A New Jersey gang member wanted in connection with a brutal, premeditated murder has been named to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list, and a reward of up to $100,000 is being offered for information leading to his capture.
Walter Yovany Gomez, in his early 20s at the time of the 2011 murder in Plainfield, New Jersey, was attempting to become a full member of MS-13 by carrying out a gang-ordered killing. It didn’t matter that the target was Gomez’s friend—the man had allegedly shown disrespect to the gang.
Part of the Plainfield Locos Salvatrucha (PLS) crew, Gomez was assigned the hit when his bosses heard that one of their associates had been seen socializing in a bar with a rival 18th Street Gang member. Ordering a murder for such a sign of disrespect is not uncommon for MS-13, a transnational gang known for its extreme violence.
“To become a full-fledged member of MS-13,” said Special Agent Dan Brunner, who is investigating the case from the FBI’s Newark Division, “you have to kill someone on behalf of your local clique, or crew. Only then can you get the MS-13 letters tattooed on your body,” Brunner explained. “Gomez had not earned his letters yet.”
On May 8, 2011, Gomez—known to his friends as Cholo—invited himself and a co-conspirator to the victim’s house. Another person was there who was not involved in the plot. The four were drinking, smoking weed, and watching TV. “They were all friends,” Brunner said. “The victim had no reason to suspect that he was going to be murdered.”
The victim, Julio Matute, partied with his friends all night. Early the next morning, as he was getting dressed to go to work, Gomez grabbed an aluminum baseball bat and struck Matute in the back of his head several times. When he fell to the floor, Gomez cut his throat with a knife, then grabbed a screwdriver and repeatedly stabbed him in the back.
“He was stabbed so many times that when his body was discovered a week later,” Brunner said, “police officers thought that he had been shot with a shotgun.”
Gomez’s fellow attacker was later arrested, but when police went to Gomez’s residence, he jumped out a rear window and fled into the woods. Later investigation revealed that he drove to Maryland with assistance from fellow MS-13 gang members.
A Honduran citizen who came to the U.S. illegally, Gomez is not believed to have left the country. He may be residing in Maryland or Northern Virginia, where there are thousands of MS-13 members, Brunner said. Or he may have returned to New Jersey. “He would probably be considered a higher-ranking member of the gang now,” Brunner added.
With the exception of Gomez, all of the gang members involved in Matute’s murder have been prosecuted. In 2013, Gomez was charged with murder in the aid of racketeering, which carries a mandatory life sentence (Gomez’s fellow attacker received a mandatory life sentence).
Brunner believes the $100,000 reward in the case will bring someone forward. “It is unlikely that a fellow MS-13 member would turn Gomez in,” he said, “but he works construction doing dry wall, and someone on a construction crew not involved with the gang could recognize him and do the right thing. This is an extremely violent criminal who needs to be captured.”
Anyone with information concerning Gomez should contact the nearest FBI office or local law enforcement agency, or submit a tip online.