HCPO’s Efforts Result In 35-Year Sentence For Gang Member in 2015 Execution Style Murder

Seven years of hard work by members of the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office have resulted in the sentencing of an MS-13 gang member for his role in a 2015, execution-style murder.

According to the United States Attorney’s Office in Newark, an MS-13 gang member was sentenced earlier this week to 420 months in prison for his execution-style killing of a man seven years ago.  U.S. Attorney Philip R. Sellinger and Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division made the announcement.

Juan Garcia-Gomez, aka “Scooby,” age 26, of El Salvador and Union City, previously pleaded guilty before U.S. District Judge Claire C. Cecchi to one count of an indictment charging him with racketeering conspiracy.  Judge Cecchi imposed the sentence in Newark federal court. “Garcia-Gomez committed a brutal and violent crime to gain membership in a criminal organization known for its brutality and violence,” U.S. Attorney Sellinger said. “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 of our streets.”

“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,” Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division said.  “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.”

“Cases like this are a reminder of the deadly brutality involved with drug activity,” Acting Special Agent in Charge Terence Reilly said.  “We aggressively pursue MS-13 activity because of the high threat they pose to the citizens of our area.  Long prison terms are the one sure method for getting these dangerous criminals off our streets.”

According to court documents in this and other cases, and the evidence at the trial of Garcia-Gomez’s co-defendants:

Garcia-Gomez conspired to participate in the illegal activities of Mara Salvatrucha, a violent criminal gang also known as MS-13, founded in Los Angeles and active in numerous states, including New Jersey, as well as in El Salvador, Central America, and Mexico. 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 active in and around Hudson County, were the Pinos Locos Salvatrucha clique, of which Garcia-Gomez was a member/associate, and the Hudson Locos Salvatrucha clique.

In July 2015, Jose Urias-Hernandez, then 19, was shot and killed execution-style by Garcia-Gomez with a single shot to the back of his head as he entered his apartment building. Garcia-Gomez participated in the murder because he was ordered by MS-13 leadership to commit the murder to achieve membership in the gang. The victim was not a rival gang member. In addition to murder, MS-13 members, including Garcia-Gomez, trafficked drugs and threatened witnesses to prevent cooperation with law enforcement, and others extorted a restaurant operating in the gang’s turf.

In addition to Garcia-Gomez, nine defendants were charged in New Jersey. 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; the allegations against him are merely accusations, and he is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. All other defendants have been convicted, including Juan Pablo Escalante-Melgar, aka “Humilde,” Elmer Cruz-Diaz, aka “Locote,” and Oscar Sanchez-Aguilar, aka “Snappy,” who were convicted at trial in November 2021 and are awaiting sentencing.

At sentencing, Esclante Melgar, Cruz-Diaz, and Sanchez-Aguilar each face a mandatory minimum sentence of life in prison. “Garcia-Gomez chose to take a young, innocent life to gain entrance to MS-13, a gang notorious for its senseless violence,” Special Agent in Charge Jason J. Molina for Homeland Security Investigations in Newark said. “With his callous action, he ended a life full of potential. With today’s sentence, he has discovered the consequences of his actions.”

“This senseless murder that took the life of a young man with no ties to gang life is typical of the brutality that we have come to expect from MS-13,” ICE-ERO Newark Field Office Director John Tsoukaris said. “Thanks to the collaborative efforts of local, state and federal law enforcement, justice has been served here as well as the interests of community safety.”

“Mr. Garcia-Gomez deliberately executed a young man with the purpose of terrorizing the North Hudson community, hoping to earn the respect of some of the most dangerous criminals,” Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez said. “Our office appreciates the commitment shared between local, state, and federal law enforcement partners to see that those responsible for violent attacks, such as this, are held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.”

In addition to the prison term, Judge Cecchi sentenced Garcia-Gomez to five years of supervised release.

U.S. Attorney Sellinger and Assistant Attorney General Polite credited special agents of the FBI, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge James E. Dennehy in Newark; officers of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement – Enforcement and Removal Operations Newark Field Office, under the direction of Field Office Director John Tsoukaris; special agents of the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Jason J. Molina in Newark; investigators of the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, under the direction of Prosecutor Esther Suarez:, and investigators of the West New York Police Department under the direction of Deputy Chiefs Santiago Cabrera and Alejandro De Rojas, with the investigation leading to today’s sentencing.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Desiree Grace of the District of New Jersey and Trial Attorney Matthew J. Hoff of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section.  The Defense counsel is Anthony Iacullo Esq., Nutley, New Jersey