By David Jones
NEWARK N.J. (Reuters) - Three men described by prosecutors as New Jersey members of MS-13, a street gang with turf stretching from Salvadorean prisons to U.S. coastal cities, appeared in a New Jersey federal court on Friday on charges of racketeering and murder conspiracy.
Marvin Garcia-Cruz, 31, and Carlos Andrew Valdez, 27, are the leaders of two local MS-13 cliques in New Jersey's Hudson County, and Rudy Gutierrez, 22, served as Valdez's third-in-command, prosecutors said.
They are among 12 men who were charged in a indictment on Thursday by the U.S. attorney in New Jersey, including a California man accused of being the U.S. national leader for the gang.
Some of the other indicted men conducted gang business with smuggled cell phones in prisons in Virginia and in El Salvador, the indictment said.
Valdez, Garcia-Cruz and Gutierrez, who appeared in court in shackles and olive-green jumpsuits, are accused of playing a role in a failed conspiracy to murder a rival gang member in November, as are six other men due to appear in court at a later date.
The three men, who spoke only to acknowledge they understood the charges and their rights, are not U.S. citizens and could end up being deported, prosecutors said.
Gutierrez and Valdez are also charged with involvement in a racketeering conspiracy that dates back to at least 2009.
Also charged in the same indictment was Jose Juan Rodriguez-Juarez, who was said by prosecutors to be the U.S. national leader of MS-13, an abbreviation of Mara Salvatrucha.
Rodriguez-Juarez, 34, was working to bring together MS-13's local organizations in the United States under his central leadership and to increase the amount of money the gang makes by violently extorting local businesses.
He is in custody in California and is due in court at a later date.
Paul Fishman, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, said in a statement that the accused men were using "this new formalized structure to open new drug distribution channels facilitated by cartel alliances and bloodshed."
Lawyers for the three men in court today declined to comment after the hearing. Defense lawyers for the other accused men could not immediately be reached.
The MS-13 gang was formed in the 1980s by Salvadoran refugees who had settled in Los Angeles, according to the indictment, before expanding into Latino enclaves elsewhere in California and the U.S. East Coast, as well as Central America.
(Writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Bernard Orr and Eric Walsh)