Juan Garcia, also known as “Cruzito,” a member of La Mara Salvatrucha, also known as the MS-13 street gang, was sentenced to life in prison on Monday for his involvement in the murder of a young mother and her child. After the murder he and his co-conspirators had fled to El Salvador resulting in his placement on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List.
Garcia (22) and two other MS-13 members, Adalberto Ariel Guzman and Rene Mendez Mejia, shot and killed 19-year-old Vanessa Argueta and her two-year-old son, Diego Torres, in Central Islip, New York, on February 5, 2010. Garcia and Mejia shot Argueta in the chest and head, respectively, and Guzman shot Torres twice in the head.
Guzman and Mejia were arrested in May 2010, but Garcia remained a fugitive for four years until March 2014, when, after being placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List, he surrendered to law enforcement authorities in Nicaragua, waived extradition, and was returned to the United States for prosecution. He pled guilty on October 15, 2014.
Garcia and other MS-13 members, including MS-13 leader, Heriberto Martinez, Guzman, and Mejia plotted to kill Argueta because they believed she had disrespected the MS-13 by sending rival gang members to attack Garcia.
Martinez was convicted in March 2013, following a six-week trial, in connection with the Argueta murder, as well as the March 6, 2010 murder of Nestor Moreno in Hempstead, New York, and the March 17, 2010 murder of Mario Alberto Canton Quijada in Far Rockaway, New York, and later sentenced to life in prison, plus 60 years. Guzman was convicted on charges relating to the Argueta and Torres murders in September 2013, following a three-week trial, and later sentenced to life in prison, plus 35 years. Mejia pled guilty to the Argueta and Torres murders and is pending sentence.
The convictions of Garcia and his codefendants are the latest in a series of federal prosecutions by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York targeting members of the MS-13, a violent international criminal organization. The MS-13’s leadership is based in El Salvador and Honduras, but the gang has thousands of members across the United States, comprised primarily of immigrants from Central America. With numerous branches, or “cliques,” the MS-13 is the largest and most violent street gang on Long Island. Since 2003, hundreds of MS-13 members, including dozens of clique leaders, have been convicted on federal felony charges in the Eastern District of New York. A majority of those MS-13 members have been convicted on federal racketeering charges for participating in murders, attempted murders and assaults. Since 2010 alone, this Office has obtained indictments charging MS-13 members with carrying out more than 25 murders in the Eastern District of New York, and has convicted dozens of MS-13 leaders and members in connection with those murders.
“The MS-13 is infamous for committing senseless and brutal acts of violence, but, even for the MS-13, the murders of Vanessa Argueta and Diego Torres were particularly depraved and callous,” Robert L. Capers, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, stated. “However, as a result of the tenacious investigation and prosecution jointly conducted by this Office and our law enforcement partners, Garcia and his co-conspirators have been captured, convicted, and justly sentenced for cold-bloodedly executing a young mother and her two-year-old child.” United States Attorney Capers expressed his sincere gratitude to the members of the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force, the FBI’s Violent Criminal Threat Section, and the FBI’s Legal Attaches for El Salvador and Panama, for their unwavering commitment to bring Garcia and his co-conspirators to justice for the Argueta and Torres murders.
“Today’s sentencing is the final chapter in the government’s commitment to get justice for the victims. Garcia and his fellow MS-13 members senselessly and callously murdered a young mother and her toddler five years ago. The FBI is committed to working with our partners to not only root-out gangs in our communities but also bring their crimes to justice,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Diego Rodriguez.
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