A grand jury in New York has indicted 12 members of the notorious MS-13 street gang on charges of possession of controlled substances, burglary, possession of weapons, attempted murder, and conspiracy to commit murder.
The main defendants are accused of scheming to murder members of rival gang the Latin Kings, plotting to steal $80,000 cash from a Kew Gardens home, and planning the execution of a former MS-13 member.
Members of a Queens County grand jury indicted the suspects on Tuesday, Dec. 11, following an investigation by ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) New York and the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) Queens South Gang Squad, working with the Queens District Attorney’s Office, according to an ICE news release.
Detectives used “various investigative techniques,” said a press release from the District Attorney’s office, including “court-authorized wiretaps, video, and physical surveillance.”
Investigators taking part in the takedown recovered guns and drugs.
Seven alleged members of MS-13 were overheard via wiretap discussing several locations—including Rufus King Park in the New York district of Jamaica—as possible locations for a hit.
Queens District Attorney Richard Brown identified one of the main defendants as Jorge “Terrible” Andrade. According to charges in one of the indictments, Andrade and six others schemed to avenge the shooting and wounding by a rival Latin King gang of two reputed members of MS-13. Andrade allegedly conducted surveillance of a Latin King member and discussed his plan to beat the target with a baseball bat.
Another indictment said that investigators overheard another defendant, Josue “Colocho” Levia, talking about retrieving weapons for a hit on a former MS-13 member who had left the gang. Officials said that when the time and location for the planned killing were revealed, “law enforcement raced to the scene and got there possibly preventing a murder.”
“Gang violence, intimidation and out-right ruthless brutality will not be tolerated in this county,” said DA Brown in the press release. “These indictments are another example of how law enforcement and prosecutors can and will work together to stop the senseless killings in our communities.”
The majority of the indicted face up to 25 years in prison.
“Our communities have the right to be safe and not succumb to senseless violence between gangs in our city. These alleged members of MS-13 exhibited their propensity towards violence and murder when they plotted to murder a rival gang member in a place where the public congregates, with no regard to innocent lives,” said Angel M. Melendez, special agent in charge of HSI New York. “MS-13’s intimidation and violence will not be tolerated and law enforcement’s collaborative efforts are key to disrupting the lawless activities of this vicious street gang.”
The indicted include: Dani “Chino” Cruz, 26, of Jamaica, Queens; Ramon “Cruzito” Martines, 35, from Hempstead, Long Island; Maxwell Martinez, 25, from Jamaica, Queens; Johan Cruz-Valle, 20, of Jamaica, Queens; Oscar “Coca” Velasquez Moreno, 20, from Brentwood, Long Island; Josue “Colocho” Levia, 21, from Richmond Hill, Queens; Victor “Panda” Manuel, 20, from Richmond Hill, Queens; Jorge “Jester” Rivera, 27, from Jamaica, Queens; Steven Rivas, 24, from Jamaica; Dioni “Peligro” Navarro, 27, from Jamaica, Queens; Angel “Chamuco” Romero, 20, from Jamaica, Queens; and Brandon “Little Boy” Tzul, 21, also from Jamaica, Queens.
MS-13’s motto is “kill, rape, control,” according to Robert J. Bunker, an adjunct research professor at the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College.
The gang, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, was initially formed by Salvadoran immigrants that fled to Los Angeles during the civil war in their home country.
“The gang became increasingly violent—drawing upon the Salvadoran wartime experiences of its members and their cultural use of the machete—to protect its members from Mexican-American street gangs and their rival, the hybrid 18th Street gang,” Bunker said.
A huge deportation effort in the early 2000s, which expelled thousands of MS-13 members from the United States back to El Salvador, contributed to the gang taking hold in Central America. El Salvador is now the gang’s operational base.
The Justice Department estimates around 40,000 members live in Central America and 10,000 live in the United States.