Two Mara Salvatrucha, better known as MS-13, gang members from Union City have been charged with plotting to kill another gang member who they suspected of cooperating with law enforcement, U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman announced.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
Juan Pablo Escalante-Melgar, also known as “Humilde,” 27, and Elmer Cruz-Diaz, also known as “Locote,” 28, both of Union City, were previously indicted on one count of conspiring to kill an individual to prevent them from communicating with a law enforcement officer.
Escalante-Melgar and Cruz-Diaz were arraigned before U.S. District Judge Claire C. Cecchi and detained without bail on Thursday. They were originally taken into custody on September 3, 2015, on immigration charges, authorities said.
Escalante-Melgar and Cruz-Diaz are members of the international street gang MS-13, which have “sub-sets” that operate in Hudson County, including Pinos Locos Salvatrucha (Pinos clique) and Hudson Locotes Salvatrucha (Hudson Locotes clique), officials said.
Escalante-Melgar was the “First Word,” or leader, of the Pinos clique and Cruz-Diaz was the First Word of the Hudson Locotes clique, according to court documents.
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,” officials said.
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, authorities said.
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, the criminal complaint says.
According to the complaint, 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, law enforcement intercepted a telephone call between Cruz-Diaz and another MS-13 member in which Cruz-Diaz confirmed that senior MS-13 members in El Salvador had authorized a green-light on Victim 1.
He went on to state that the gang would assign members of another MS-13 clique to “watch” Victim 1 in preparation for the killing. Cruz-Diaz told the other gang member, “the only thing left to do is to just do it,” authorities said.
On August 16, 2015, Escalante-Melgar allegedly spoke with another MS-13 member on the phone and confirmed that four individuals, including Victim 1, had been green-lit.
Escalante-Melgar explained to the other MS-13 member that the gang would take its time carrying out the murders in order to prevent gang members from being arrested, officials said.
Then, on August 31, 2015, Cruz-Diaz and Escalante-Melgar had separate telephone conversations with another member of MS-13, during which the MS-13 member informed Cruz-Diaz and Escalante-Melgar that he had seen Victim 1 on the street in Union City, authorities said.
At that point, Cruz-Diaz ordered the MS-13 member to follow Victim 1 to see what time Victim 1 left and returned home. Cruz-Diaz also informed the caller that another MS-13 member had been assigned to follow Victim 1.
Escalante-Melgar acknowledged the information 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.