UNION COUNTY — Five confirmed members of the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, street gang, including two juveniles, have been charged with engineering the gang initiation-related murder of a person purported to be a rival gang member in Elizabeth earlier this year, acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park announced during a recent press conference.
German Lisandro Benites Moreno, a.k.a. “Raro,” 21; Carlos Amaya, a.k.a. “Padrino,” 19; and Luis Alfaro, a.k.a. “Perverso,” 26, have each been charged with first-degree murder, first-degree gang criminality, second-degree solicitation or recruitment to join a criminal street gang, and two second-degree weapons offenses. Juvenile complaints reflecting several of the same allegations also have been filed against both of the juvenile defendants, whose identities are being withheld due to their ages.
Shortly before 5 p.m. on Monday, May 19, 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 and the Elizabeth Police Department revealed that Landaverde’s killing was not a random act of violence, said Union County Homicide 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 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 last of the five defendants to be apprehended, one of the two juveniles charged, was arrested in the Houston area late last week. Both juveniles remain in custody in Texas. Moreno, whose bail has been set at $3.5 million, is lodged in Hudson County Jail, while Alfaro and Amaya are lodged in Union County Jail on $2.5 million and $2 million bail, respectively.
“This was a brazen, cold, and calculated crime we believe was committed for multiple purposes – to send a message to rival gangs, to initiate a new member, and to eliminate a rival,” Park said. “The senseless violent acts associated with the criminal activity of street gangs have no place in Union County, and we are committed to doing everything in our power to ensure that we address them in the strongest possible fashion.”
If convicted on all the charges against him, Moreno could 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.
These criminal charges are mere accusations. Each defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.