ROCHESTER, N.Y.--U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr. announced today that Pablo Plaza, of Rochester, N.Y., 38, pleaded guilty to the commission of a murder while engaged in a drug trafficking conspiracy before U.S. District judge Frank P. Geraci. The charge carries a mandatory minimum penalty of 20 years and a maximum of life, and a $250,000.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Everardo A. Rodriguez, who is handling the case, stated that the defendant murdered Francisco Santos at the Seneca Indian Reservation in Erie County, N.Y., in October 1998. The murder was part of a drug trafficking conspiracy in the Rochester area, which included cocaine, crack cocaine, heroin and marijuana, from 1993 to March 2011.
“This conviction is proof that no matter how long ago a murder was committed, this office will continue to relentlessly investigate and prosecute those responsible for such violent episodes,” said U.S. Attorney Hochul.
The victim, Francisco Santos, was a member of the drug distribution conspiracy and was believed to have stolen drugs and money from other members of the conspiracy. In retaliation for the theft, Plaza and other members of the conspiracy assaulted Santos and one of the other conspiracy members slashed Santos across the side of the head with a knife. Sometime after the beating, the co-conspirator who slashed Santos on the head was arrested for the assault.
To further retaliate for the original theft and to prevent Santos from testifying against the co-conspirator on the assault charge, Plaza and a group of other co-conspirators found Santos and drove him to the Seneca Indian Reservation. Once at the reservation, they took Santos down a dirt path behind some trees and stabbed him to death and buried him in a shallow grave. Plaza admitted to having personally stabbed Santos and to having observed other coconspirators also stabbing him.
In addition, the defendant was present for the beating death of Ryan Cooper. Plaza stated that Cooper learned about Santos’ murder and wanted to report it to the police. The defendant explained that one of the men involved in the Santos murder learned what Cooper was saying. Plaza stated that one day while Cooper was at his residence, two co-conspirators came to Plaza’s apartment, confronted Cooper and then attacked Cooper and killed him. Bags containing Cooper’s remains were later dumped behind a school near some railroad tracks in Rochester.
Plaza was charged along with four other defendants with the murder of Francisco Santos. Also charged: James Kendrick, Pablo Plaza, born in 1972 (Plaza’s older brother with the same name), Janine Plaza Pierce, the mother of Kendrick and the older Plaza, and Angelo Cruz. Kendrick is also charged with the murder of Ryan Cooper. The trial of these remaining defendants is expected to take place later this year or early 2015.
The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.
The plea is the culmination of a joint investigation on the part of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, New York Field Division, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Cannon, and the Rochester Police Department, Violent Crime Team/Firearms Suppression Unit, under the direction of Chief Michael Ciminelli. Numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies assisted in the investigation, including the New York State Police, under the direction of Major Robert T. Meyers and Major Mark Koss; the Erie County Sheriff=s Department, under the direction of Sheriff Timothy B. Howard; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge James J. Hunt, New York Field Division. Also assisting in the investigation was the Schenectady County District Attorney=s Office, under the Direction of District Attorney Robert M. Carney.
Sentencing is scheduled for September 2, 2014 at 3:00 pm. before Judge Geraci.