Skip to main content
July 27, 2022Washington, DC, United StatesTransnational Gangs

MS-13 member sentenced for racketeering conspiracy involving murder following multi-agency probe

WASHINGTON — An MS-13 gang member was sentenced July 26 to 35 years in prison for his murder of a 19-year-old in 2015. The case was investigated by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Hudson County Prosecutors Office, the FBI and West New York Police Department, with assistance from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) Newark Field Office.

According to court documents and evidence presented at the trial of three co-defendants, Juan Garcia-Gomez, aka Scooby, 26, of El Salvador, conspired to participate in the affairs of Mara Salvatrucha, a violent criminal gang also known as MS-13, founded in Los Angeles and active in numerous states across the United States, as well as in El Salvador, Central America, and Mexico.

“Today’s sentencing puts not only a violent murderer behind bars, but a confirmed gang member, narcotics trafficker, and extortioner: a serious threat to public safety,” said ICE Acting Deputy Director Patrick J. Lechleitner. “We will use every tool available to investigate transnational criminals, like this defendant, whose lack of humanity is profound. Our officers and special agents will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to bring criminals to justice, while focusing on getting victims the assistance they need.”

MS-13 is governed by a core set of rules, including a standing order to kill rival gang members and a strict rule against cooperating with law enforcement. MS-13 is organized into a series of sub-units, or “cliques,” that operate in specific geographic locations, and each clique is typically controlled by a single leader, sometimes known as the “First Word.” Two cliques that were active in and around Hudson County, New Jersey, were the Pinos Locos Salvatrucha clique, of which Garcia-Gomez was a member/associate, and the Hudson Locos Salvatrucha clique.

Based on court documents, Garcia-Gomez’s plea agreement, and evidence presented at the trial of three co-defendants, in July 2015, Jose Urias-Hernandez, then 19 years old, was shot and killed execution-style by Garcia-Gomez with a single shot to the back of his head as he entered his home. Garcia-Gomez participated in the murder because he was ordered by MS-13 leadership to commit the murder to achieve membership in the gang.

“Due to the dedicated efforts of the Department of Justice and our law enforcement partners, Garcia-Gomez and his fellow gang members will no longer be able to victimize this community,” said Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division. “The Criminal Division and our law enforcement partners will continue to pursue MS-13 gang members who take the lives of others and prey on the communities through violence and intimidation and will not stop in our pursuit of justice for the victims of this violent gang.”

“Garcia-Gomez committed a brutal and violent crime to gain membership in a criminal organization known for its brutality and violence,” said U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger for the District of New Jersey. “He wasn’t even out of his teens when he complied with MS-13’s orders and snuffed out another young man’s life, ruining the lives of his victim’s family and friends and ending any chance at a decent life for himself. This sentence will keep this violent criminal off our streets.”

“Garcia-Gomez and his fellow gang members plagued their community with violence,” said Assistant Director Luis Quesada of the FBI’s Criminal Investigative Division. “The FBI, in hand with our law enforcement partners, will continue to pursue those offenders carrying out brutal violence in our communities. This action shows the FBI’s commitment to dismantling these organized criminal enterprises and keeping the communities we serve safe.”

In addition to Garcia-Gomez, nine defendants were charged in this investigation against MS-13 in New Jersey, including Jose Gimenez-Lobos, aka Infernal, aka Terrible, 31, of El Salvador, and Jose Rivera-Robles, aka Layo, 36, of El Salvador. One defendant, Christian Linares-Rodriguez, aka Donkey, 42, is a high-ranking MS-13 member who is currently incarcerated in El Salvador and is awaiting extradition to the United States. Three other defendants have been convicted at trial in November 2021, including Juan Pablo Escalante-Melgar, aka Humilde, Elmer Cruz-Diaz, aka Locote, and Oscar Sanchez-Aguilar, aka Snappy, and are awaiting sentencing. At sentencing, Esclante-Melgar, Cruz-Diaz, and Sanchez-Aguilar each face a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

Trial Attorney Matthew K. Hoff of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Desiree Grace for the District of New Jersey prosecuted the case.

HSI is a directorate of ICE and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 6,800 special agents assigned to 225 cities throughout the United States, and 86 overseas locations in 55 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.

ICE’s ERO directorate upholds U.S. immigration law at, within, and beyond our borders. ERO's work is critical to the enforcement of immigration law against those who present a danger to our national security, are a threat to public safety, or who otherwise undermine the integrity of our immigration system. ERO operations target public safety threats, such as convicted criminal noncitizens and gang members, as well as individuals who have otherwise violated our nation's immigration laws, including those who illegally re-entered the country after being removed and immigration fugitives ordered removed by federal immigration judges. ERO deportation officers assigned to Interpol also assist in targeting and apprehending foreign fugitives or Fugitive Arrest and Removal (FAR) cases who are wanted for crimes committed abroad and who are now at-large in the U.S. ERO manages all aspects of the immigration enforcement process, including identification and arrest, domestic transportation, detention, bond management, and supervised release, including alternatives to detention. In addition, ERO removes noncitizens ordered removed from the U.S. to more than 170 countries around the world.