Members of Venezuela’s most violent gang, El Tren de Aragua, have made their way to New York City, where they have already unleashed their criminal schemes, according to a new report.
In recent weeks New Yorkers have been terrorized by brazen thieves on mopeds who have been snatching the phones and purses of innocent pedestrians. In one of the most brutal incidents yet, a 62-year-old woman was seen being dragged on a Brooklyn street by a thief on a moped – part of a larger crime conspiracy surrounding stolen iPhones.
Last week officials raided the Bronx home of the alleged leader of the operation, Victor Parra, 30, who officials say issued calls for stolen phones on What’s App, offering money for migrants to bring the stolen devices to him.
Once he had the devices, a hacker would break into people’s Apple Pays and empty their accounts, before the criminals sent the phones to Colombia to be reprogrammed and sold.
It has since emerged that NYPD detectives believe the organized robbery scheme is linked to El Tren de Aragua, which they fear has been sending its gangsters to cross the US-Mexico border as part of a wave of asylum seekers, the New York Post reported.
In one of the most brutal incidents yet, a 62-year-old woman was seen being dragged on a Brooklyn street by a thief on a moped
A group of migrants has been working as a ‘ghost’ criminal enterprise in New York City
Parra remains on the run, and while the police are yet to publicly confirm the gang’s presence in New York, El Tren de Aragua has already had its first kill in Miami, per authorities.
Former Venezuelan police officer Jose Luis Sanchez Valera, 43, was brutally murdered by Tren de Aragua gangster Yurwin Salazar, 23, according to Miami officials.
Sanchez was beaten, tortured, and forced to hand over the keys to his apartment and safe, where his life savings were stashed in gold bars. His terrified niece, with whom he lived, cowered under the bed as the killers tore through the house.
As shocking as this savage murder seems, it is mild compared to what the gang is capable of, say experts.
El Tren de Aragua is less well known than the Mexican cartels or Mara Salvatrucha, commonly known as MS-13, which was born in a Los Angeles prison in the 1980s among migrants from El Salvador.
Mayor Eric Adams went along for the sting operation and later appeared at a press conference with police
But El Tren de Aragua is no less violent, and has been allowed to flourish under the lawless regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, expanding to Colombia, Peru, Brazil and Chile.
A trans sex worker in the Peruvian capital, Lima, was filmed in February 2023 begging for her life before she was shot point blank – her killers pumping 31 bullets into her body.
El Tren de Aragua was moving into the neighborhood and they wanted to replace the local prostitutes with Venezuelan women.
Six were killed in one week, and 18 were shot in the feet as a warning to stop walking the streets.
Two dozen more were murdered in 2023. 35 more are missing.
‘They go into local economies where there are Venezuelans and take over the criminal underground using excessive force,’ former Border Patrol Agent Ammon Blair told the Post. ‘They’ll start shooting prostitutes controlled by rival gangs and perform the executions live on social media in order to establish their presence.’
Former Venezuelan police officer Jose Luis Sanchez Valera, 43, was brutally murdered by Tren de Aragua gangster Yurwin Salazar, 23, (pictured) according to Miami officials
In September, Venezuelan authorities, under the direction of dictator Maduro, raided Tocorón Penitentiary – the gang’s de facto headquarters
The gangsters have used the migration wave to hide among legitimate asylum seekers – over 334,000 Venezuelans crossed the US-Mexico border in fiscal year 2023 – second to only Mexicans.
Border Patrol detained at least 41 Tren de Aragua members attempting to cross the border between October 2022 and September 2023.
The group has become so brazen in Texas that officials in the state’s anti-gang taskforce recently documented the gangsters charging fellow Venezuelans to use the restrooms at the border.
El Tren de Aragua is also feared to be actively recruiting members in the city’s shelters.
Emerging in 2012, the name means ‘Aragua Train,’ a reference to a train workers’ union in the Aragua state in Venezuela.
In September, Venezuelan authorities, under the direction of dictator Maduro, raided Tocorón Penitentiary – the gang’s de facto headquarters. The raid made headlines around the world because of the images that showed the luxury the prisoners had been living in.
Inside the walls of Tocorón, Tren de Aragua had built a zoo, complete with ocelots, lions and crocodiles; a swimming pool; a children’s playground; a baseball stadium with stands; restaurants; and a nightclub, called Tokio.
However, experts say the raid was a sham.
It was nothing more than ‘an organized surrender’ of Tren de Aragua to Maduro’s regime, says Humberto Prado, director of the non-governmental watchdog group, Venezuelan Prison Observatory.
The operation released an estimated 1,000 gang members as well as their infamous leader, Hector Guerrero Flores, alias ‘Niño Guerrero,’ or ‘Warrior Child.’
His whereabouts remain unknown – though Interpol has warned that he may have tried to flee to the U.S., blending in with more than 3.8 million migrants, who have entered the country since President Joe Biden took office.
What is not in question is whether other members of Tren de Aragua have infiltrated America.
‘Police authorities in Chicago, New York, and Miami, have already discovered elements of the Tren de Aragua in their cities,’ said Joseph M. Humire, executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society.
‘The same thing that is happening in South America is now going to start happening here in the United States in the Venezuelan migrant communities,’ Blair told KTSM.