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Revealed: Brutally violent Venezuelan ‘Tren de Aragua’ gang is utilizing migrant wave to launch NYC cellphone theft spree

Revealed: Brutally violent Venezuelan ‘Tren de Aragua’ gang is utilizing migrant wave to launch NYC cellphone theft spree



It’s a criminal offense wave that has raised fears throughout town: robbers on mopeds snatching folks’s telephones from their arms and rushing off.

In one particularly brazen assault, moped-riding bandits dragged a 62-year-old lady down a Brooklyn road in December.

After the telephones are stolen, the victims’ financial institution accounts are drained of money, with fraudulent transactions in each the US and South America, and the telephones themselves are despatched to Colombia to be wiped, reprogrammed and offered.

Now The Post can disclose that the sample of robberies is being linked by legislation enforcement to a brutal Venezuelan gang that’s sending its members to New York as a part of the migrant wave — and utilizing its sprawling legal empire to launder the proceeds of the crimes.

Until current weeks, police had been involved about rises in thefts and robberies within the metropolis — comparable to a spate of pickpocketing on the subway system and across the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree — being linked to low-level, unorganized criminals who had been among the many estimated 170,000 migrants who’ve arrived within the metropolis for the reason that begin of 2023.

Go Nakamura for NY Post; Christopher Sadowski; NYPD; Google Maps; Adobe Stock; Alamy
This brutal theft in Brooklyn in January makes use of ways linked to Tren de Aragua: migrants on stolen mopeds snatching telephones from folks’s arms to allow them to hold them unlocked, then drain victims’ accounts of money.

But sources inform The Post that the brutal Venezuelan “Tren de Aragua” gang has moved into New York by having its members cross the southern border and declare asylum, and is probably going behind most of the moped robberies.

It is the one new gang to this point being tracked among the many new migrant arrivals within the metropolis, sources say.

The NYPD to this point has not mentioned the gang publicly — however at a briefing final week, senior officers described a sample of moped robberies which The Post is advised have the hallmarks of Tren de Aragua.

Migrants who allegedly attacked a police officer and lieutenant in Times Square final week are on the heart of issues they might be linked to Tren de Aragua. DCPI

Separately, sources advised The Post final Saturday there have been issues {that a} gang that assaulted two law enforcement officials in Times Square might be linked to Tren de Aragua. It was unclear whether or not a 15-year-old Venezuelan arrested Friday over the Times Square taking pictures of a vacationer has ties to the gang.

Last month, a suspect believed to be linked to Tren de Aragua was arrested after the brutal homicide of a retired Venezuelan police officer, who was lured to his loss of life in Miami by a gaggle of prostitutes.

And in Chicago, the Cook County Sheriff’s Department intelligence division has been revealed by NBC5 Chicago to be monitoring its presence within the metropolis.

South American crime lords

Tren de Aragua, that means Aragua Train, began in 2012 amongst commerce union members within the Aragua province of Venezuela who turned a deliberate railroad into a chance for grift, and has exploded since right into a violent gang concerned in robberies, drug dealing and human trafficking throughout South America.

The Venezuelan authorities formally sees it as a legal enterprise and despatched in 11,000 troopers on September 23 final yr to take again a jail beneath the gang’s management in Tocorón, within the nation’s inside.

Tren de Aragua has exploded from the Venezuelan province of Aragua, the place in September final yr, 1000’s of troopers stormed a jail the gang had taken over. ZUMAPRESS.com
Despite the size of the assault by Venezuela’s nationwide guard, the leaders of Tren de Aragua all escaped earlier than they stormed the jail — fueling hypothesis that the gang is carefully tied to the nation’s strongman chief, Nicolas Maduro. AFP by way of Getty Images

But, The Post is advised, its members have additionally been used as enforcers for the Cartel of the Suns drug-trafficking community, which the US Department of Justice alleges is run by Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro from his presidential palace in Caracas.

They have established presences in Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Chile beneath chief Niño Guerrero (“Warrior Kid”), whose actual identify is Héctor Rusthenford Guerrero Flores and who escaped the jail raid safely together with round 80 different senior leaders.

Their violent practices have shocked even essentially the most hardened in South America, notably their willingness to kill girls.

In Colombia, the gang has put ugly photos of its torture and murders on social media, comparable to this picture of a person tortured along with his arms certain by the twine from hair straighteners. There has been public outcry on the scale of violence. Autor Anónimo
“Satan,” the chief of the Tren de Aragua in Colombia, was arrested in January after a sequence of murders by which companies’ staff had been dismembered and their physique components dumped outdoors the homeowners’ companies. Migración Colombia

Ammon Blair, a former US Border Patrol agent and senior fellow on the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative suppose tank, mentioned, “They go into native economies the place there are Venezuelans and take over the legal underground utilizing extreme power.

