New York, NY - March 26, 2014 - Good morning. My name is George Venizelos, and I am the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s New York Field Office. I am joined by Loretta Lynch, the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and Richard Frankel, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI New York Criminal Division.
The FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list is a program founded by the FBI in March 1950 in conjunction with the nation’s news media. It is designed to publicize dangerous fugitives who might not otherwise merit nationwide attention. The FBI recognizes the need for the public’s assistance in tracking fugitives. One-hundred fifty-six of the Top Ten apprehensions have been the result of citizen recognition of Top Ten fugitive publicity.
We are here this morning to announce the placement of Juan Elias Garcia to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list. We are also seeking the public’s assistance in capturing this dangerous individual for the brutal murder of Vanessa Argueta and her 2-year-old son Diego Torres. Also known as “Cruzito,” Garcia is the 501st individual to make the Top Ten list, and his appointment underscores the heinous nature of his crimes.
Vanessa Argueta was a 19-year-old woman with family and friends who loved her. She was also a loving mother to 2-year-old Diego Torres. Vanessa had been romantically involved with Garcia, an alleged member of the violent street gang MS-13. While dating Vanessa, Garcia came to know little Diego. Garcia played, held, and spent time with the little boy.
After a falling out between Vanessa and Garcia, members of the rival 18th Street Gang allegedly threatened violence against Garcia. Because Vanessa had ties to the 18th Street Gang and the Latin Kings, Garcia believed he had been threatened by the rival gang based upon information Vanessa provided. When he relayed his suspicions about Vanessa to fellow MS-13 members Adalberto Ariel Guzman and Rene Mendez Mejia, they sought and obtained permission from their leader, Heriberto Martinez, to retaliate against her.
On February 4, 2010, Garcia contacted Vanessa and invited her to dinner. Believing Garcia’s intentions were pure, she accepted his dinner invitation and even brought little Diego along. Unbeknownst to Vanessa, Garcia had another plan in mind. Instead of going to dinner, Garcia, Guzman, and Mejia allegedly drove Vanessa and Diego to a wooded area in Central Islip, New York, where they proceeded to shoot Vanessa twice in the head and chest.
Frightened by the sound of gunshots and the sight of his mother’s lifeless body lying on the ground, Diego began to cry. Rather than show the scared little boy comfort, the MS-13 members shot helpless Diego in the head. This first shot did not kill little Diego, who fell to the ground but quickly stood back up. Once on his feet, Diego saw Garcia, a familiar face in the crowd, and clutched onto his leg. However, the violence did not stop. Guzman fired the second shot that struck Diego in the head and killed him. Vanessa and Diego’s bodies were discovered in a wooded area in Central Islip the next day.
Garcia decided that the penalty for disrespecting the gang was death. While crime and gang related activity oftentimes go hand in hand, the execution style murders of Vanessa and her 2-year-old son is a new low even for MS-13. Two months after the murders, Mejia, Guzman, and Garcia were identified as the shooters and charged with murder in aid of racketeering and other related offenses in connection with the murders of Vanessa and Diego. Mejia pled guilty to the murders, while Guzman was found guilty by a jury of his peers. Both are awaiting sentencing for their crimes. Martinez, the fourth defendant charged in connection with Vanessa and Diego’s murders and other criminal activity, has been sentenced to three terms of life in prison, plus 60 years.
As of the time of this press conference, 21-year-old Garcia remains a fugitive. Born in Santa Rosa de Lima, El Salvador, Garcia is known to speak both English and Spanish. He has ties to El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, and Panama. He is 5’4” tall and weighs 125 pounds. He has black hair and brown eyes. Garcia’s last known employment was working as a laborer in a clothing store.
The FBI is offering a reward of up to $100,000 for any information leading directly to the arrest of Garcia. Garcia is considered armed and dangerous. Individuals with information concerning Garcia should take no action themselves but instead immediately dial 1-800-CALL-FBI with information about his whereabouts. The public can also contact their nearest FBI office or local law enforcement agency with information. For any sightings outside the United States, please contact the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Alternatively, the public is encouraged to visit our website, www.fbi.gov. The FBI uses cyberspace and social media to inform the public about cases. In fact, postings on the FBI’s website have led to the apprehension of two of the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives.
The decision to place an individual on the FBI’s Top Ten Fugitive list is not taken lightly. The fugitive must be considered a particularly dangerous menace to society and/or have a lengthy record of committing serious crimes. Nationwide publicity must be able to assist in the apprehension of the fugitive. It is our hope that someone will watch televised news, read a newspaper, see the story in online press, or hear about Garcia’s case on the radio and call us with information about his location.
The FBI will not stop looking for Garcia. We will continue to follow every lead, look under every rock, until Garcia is made to answer for his crimes. The moral depravity displayed by Garcia in the murders of young Vanessa and her innocent, helpless 2-year-old son should motivate those who know where Garcia is hiding to turn him in immediately. It is our hope that Garcia will do the right thing and remove himself from the Top Ten list by surrendering. It is the very least he could do for his victims and their families who have suffered long enough by the murder of their loved ones. Otherwise, he should always be looking over his shoulder because it is only a matter of time before he is captured and justice is obtained for Vanessa and Diego.
I want to thank Assistant Special Agent in Charge Rachel Rojas, Supervisory Special Agent Geraldine Hart, and case agents Reynaldo Tariche and James Lopez for their diligence and hard work in this ongoing investigation. I would also like to acknowledge the Long Island Gang Task Force for their continued efforts in battling all gang-related activity and helping to keep our streets safe. I also want to thank Assistant United States Attorneys John Dunham and Raymond Tierney for their continued efforts and assistance. Thank you."