not done. Walter Yovany Gomez is still on the lose. As the SAC chronicled, he committed a heinous, brutal murder. And just like his colleagues, just like the other gang members, he will continue to pose a threat until he is arrested, convicted. We are confident that the—that his presence on the FBI Ten Most Wanted List, the financial incentive that’s out there that goes with it, the national reach that the Ten Most Wanted has, will result in Mr. Yovany Gomez being caught and this case being closed. I would also like to point out the fact that Mr. Yovany Gomez is on the Ten Most Wanted list is just another sign of the FBI’s and the Department of Justice’s daily commitment to attacking violent crime, violent street gangs, and ensuring the safety of our communities as best we can. Thank you SAC Gallagher.

SAC Gallagher: Thank you, I’ll now take your questions.

Reporter: I suspect there’s a lot of competition to get to the Top Ten and a lot of murders—what is it about his case that you feel that it’s appropriate it’s elevated to this list?

SAC Gallagher: The Top Ten list, as you know, has been operating since 1950, and it is controlled by FBI Headquarters, so we submit our fugitives to FBI Headquarters and, as you said, they compete against each other. There’s two primary factors that we’re looking at here: violence, is this individual a menace to society? And clearly this individual, Yovany Gomez, is. Criminal history, the continued threat that they pose to society. And then, on top of that, what is the likelihood that this publicity that we’re gonna put on this is going to result in their capture? This individual is catchable. We have information that he’s probably still in the country, and the resources that we would put forward would generate tips, which will hopefully result in his capture. So, those are the two factors that go into it.

Reporter: How common is it for a gang member to make the Top Ten list? I mean, the killing of his friend, I’m assuming his friend had some affiliation with gangs? You say he disrespected this other gang in town, MS-13?

SAC Gallagher: We don’t choose who goes where on this list based on who the victim is. This is a homicide; this is someone who’s brutally killed, and someone who’s expressed a willingness to commit a crime, a heinous crime like that, so that is the primary factor there. Otherwise, as far as gang members being placed on the list… you know, you see the evolution of the list when it first started, where we would have bank robbers and car thieves, and that sort of thing, all the way up to terrorists, cyber criminals now, and gang members… gang members… this is a transnational organization; this is isn’t a gang that just exists on the streets of Plainfield, New Jersey. This gang has international reach, and it’s an international crime syndicate, so although we refer to them as a street gang, it’s a translational organized crime group and warrants being on the Top Ten.

Reporter: What areas are they mostly in? Can you tell us a little bit more?

SAC Gallagher: Yeah, the MS-13 emanated from El Salvador. They have pockets throughout the East Coast, you know, right here in New Jersey, Long Island, and Northern Virginia are hot beds of where the MS-13 is. They’re extremely organized, and as I said, they have international reach. Unlike a lot of street gangs, what is peculiar to this group here or other organized crime groups, these individuals work, they tend to go to work every day, and my experience in 20-plus years of law enforcement, that’s something that is peculiar to this organization. The reason I bring that up is that this individual’s out there working every day, probably. He’s probably dry walling or working with a construction crew, so he’s out there in the community. These people aren’t ghosts. They go to work every day, so that’s why we put publicity out there. If you see this individual, and pick up the phone and call us.

Reporter: I just have one more question—can you talk about why this is happening... [unintelligible]… and can you also clarify, you talk about 14 people being admitted and you also talk about six people… [unintelligible].

SAC Gallagher: Well, there’s 14 people who are in the overall federal indictments, which targeted the organization, Operation Mousetrap, and that had 14 defendants at first, and then we had… there’s one remaining out there. The 13 cases have been resolved, and he’s the last one remaining. I’m sorry, what was the first part of the question?

Reporter: Can you talk about the eight members back in June of 2016 that were part of Operation Mousetrap?

SAC Gallagher: Oh, I’m sorry. Eight were found guilty at trial.

Reporter: [unintelligible]

SAC Gallagher: Exactly. As part of this overall conspiracy, the eight were found guilty at trial, five pled guilty, and one is remaining.

Reporter: That included this murder? I mean, was this murder—

SAC Gallagher: It was an overall racketeering conspiracy that included several overall acts, one of which was this homicide.

Reporter: So he’s the only one out there?

SAC Gallagher: He’s the only one out there.

Reporter: So why this publicity now? It has been six years.

SAC Gallagher: We’ve been looking for him for six years, the FBI, our partners in DHS, our partners in Plainfield PD. We’ve been out there looking for him; however, it’s reached a point now where we think that putting the whole weight behind the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list… the opportunity came up, and the opportunity to get on the Ten Most Wanted list doesn’t come up every day. Last time the FBI Newark Office had the opportunity to put someone on the Ten Most was 1989, so this has been 17 years, coming up on 18 years, since we had the opportunity to do that. There’s tremendous amount of publicity, tremendous amount of resources globally, and when we saw the opportunity for this we pitched it, we said that this individual is catchable, he’s violent, he meets your criteria, and the folks at FBI Headquarters agreed with us.

Reporter: Interested to follow up on the fact that a lot of these gang members work. Why do you think it is a lot of them work? And an unrelated question, why do you believe he’s still in the country?

SAC Gallagher: Well, he was last seen in Maryland when he was dropped off down there. We’ve cast the net nationwide, even worldwide. We’ve only received two tips, which later turned out to be unsubstantiated, that he was outside of the continental United States, so based upon the sheer volume of tips, none of which—well, a very small amount which came from outside the country, we’re gonna go with the fact that he may be. that he’s probably still in the country, and there’s a chance that he may come back to the New Jersey area from time to time.

Reporter: Why is it that this particular gang has members that work as opposed to other gangs?

SAC Gallagher: That’s their money-making activity. They are not out there in general, they are not out there selling drugs, they’re not out there selling guns like other street gangs might be. They’re working to make money, but they are violent, violent, violent. They are brutal in their control of territory, and that is obviously where the criminal activity comes in.

Reporter: So is it more like a violent fraternity? I’m just trying to figure it out if they’re not out there selling drugs or guns, but they’re working…

SAC Gallagher: By and large they are not, that’s not their primary source of generating revenue, but it’s a… what’s their primary motivation as far as why they are gang? That goes back to their roots in South America, I’m sorry, in Central America.

Reporter: Do you have an age for Yovany Gomez?

SAC Gallagher: He was in his 20s.

Reporter: Captain, since this takedown that the U.S. Attorney mentioned in Plainfield, can you tell us if the gangs disappeared from the streets of Plainfield? Are there remnants of it still operating? How do you typify what’s going on in Plainfield right now?

Captain O’Brien: Since the job was executed and indictments, and the convictions, you can see a reduction in crime by the members of MS-13. Are they gone? I wouldn’t say they’re gone. Do they mask well within the environment? Absolutely. Like special agent in charge said, they do work, they host jobs, they live somewhat normal lives, they do have a criminal element to them, they do sell drugs here and there, traffic guns. It’s just, it’s an anomaly. They do exist well within society, but they are extremely violent.

Reporter: So, you have seen a reduction in crime-related activities?

Captain O’Brien: Absolutely, yes, sir.

SAC Gallagher: Any further questions? Okay, thank you for your time today, folks.

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