NEW YORK - An MS-13 gang member pleaded guilty on Thursday to the execution-style murders of a 19-year-old woman and her 2-year-old son, and nine other gang member pleaded guilty to racketeering offenses.
The guilty pleas resulted from an investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the FBI Long Island Gang Task Force. As a result of an ICE HSI agent's undercover work, one of the defendants faced the additional charges of murder conspiracy and obstruction of justice for his attempt to have a witnessed killed.
Rene Mendez Mejia, aka, Zorro, 18, a member of the violent La Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) street gang, pleaded guilty to two counts for the Feb. 5, 2010 murders of Vanessa Argueta and her son, Diego Torres. As detailed in previously filed court documents and Mejia's plea allocution, the bodies of Argueta and Torres were found in a secluded wooded area in Central Islip, N.Y. Argueta had been shot in the head and chest, and Torres had been shot twice in the head. Mejia's following fellow MS-13 gang members have also pleaded to the below charges:
- Walter Flores-Reyes, aka "Scrappy," 21, pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Assault with Dangerous Weapons in Aid of Racketeering, in connection with a Sept. 14, 2008 attack at Antojitos Bar in Hempstead, N.Y.
- Diego Ninos, aka "Veneno," aka, Mico, 23, and Cesar Landaverde, aka "Rebelde," 23, pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Murder in Aid of Racketeering in connection with an October 2008 plot to murder a rival 18th Street gang member in Glen Cove, N.Y.
- Emilio Saballos, aka "Caballo," 28, pleaded guilty to Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) charges, including predicate acts of Witness Tampering and Conspiracy to Distribute Cocaine, which took place in Freeport, N.Y.
- Wilber Ayala-Ardon, aka "Pajaro," 19, pleaded guilty to two counts of Attempted Murder in Aid of Racketeering in connection with two shootings of rival gang members in June and July 2009, both of which took place in Hempstead, N.Y.
- Giovanni Prado, aka "Joker," 26, Erick Alvarado, aka "Gato Seco," 29, and Elenilson Ortiz, aka "Shorty," 40, pleaded guilty to Attempted Murder in Aid of Racketeering, Assault with a Dangerous Weapon in Aid of Racketeering, and Witness Tampering, respectively, all stemming from a baseball-bat beating outside El Cibao Bar in Freeport, N.Y. in November 2009.
- Francisco Ramos, aka "Cruiser," 21, pleaded guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Murder in Aid of Racketeering, and two counts of Conspiracy to Commit Assault with a Dangerous Weapon in Aid of Racketeering. During his plea, Ramos admitted, in sum and substance, that after being arrested for the Sept. 14, 2008 assaults at Antojitos Bar, he conspired to kill three witnesses to the assaults. He also admitted to plotting to assault another inmate at the Nassau County Correctional Center, who he believed was cooperating with law enforcement authorities.
This investigation and the resulting guilty pleas are part of Operation Community Shield, a national initiative whereby ICE partners with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to target the significant public safety threat posed by transnational criminal street gangs. Since Operation Community Shield began in February 2005, ICE agents nationwide have arrested more than 22,000 gang members and associates linked to more than 1,200 different street gangs. More than 250 of those arrested were gang leaders.
The National Gang Unit at ICE identifies violent street gangs and develops intelligence on their membership, associates, criminal activities and international movements to deter, disrupt and dismantle gang operations by tracing and seizing cash, weapons and other assets derived from criminal seized activities.