Feds: 5 MS-13 gang members admit conspiring to kill Hudson County rival

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Five Mara Salvatrucha gang members, better known as “MS-13,” admitted their roles in crimes including racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder, extortion and drug trafficking, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced.

A former leader of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS -13) gang, poses during a photo session at Comayagua jail in Honduras June 11, 2011.  (Edgard Garrido/Courtesy Reuters).
A former leader of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS -13) gang, poses during a photo session at Comayagua jail in Honduras June 11, 2011. (Edgard Garrido/Courtesy Reuters).

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

The defendants include Amilcar Romero, 47, also known as“Chichi,” and Joel Antonio Cortez, 41, also known as “Pee Wee,” are both currently serving state prison sentences in California – and both of whom served as chief deputies to the leader of Mara Salvatrucha’s “national program.”

They pleaded guilty on Thursday before U.S. District Judge Stanley Chesler in Newark federal court.

The “national program,” also known as the “unification of the barrio,” sought to bring all of Mara Salvatrucha’s local sets, or “cliques,” in the United States under a single, cohesive leadership structures, officials said.

The goal of the national program was to increase the nationwide collection of extortion proceeds, known as “rent,” and to use these rent-collection networks to establish new drug distribution channels from California to the East Coast, authorities said.

Mara Salvatrucha leaders allegedly struck a deal with the Mexican Mafia, a California prison gang, and certain Mexican drug cartels, including La Familia Michoacana, to supply methamphetamine and other drugs at cheap prices to gang members on the East Coast, including in New Jersey, according to court documents.

Authorities also said that three members of the “Hudson Locotes Salvatruchas”—a local branch, or “clique,” based in Hudson County, pleaded guilty to their roles in conspiring to murder an MS-13 member that had violated the gang’s rules and the member’s brother, who was alleged to belong to a rival gang.

Luis Lopez-Guzman, 26, also known as “Nino,” of Union City, Hector Carranza-Solis, 32, also known as “Blackie;” of West New York, and Rudy Gutierrez, 24, also known as “Chiqui,” of Union City, admitted that they participated in telephone calls and other discussions with the leadership of the gang in the United States and El Salvador to seek permission to kill the rival gang members, officials said.

According to court documents, law enforcement learned of the murder plot during the course of this investigation and arrested the defendants before it could be completed.

Romero and Cortez served as the top deputies to Jose Juan Rodriguez-Juarez. Rodriguez-Juarez was a made member, or “carnale,” in the Mexican Mafia, and he leveraged his status within the powerful prison gang to assert control over all Mara Salvatrucha activities in the United States, authorities said.

Within MS-13, Rodriguez-Juarez was known by his gang moniker, “Dreamer,” but when he assumed control of the national program, he became known as “Sacerdote,” Spanish for “the priest,” officials said.

By autumn 2013, Rodriguez-Juarez had assigned Romero to serve as the primary point-of-contact between the leadership of MS-13 in the United States and El Salvador, while Cortez assumed responsibility for recruiting Mara Salvatrucha cliques on the East Coast to join the national program, court documents say.

Officials also alleged to have ordered violence on the East Coast, including Cortez’s authorization of the November 2013 murder plot in Hudson County, and Romero’s order to east coast-based gang members to collect money on behalf of the gang by force and violence.

Furthermore, Romero and Cortez collaborated with MS-13 gang leaders in New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, and elsewhere to establish a distribution chain for cheap Mexican cartel drugs, including heroin and crystal methamphetamine, the indictment says.

Part of the profit from that drug distribution chain would then be funneled back to the gang’s leadership in California to further promote the gang’s criminal activity.

Romero, Cortez could see life in prison for the racketeering conspiracy charge, while Gutierrez could see up to 20 years in jail for the same alleged crime.

Additionally, Gutierrez, Carranza-Solis and Lopez-Guzman face a 10 year maximum sentence for allegedly conspiring to commit murder and aiding in racketeering.

These five defendants will all be sentenced in federal court on September 14.

Back in July 2014, seven MS-13 gang members from Hudson County were indicted for allegedly trying to murder a rival gang member.