Five members of the international street gang “Mara Salvatrucha,” also known as MS-13, Thursday admitted their roles in a variet of crimes including racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder, extortion and drug trafficking. Furthermore, they conspired to create a cohesive national organization spanning the entire United States.
The defendants include MS-13 bosses 47-year-old Amilcar “Chichi” Romero and 41-year-old Joel Antonio “Pee Wee” Cortez, 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.”
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 structure. 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.
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.
Three members of the “Hudson Locotes Salvatruchas”—a local branch, or “clique,” based in Hudson County, New Jersey, 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); Hector Carranza-Solis (32); and Rudy Gutierrez (24) 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. 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. Within Mara Salvatrucha, 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.”
By autumn 2013, Rodriguez-Juarez had assigned Romero to serve as the primary point-of-contact between the leadership of Mara Salvatrucha 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. Both are 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. 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. 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.
All five defendants who pleaded guilty today will be sentenced September 14, 2016. Romero and Cortez face life in prison, while Gutierrez faces 20 years behind bars – all for racketeering conspiracy. Gutierrez also faces 10 years in prison for conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, as do Carranza-Solis and Lopez-Guzman.
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