A Union County grand jury has returned indictments against four confirmed members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) street gang accused of engineering the gang initiation-related murder of a person purported to be a rival gang member in Elizabeth last year, acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park announced Thursday.
Carlos Amaya, a.k.a. “Padrinho,” 19, German Lisandro Benites Moreno, a.k.a. “Raro,” 21, Luis Alfaro, a.k.a. “Perverso,” 26, and a defendant who was a juvenile at the time of the murder but is being prosecuted as an adult all were indicted on charges of first-degree murder, first-degree conspiracy to commit murder, first-degree gang criminality, and second-degree solicitation or recruitment to join a criminal street gang. A fifth defendant in the case, also a juvenile at the time of the killing, is currently incarcerated in Texas for an unrelated matter and is expected to be extradited to New Jersey at a later date.
It was shortly before 5 p.m. on Monday, May 19, 2014 when first responders rushed to the 600 block of South Park Street in Elizabeth, a residential neighborhood, to find 18-year-old Jonathan Landaverde in the rear yard of a residence suffering from multiple gunshot wounds. He was transported to University Hospital in Newark, where he was pronounced dead.
A joint investigation involving the Union County Homicide Task Force, the Elizabeth Police Department, and the Union County Sheriff’s Office ID Unit revealed that Landaverde’s killing was not a random act of violence, according to Task Force Supervisor Michael Henn, who is prosecuting the case. In fact, Moreno, a high-ranking MS-13 member with regional influence, had recently traveled to Elizabeth in order to recruit additional gang members and ensure that the local faction of the internationally powerful gang with El Salvadorian origins was asserting its control and influence in the area, Henn said.
The investigation revealed that Moreno allegedly ordered the two juvenile defendants to kill Landaverde, who was purportedly a member of the rival 18th Street gang, as a means to that end. Amaya and Alfaro were involved in the planning of the shooting, according to Henn.
Upon allegedly shooting Landaverde, the two juveniles fled the scene, and four of the five defendants then left New Jersey in an effort to evade arrest, Henn said. One of the two juveniles was already a confirmed MS-13 member at the time of the shooting, while the other was a recruit who was initiated into the gang as a result of the shooting.
The five defendants were located and arrested at various times and in various locations last fall.
If convicted on each of the charges against him, Moreno would likely face a sentence of 70 years to life in state prison. Amaya, Alfaro, and one of the two juvenile defendants all would be facing likely terms of 55 years to life if convicted, while the other juvenile defendant would receive a likely term of 45 years to life.
The Prosecutor’s Office is continuing to express sincere thanks to each of the various law-enforcement agencies that have assisted in this investigation, including the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey, the Harris County (Texas) Sheriff’s Office, and the Houston Police Department.
These criminal charges are mere accusations. Each defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.