The alleged leader of a Jamaica-based street gang is facing multiple charges in connection with the murder of a teenager and other gang-related activities, prosecutors announced Wednesday.
Junior Zelaya-Canales, 23, of Jamaica, was charged with murder in aid of racketeering, conspiracy to murder rival gang members and attempted murder of rival gang members.
The indictment also charges 20-year-old Eric Chavez, of Flushing, and 25-year-old Jonathan Zelaya-Diaz, of Hempstead. Chavez was arrested on Dec. 10 and charged with attempted murder and assault in aid of racketeering. Zelaya-Diaz, who faces charges of conspiracy to commit murder and attempted murder in aid of racketeering, remains at large.
It is alleged that all three men are involved in the 18th Street gang, violent street gang with members and associates in Jamaica, Queens, and in various locations across the United States. In September 2016, Zelaya-Canales allegedly directed two lower-level gang members to kill 15-year-old Josue Guzman to demonstrate their allegiance to 18th Street gang because it was believed that Guzman offended members of the gang.
The Hempstead Police Department responded to a report of shots fired near the intersection of Linden Avenue and Laurel Avenue at 1 a.m. on Sept. 12, 2016. Officers found Guzman’s body lying near the curb, shot once in the back of the head. Guzman was pronounced dead at the scene.
“It defies comprehension these gang members are allegedly murdering and attempting to murder human beings for respect in their gang or in retaliation for some perceived slight,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney. “Josue Guzman was just 15-years-old when he was shot and killed because someone deemed him to be disrespectful. We may never be able to change the mindlessness of a teenager being killed for no reason, but we can certainly make sure anyone who commits such a grotesque act will suffer the consequences.”
Next, on July 9, 2017, Zelaya-Canales and Zelaya-Diaz, as well as one other gang member, allegedly directed the shooting of rival gang members over a turf dispute in Woodhaven. At 10:30 p.m. that day, NYPD officers responded to a 911 call regarding shots fired in the vicinity of 86th Road in Woodhaven and recovered nine 9-millimeter shell casings at the scene.
On Aug. 9, 2017, officers investigating the Woodhaven case executed a search warrant at Zelaya-Canales’ apartment and allegedly recovered a 9-millimeter Ruger handgun with a defaced serial number, four rounds of 9-millimeter ammunition, 56 rounds of .357 magnum ammunition, 34 rounds of .380 caliber ammunition and 23 rounds of .38 ammunition. Ballistic reports allegedly found the Ruger handgun was the weapon that fired the 9-millimeter shell casings found at the scene of the shooting in Woodhaven.
Finally, on Sept. 20, 2017, Chavez allegedly shot a man, identified as “John Doe,” in Jamaica for the purpose of maintaining and increasing his own position in the 18th Street gang, incorrectly believing that “Doe” was a member of the rival MS-13 gang. Chavez and another gang member approached “Doe” with guns drawn and searched him for MS-13 gang tattoos, but found none. Nevertheless, they shot and wounded “Doe” as he fled.
“The superseding indictment and arrests announced today are a significant step in dismantling a violent street gang in our district,” stated United States Attorney Richard P. Donoghue. “This Office, with the assistance of local and federal law enforcement partners, will not relent until violent street gangs that endanger communities have been eradicated.”