“They’ll begin taking pictures prostitutes managed by rival gangs and carry out the executions stay on social media in an effort to set up their presence.”

In Colombia in January, a sequence of brutal murders noticed folks lured to resort rooms by Tren de Arauga members, tortured and killed, with their ordeals recorded for different gang members. One younger man was tied hand and foot, choked with a cable and overwhelmed with a hammer earlier than being shot.

The gang’s chief in Colombia, José Manuel Vera, calls himself “Satan,” and was arrested after attempting to extort companies in a sequence of cities, with bloodthirsty calls for despatched in WhatsApp voice notes.

In Peru, the homicide of a transgender prostitute, shot repeatedly at point-blank vary, was videotaped and placed on social media — kicking off a massacre within the metropolis’s intercourse commerce as Tren de Aragua took over.
In components of South America, the gang points warnings on letters with a brand and an AK-style rifle as letterheads.

When the homeowners didn’t pay up, their staff had been kidnapped, tortured and dismembered, their physique components certain in tarps and dumped outdoors the companies.

In Lima, Peru, final February, a transgender prostitute was shot point-blank 31 occasions and the homicide placed on social media — a warning that Tren de Aragua now ran metropolis’s the intercourse commerce. It was the beginning of a massacre: Twenty-four Lima prostitutes had been murdered in 2023, apparently by the gang.

In Chile, dismembered victims’ bones have been present in cement at constructing websites, and the nation’s prosecutor held disaster talks along with his Colombian counterpart concerning the gang’s risk to legislation and order.

Exploiting the border

Gang members started making their approach from Venezuela to the southern US border in 2017, Blair advised The Post.

That yr, there have been almost 2,800 “encounters” with Venezuelan migrants on the border, in keeping with US Customs and Border Protection statistics.

The border disaster has allowed Tren de Aragua members to enter the United States by claiming asylum. REUTERS

But from October 2022 to September 2023, greater than 334,000 Venezuelans crossed the border — second solely to 735,000 Mexicans — with Tren de Aragua enjoying a key half in trafficking many from Venezuela.

“When they crossed the border into Colombia, they started to manage everybody’s passage, charging charges to different Venezuelans to make the crossing,” mentioned Robert Almonte, a safety guide and former US marshal in El Paso.

Border Patrol brokers apprehended 41 Tren de Aragua members crossing the border between October 2022 and September 2023, in keeping with US Customs and Border Protection.

The solely indicators that they belong to the ruthless group are tattoos that includes rifles and skulls, Almonte mentioned — though they’ve began telling new members to not get tattoos in an effort to evade police.

Law enforcement database info seen by The Post exhibits examples of gang tattoos photographed on Tren de Aragua members, together with AK-style rifles and trains. Source: New York Post
Other tattoos have included a silhouette of a basketball participant and a reputation beneath a crown. The group wears “23” basketball jerseys like LeBron James and Michael Jordan. Source: New York Post
Border Patrol issued this image of an arrested Tren de Aragua member final October, exhibiting his crown tattoo. US CBP

They additionally favor tattoos of silhouetted basketball gamers and basketball jerseys emblazoned with Michael Jordan’s and LeBron James’ quantity, 23 — a reference to the date of the jail raid.

Alamonte mentioned the group is so brazen {that a} Texas state anti-gang activity power lately documented them charging fellow Venezuelans to make use of federal rest room services on the border.

Recruiting in NYC’s shelters

Tren de Aragua members are among the many arrivals in New York, but in addition use the surge of recent migrants at shelters within the metropolis to recruit criminals.

The NYPD’s chief of detectives, Joseph Kenny, revealed final week how cops had busted one set of moped bandits — and though he didn’t say they had been from Tren de Aragua, sources advised The Post that the sample is strictly how the Venezuelan gang has been working in South American cities.

Kenny mentioned final Monday 62 robberies within the metropolis since November 2023, 34 of them in Manhattan, had been linked to the one group of at the very least 14 folks, who used two-man moped crews to grab victims’ telephones and, as a result of nearly all of victims had been girls, purses.

The NYPD has arrested two males in connection to a crew of migrants who’ve been stealing cellphones whereas using mopeds. NYPD
Cleyber Andrade, 19, and Juan Uzcatgui, 23, are allegedly linked to a hoop answerable for 62 cases of grand larceny. NYPD

Most of the robbers had been residing within the migrant shelters, and had obtained orders by way of WhatsApp from a mastermind whom Kenny recognized as Victor Parra, a 30-year-old Venezuelan migrant who arrived final yr.

