Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Four MS-13 Members Sentenced to Life And a Fifth to 169 Months in Prison for Racketeering-Related Charges

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.

Justice Department Announces Reforms at Bureau of Prisons to Reduce Recidivism and Promote Inmate Rehabilitation

Today, the Department of Justice announced a series of reforms at the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) designed to reduce recidivism and increase the likelihood of inmates’ safe and successful return to the community.  These efforts include building a semi-autonomous school district within the federal prison system, reforming federal halfway houses, covering the cost of obtaining state-issued photo IDs for federal inmates prior to their release from custody and providing additional services for female inmates. 

“Helping incarcerated individuals prepare for life after prison is not just sound public policy; it is a moral imperative,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch.  “These critical reforms will help give federal inmates the tools and assistance they need to successfully return home as productive, law-abiding members of society.  By putting returning citizens in a position to make the most of their second chance, we can create stronger communities, safer neighborhoods and brighter futures for all.”

“The sweeping changes that we are announcing today chart a new course for the Bureau of Prisons that will help make our prisons more effective, our communities safer and our families stronger," said Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates.  “One of the best ways to prevent crime is by reducing recidivism, and one of the best ways to reduce recidivism is by equipping inmates with the tools they need to successfully reenter society."

Last year, with the department’s support, BOP retained outside consultants to review the agency’s operations and recommend changes designed to reduce the likelihood of inmates re-offending after their release from prison.  As part of today’s announcement, the department is launching a new website,, that compiles current and ongoing reforms at BOP, and includes the final reports from the outside consultants.

The department announced additional details regarding these efforts:

    Building a school district within the federal prison system.  Research shows that inmates who participate in correctional education programs have 43 percent lower odds of returning to prison than those who do not, and that every dollar spent on prison education saves four to five dollars on the cost of re-incarceration.  BOP is building a semi-autonomous school district within the federal prison system, which will offer programs for literacy, high school diplomas and post-secondary education, along with expanded opportunities for individuals with learning disabilities.  Today, BOP also announced that it has hired Amy Lopez, an experienced educator in the Texas prison school system, to serve as the first superintendent of BOP’s school district.

    Reforming federal halfway houses.  BOP is overhauling Residential Reentry Centers (RRCs), popularly known as “halfway houses,” which provide housing for approximately 80 percent of inmates during the final months of their federal sentences.  Since the early 1980s, the ownership and operation of RRCs have been fully privatized, with BOP relying on a mix of for-profit companies and non-profit organizations.  Today, Deputy Attorney General Yates issued a memorandum directing BOP to leverage its purchasing power and overhaul this private market.  Among other things, the memorandum directed BOP to establish clear, uniform and improved standards for all RRC providers; expand the collection and publication of RRC performance data; and explore alternative models that would create a more effective and efficient market for federal reentry services. 

    Covering the cost of state-issued IDs prior to inmates’ release.  Possession of government-issued identification documents is critical to successful reentry.  Without such documentation, men and women leaving correctional facilities face significant challenges securing employment and housing, registering for school, opening bank accounts and accessing other benefits, such as health care, that are critical to successful integration.  The department announced today that BOP will begin paying for every federal inmate to obtain a birth certificate and a state-issued identification card before they arrive at RRCs.  An independent consultant estimated that this effort will save the agency approximately $19 million a year, by making it easier for inmates to find a stable job and post-custody housing, which allows BOP to more quickly transfer inmates to less expensive forms of custody such as home confinement.    

    Enhancing programs for female inmates.  Next month, BOP will resume housing female inmates at its facility in Danbury, Connecticut, making it easier for female inmates from the Northeast to remain in contact with their families.  In addition, the Danbury facility will house BOP’s first-ever integrated treatment facility for female inmates, which will feature a mental health unit and a women’s Residential Drug Abuse Program, the agency’s most intensive substance abuse treatment course.

These initiatives are part of the department’s deep commitment to a fair, effective criminal justice system that promotes public safety and prepare inmates for their return to the community, thereby reducing the likelihood that a cycle of crime will continue.              

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Genomic Tools to Reduce Error in PMI Estimates Derived from Entomological Evidence

Author: Aaron M. Tarone
The age of the blow fly is a useful forensic indicator for forensic entomologists as to the postmortem interval (PMI) in death investigations.
Estimates of fly age due to genetic variation, however, can vary considerably in their precision and can potentially impact forensic PMI timeline estimates. The purpose of this study was to expand knowledge of the genetic variations of the blow fly, with a goal of more precisely estimating PMI.

By conducting a selection experiment on development times of the blow fly, researchers were able to observe variances in development over tens of generations of selection. The results from this selection experiment were sequenced using next-generation sequencing technology to simultaneously develop reference genomes.

The project found that that a wild genetic variation could potentially impact forensic PMI predictions. The author also provides an empirical estimate of such an impact.
The author hopes that the results of this project will enable researchers to pursue candidate genes that are markers of development time variation, developmental progress, and thermal exposure for usefulness in predicting blow fly age. Such candidates could be developed into components of phenotype prediction and age prediction kits.

The author notes that the analyses are preliminary and suggests that subsequent publications with the data presented in this report may differ from future publications based on the collection of additional data, changes in parameter settings, differences in statistical tests performed, or choices in algorithms applied to the data.