Seven members of the New Jersey branch of the international street gang La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, have been sentenced to prison for their roles in a violent criminal enterprise that included murder, extortion and plots to kill witnesses, announced Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman of the District of New Jersey.
Franklin Mejia, aka Frankbo, 25, and his brother, Kelvin Mejia, aka Machete, 24, both of Plainfield, New Jersey, were each sentenced today to 150 months in prison. Ruben Portillo-Fuentes, aka Sombra, 24, of Plainfield, was sentenced today to 121 months in prison; Julio Adalberto Orellana-Carranza, aka Player, 28, also of Plainfield, was sentenced today to 72 months in prison; and Jose Romero-Aguirre, aka Conejo, 29, of North Plainfield, New Jersey, was sentenced today to 66 months in prison. Franklin Mejia, Kelvin Mejia, Portillo-Fuentes and Orellana-Carranza each previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Stanley R. Chesler of the District of New Jersey to racketeering conspiracy. Romero-Aguirre previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering.
Two other co-defendants were previously sentenced. Roberto Contreras, aka Demonio, 28, of Bound Brook, New Jersey, was sentenced on Dec. 1, 2016, to 180 months in prison. Jose Garcia, aka Chucky, 24, of Plainfield, was sentenced on Dec. 5, 2016, to 240 months in prison. Contreras and Garcia were convicted following trial before Judge Chesler. Contreras was convicted of racketeering conspiracy and accessory after the fact to murder in aid of racketeering. Garcia was convicted of racketeering conspiracy, murder-for-hire conspiracy, travel in interstate commerce with intent to commit murder and two counts of conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering.
According to the plea agreements and evidence presented at trial, MS-13 is a national and transnational gang with branches or “cliques” operating throughout the United States, including in Plainfield. All of the defendants were members of the Plainfield Locos Salvatruchas (PLS) Clique of MS-13 that operated in Union, Somerset and Middlesex Counties in New Jersey. Santos Reyes-Villatoro, aka Mousey, founder of the gang, and Mario Oliva, aka Zorro, both of Bound Brook, New Jersey, and Contreras all served as “First Word,” or leader, of PLS. From 2007 through 2011, MS-13 members from PLS committed five murders in furtherance of MS-13’s objectives, along with other attempted murders and violent attacks, including the following.
According to evidence presented at trial and to admissions made in connection with plea agreements, on Feb. 27, 2010, Oliva drove a female member of MS-13 to an empty parking lot in Piscataway, New Jersey, and murdered her because she was suspected of working with law enforcement. Oliva then fled New Jersey with the assistance of Contreras and hid from law enforcement with the MS-13 Pinos Clique in Oxon Hill, Maryland.
On Jan. 10, 2011, four Maryland MS-13 members drove to Plainfield and were arrested shortly before meeting with Garcia to carry out a murder-for-hire they had arranged with him. Also on Jan. 10, 2011, Contreras and other MS-13 members were in a car when they spotted a suspected 18th Street gang member in front of a restaurant. Contreras stopped the vehicle and an MS-13 member exited, approached the suspected rival gang member and shot him in the head.
On May 7, 2011, Portillo-Fuentes approached an individual sitting outside a residence in Plainfield and fired a handgun at the individual, striking him the chest, in order to intimidate the victim and establish MS-13’s control of the area. The victim survived. On May 8, 2011, Garcia and another MS-13 member assaulted a suspected member of the 18th Street gang at a park in Plainfield. During the assault, Garcia placed a gun to the victim's head and threatened to kill the victim.
In addition, Orellana-Carranza was assigned a “mission” to kill a rival gang member by PLS’s leadership. Garcia assisted Orellana-Carranza by arranging for Kelvin Mejia to supply Orellana-Carranza with a handgun. After retrieving the weapon, on June 11, 2011, Orellana-Carranza went out in search of an 18th Street gang member to kill, but was ultimately unsuccessful.
Also according to admissions and trial evidence, on June 15, 2011, Portillo-Fuentes spotted a member of the 18th Street gang on a busy street in Plainfield, jumped out of a vehicle and swung a machete at the individual’s head and neck areas. Later that evening, Kelvin Mejia, Franklin Mejia and a PLS associate robbed two individuals in a park, while all three were armed with guns. During the robbery, Franklin Mejia fired a shot near one victim’s head, missing the victim’s head but grazing their hand.
The plea agreements and trial evidence established that on June 24, 2011, Garcia, Kelvin Mejia, Franklin Mejia and others plotted to rob an elderly woman who ran an underground liquor store at her residence in Plainfield. That evening, a PLS member fired a single shot through the woman’s window when she refused to let him enter the residence, and then fled. In July 2011, Garcia and Kelvin Mejia again plotted to rob the woman to raise bail money for PLS members who had been arrested.
According to admissions and evidence presented at trial, on June 4, 2011, Franklin Mejia and another PLS member attacked a PLS associate with a machete on the train tracks in Plainfield because they believed the victim had been associating with a rival gang. The victim survived. On July 2, 2011, Franklin Mejia and Kelvin Mejia sought to obtain a firearm so that Franklin Mejia could kill an older PLS member who was protecting the machete attack victim. Law enforcement officers thwarted the plot.
Evidence at trial demonstrated that in July 2011, numerous PLS members were in custody at the Union County Jail, during which time Garcia and Esau Ramirez, aka Panda, along with other jailed members, plotted to kill at least three individuals they believed had cooperated with the authorities. On Aug. 1, 2011, Ramirez instructed Romero-Aguirre, who was free at the time, to “work as fast as possible” in eliminating the suspected cooperators. Romero-Aguirre subsequently instructed PLS members outside the jail to kill the suspected cooperators. Law enforcement officers discovered the plan and intervened before anyone was harmed.
According to evidence presented at trial, PLS members were also responsible for at least two attempted murders of suspected Latin King members and machete attacks in May 2011 and June 2011 on the train tracks passing through Plainfield.
To date, 13 of the 14 individuals charged in this case have been convicted. One defendant remains a fugitive. One defendant, Cruz Flores, aka Bruja, awaits sentencing.
The FBI’s Newark Division; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations; and ICE Homeland Security Investigations investigated the case. The Union County Prosecutor’s Office assisted in the investigation. The Somerset County, New Jersey, Prosecutor’s Office ; the Middlesex County, New Jersey, Prosecutor’s Office; the U.S. Attorney’s Offices for the Eastern District of Virginia and the District of Maryland; the Plainfield Police Department; Union County Police Department; Union County Sheriff’s Office; Elizabeth, New Jersey, Police Department; North Plainfield Police Department; Union County Department of Corrections; Prince George’s County, Maryland, Police Department; and the U.S. Marshals Service also provided assistance. Former Trial Attorney Kevin L. Rosenberg of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section and Assistant U.S. Attorneys James M. Donnelly and J. Jamari Buxton of the District of New Jersey are prosecuting the case.