“Parra will ship out particular orders for what kind of cellphone he’s searching for,” Kenny mentioned.

“Once the messages are obtained, the crime wave begins, with the scooter operators making $100 a day and the precise cellphone snatcher making between $300 to $600 per cellphone that’s stolen.”

Sources advised The Post that the sample matched how Tren de Aragua operates in South America, with gang members recruiting amongst younger males — in New York’s case, in migrant shelters — and utilizing stolen scooters to maneuver across the metropolis.

Young males with scooters are simple for the gang to seek out at New York’s shelters for the brand new arrivals, together with the Roosevelt Hotel on East forty sixth Street in Midtown Manhattan. Seth Gottfried

Because Tren de Aragua is concerned in human trafficking, gang recruiters might also have cellphone numbers for most of the migrants who come to New York, permitting them to blast mass WhatsApp messages to scores or lots of of individuals at a time.

Turning telephones into ‘gold’

Kenny mentioned the stolen telephones had been taken to alleged mastermind Parra’s dwelling — a NYCHA condo within the Parkside Houses within the Bronx — the place a “hacker” drained them of money. A raid early final Monday uncovered 22 stolen telephones and victims’ IDs.

But the precise robbers play an important half. The driver maneuvers the moped and the grabber latches onto a cellphone, wrenching it from the sufferer — who, crucially, is utilizing it on the time.

Phone in hand, the grabber, using on the again of the bike, then stops the cellphone from locking.

“He might hold tapping it,” Jonathan S. Weissman, cybersecurity professor at Rochester Institute of Technology, advised The Post. “Or else he can set the cellphone to ‘by no means’ on auto-lock. That approach, the thieves hold it alive with no need to faucet the display screen.”

This was the stash home within the Bronx the place police discovered 22 stolen telephones in a raid final Monday. The ways the gang caught by the NYPD used are similar these of Tren de Aragua, sources inform The Post. Google Maps

Once the telephones are delivered to the secure home, the hackers get to work, attempting to find financial institution accounts, cost apps and bank cards. 

According to specialists, they’ll change codes, making it troublesome for victims to cease the speedy ransacking of their accounts. Having stolen IDs from purses additionally helps them hack.

“Most of the safety codes might be reset by way of SMS,” Jayson E. Street, chief adversarial officer for Secure Yetti, advised The Post. “You talk to the apps that you simply forgot your passcodes. They can then be reset by placing within the verification codes which can be despatched to the cellphone.”

The hacked telephones might be exceptionally helpful. “The apps are used to make unlawful transactions and fraudulent purchases within the United States and South America,” mentioned the NYPD’s Kenny.

The telephones stolen in New York are despatched to Bogotá, Colombia, the place they’re wiped, reprogrammed and offered by Tren de Aragua operatives. The gang’s fronts within the metropolis cope with stolen telephones from throughout South America, and now the US. AFP by way of Getty Images

With cash drained or the accounts frozen by the sufferer, the cellphone continues to be helpful: It is shipped to Colombia, Kenny mentioned.

Sources advised The Post that Tren de Aragua has a community finishing up the work, with telephones wiped by its operatives in Bogotá, then offered throughout South America.

Said Weissman, “It’s the equal of melting down stolen gold.”

‘Ghost’ criminals

At the NYPD’s press convention, Kenny warned that the theft gangs had been “ghosts”: “No legal historical past, no pictures, no cellphone, no social media. Sometimes we’re even unclear on a reputation or a date of beginning.”

Of the 14 recognized as being within the theft gang, cops to this point have arrested seven, and Varra stays on the run.

NYPD sources mentioned migrants have exploited the ID NYC scheme by getting totally different IDs on the Roosevelt and Floyd Bennett Field shelters.

This is “El Niño Guerrero” or “Warrior Kid,” the 40-year-old founding father of Tren de Aragua — who might be on the unfastened within the United States. Venezuelan Interior Ministry
“El Niño Guerrero,” actual identify Hector Rusthenford Guerrero Flores, is needed by Venezuelan authorities and has an Interpol purple discover out for him. Venezuelan Interior Ministry

Statistics present robberies up 9% citywide in 2024, from 1,164 to 1,278, in comparison with the identical interval in 2023, and up 14% on the identical interval in 2022.

Grand larcenies — theft of greater than $1,000, which would come with cell phones that had been drained of money — had been additionally up 1.6%, to three,726, for the 4 weeks ending February 4, in comparison with 3,666 for a similar 4 weeks in 2023.

But Tren de Aragua’s largest ghost is its chief, Niño Guerrero. An Interpol “purple discover,” requesting his arrest, warns that the mastermind’s whereabouts are unknown.

Among the international locations he might be in: the United States.

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