Five New Jersey gang members were sentenced to prison today and Monday of this week for conspiring to participate in racketeering activities and committing murders on behalf of the racketeering enterprise known as La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman of the District of New Jersey announced.
Santos Reyes-Villatoro, aka “Mousey,” 43, of Bound Brook, New Jersey, Julian Moz-Aguilar, aka “Humilde,” 29, of Plainfield, New Jersey, and Hugo Palencia, aka “Taliban,” 24, of Plainfield, were each sentenced today to life plus 120 months in prison. Mario Oliva, aka “Zorro,” 30, and Esau Ramirez, aka “Panda,” 25, both of Plainfield, were sentenced Nov. 27, 2016 to life plus 120 months in prison and 169 months in prison, respectively.
All five defendants were previously convicted following a 16-week trial before U.S. District Judge Stanley R. Chesler of the District of New Jersey. Reyes-Villatoro, Oliva, Moz-Aguilar and Palencia were each convicted of racketeering conspiracy, murder in aid of racketeering, use of a firearm in a violent federal crime and murder resulting from a federal firearm crime. Ramirez was convicted of racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering.
According to the documents filed in this case and the evidence presented at trial, MS-13 is a national and transnational gang with branches, or cliques, operating throughout the United States, including in Plainfield. All of the defendants were members of the Plainfield Locos Salvatruchas (PLS) clique of MS-13 that was founded by Reyes-Villatoro and operated in Union, Somerset and Middlesex Counties. Reyes-Villatoro, Oliva and Roberto Contreras, aka “Demonio,” 28, of Bound Brook, all served as leaders, or First Word, of PLS.
According to the trial evidence, from 2007 through September 2013, MS-13 members from PLS committed five murders in furtherance of MS-13’s objectives. On Feb. 9, 2009, Reyes-Villatoro, acting as the leader of PLS, drove Moz-Aguilar and other MS-13 members through the streets of Plainfield searching for rival gang members, eventually stopping at the Plainfield train station. There, Moz-Aguilar used a firearm previously provided by Reyes-Villatoro to murder a victim who was believed to be a member of the Latin Kings, a rival gang.
On Feb. 27, 2010, Oliva drove a female member of MS-13 to an empty parking lot in Piscataway, New Jersey, and murdered her because she was suspected of working with law enforcement. Oliva then fled New Jersey with the assistance of Contreras and hid from law enforcement with the MS-13 Pinos clique in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
On Nov. 11, 2010, Palencia drove another MS-13 member to the area around Barack Obama Academy in Plainfield, where they encountered students challenging MS-13. Palencia pulled over, provided a firearm to another MS-13 member and instructed him to shoot at one of the individuals. The MS-13 member shot into the crowd, killing a bystander.
On Jan. 10, 2011, Moz-Aguilar, Contreras and other MS-13 members were in a car when they spotted a suspected 18th Street gang member in front of a restaurant. Contreras stopped the vehicle and an MS-13 member exited, approached the suspected rival gang member and shot him in the head.
On May 8, 2011, Cruz Flores, aka “Bruja,” 30, of Bound Brook, murdered a victim who was caught socializing with 18th Street gang members. Flores and another MS-13 member cut his throat, beat him with a bat and stabbed him in the back 17 times. An MS-13 member involved in this murder fled New Jersey and was driven to Maryland soon after law enforcement began searching for him.
The evidence presented at trial also showed that Jose Garcia, aka “Chucky” and “Diabolico,” 24, of Plainfield, recruited and hired MS-13 members from the Maryland-based Pinos clique to come to New Jersey and murder a woman in exchange for $40,000. The Pinos clique members were arrested by authorities as they pulled into Plainfield, before the murder could occur. In addition, after several MS-13 members were arrested in July 2011, Ramirez and Garcia used phones from inside the Union County, New Jersey, jail to order the murder of three witnesses believed to be cooperating with police and responsible for their arrests. Members of PLS also were responsible for an attempted murder of suspected Latin King members near a car wash in Plainfield; the attempted murder of suspected Latin King members in January 2009; a machete attack in May 2011 and another in June 2011 on the train tracks passing through Plainfield; an attempted murder shooting in Plainfield in May 2011; and several other violent crimes, including extortion, robbery and several weapons offenses.
The defendants were originally charged in a 26-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury in September 2013. Currently, 13 of the 14 individuals charged in that indictment have been convicted, and one defendant remains a fugitive. Contreras, Garcia and Flores await sentencing.
The FBI’s Newark Field Office, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations and ICE Homeland Security Investigations investigated the case. The Union County Prosecutor’s Office provided substantial assistance in the investigation. The Somerset County, New Jersey, Prosecutor’s Office; Middlesex County, New Jersey, Prosecutor’s Office; U.S. Attorney’s Offices of the Eastern District of Virginia and the District of Maryland; Plainfield Police Department; Union County Police Department; Union County Sheriff’s Office; Elizabeth, New Jersey, Police Department; North Plainfield, New Jersey, Police Department; Union County Department of Corrections; Prince George’s County, Maryland, Police Department; and the U.S. Marshals Service also provided assistance in this matter. Trial Attorney Kevin L. Rosenberg of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys James Donnelly and Jamari Buxton of the District of New Jersey are prosecuting this case.