By Douglas Moser
---- — The 2010 double murder in La Guira nightclub was a retaliation hit for a previous armed robbery during which at least two members of a violent Lawrence-based kidnapping gang stole several kilograms of cocaine from Johan Saintclair, the accused shooter, according to federal court documents.
Saintclair was arrested after the Sept. 6, 2010, shooting that left two people dead and three others wounded. His trial is scheduled to start in Salem Superior Court next month. In an affidavit filed in federal court yesterday, a special agent with the FBI described how a gang of at least nine men, who were charged yesterday with federal kidnapping and firearms charges, would rob and kidnap people, mostly drug dealers, beat them, torture them with hot irons, and hold them for ransoms in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“The Investigative Team has received information that the La Guira shooting was in retaliation for an earlier robbery of Saintclair, and that at least two of the victims of the La Guira shooting are associates of Danny Veloz,” special agent John Orlando wrote in his affidavit.
Veloz, 36, 443-447 Andover St., Lawrence, was the ringleader of a kidnapping gang called the Veloz Crew, according to federal agents. They said he used a laptop in his apartment to track potential victims whose vehicles were secretly tagged with a GPS device and directed the other gang members while they executed the kidnappings and robberies.
Lawrence Police Chief John Romero said he could not comment on the connection of the nightclub shooting to the Veloz Crew and a drug robbery because of Saintclair’s upcoming trial.
According to the affidavit, one of the surviving victims of the La Guira shooting told officers he had participated in a robbery with Juan Esteban Suazo, who was one of the two men killed in the nightclub, and another individual “of a drug dealer (Saintclair) for multiple kilograms of cocaine.”
Witnesses said that Suazo and the surviving victim arrived at La Guira in Suazo’s gray BMW X5, according to the agent. After the shooting, police recovered a backpack from the car containing a ski mask, gloves, flex cuffs, an electric stun gun, a GPS tracking device, a laptop and an electric iron.
Police have said that Saintclair walked into La Guira and opened fire with a semiautomatic handgun. He jumped into a getaway car and fled. Two people in the car bailed during a chase and were not captured. Saintclair and another man, Fernando Guerrero-Lara, were arrested. But charges were dropped against Guerrero-Lara. He was turned over to federal authorities, who sent him to Texas and eventually deported him to the Dominican Republic in 2011.
Seven of the suspected members of the Veloz Crew — Veloz; Henry Maldonado, 39, 890 Clay St., Manchester, N.H.; Jose Guzman, 41, Salem, N.H.; Thomas Wallace, 24, Raymond, N.H.; Jose Matos, 42, 19 Tyler St., second floor, Lawrence; Luis Reynoso, 23; and Gadiel Romero, 28 — were charged yesterday with conspiracy to commit kidnapping arising from an incident separate from the La Guira shooting.
Two other suspected members, Melvin Rivera, 25, 2 Bennington St., apt. 83, Lawrence, and Christopher Morales, 28, 95 Phillips St., apt. 1, Lawrence, were indicted yesterday with a federal charge each of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Guzman, Maldonado and Wallace were arrested by Manchester (N.H.) police July 24 after a kidnapping went awry, and the victim escaped and contacted police. Morales and Rivera had been in state custody on firearms charges. Veloz, Raynoso and Rivera were arrested in Lawrence yesterday, while Romero was arrested yesterday in Malden, said Christina DiIorio-Sterling, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz.
Investigators described the Veloz Crew as a type of kidnapping gang known in Spanish as “joloperros,” or “stick-up men.” Joloperros target foreign-born people they believe are drug dealers, thinking those people would have some money, would be less likely to go to the police and would have family who could be threatened.
The gangs track potential targets with GPS devices, sometimes for months, and then kidnaps them at gun point, often dressed in police gear to confuse the target. They take the target to a location, lock them in, beat them, burn them with hot irons and demand payments in the thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars from family members both in the United States and in the Dominican Republic.
Investigators said that at about 7 p.m. on July 23, Guzman, Maldonado and Wallace, who were dressed in black police T-shirts, took two men by gunpoint from outside a house in Lawrence and threw them into a white van at Veloz’ direction.
They drove the two men to Maldonado’s home on Clay Street in Manchester and locked them in the apartment. The men demanded ransom money, and when the targets were uncooperative, they beat them repeatedly and burned them with an iron. One target was burned on his back, an arm and a leg, investigators said.
After the kidnappers fell asleep, one of the targets freed his hands and feet, removed the hood covering his head and escaped through a window, knocking on doors up the street for help.
Manchester police arrested Guzman, Maldonado and Wallace there, seizing police T-shirts and a badge, loaded guns, handcuffs, a GPS device and four irons, one of which appeared to have human flesh stuck to it.
Investigators said they identified other kidnappings and attempted kidnappings executed by the Veloz Crew, including an attempt on May 9 on Saratoga Street in Lawrence. A man went to Lawrence police after he began to suspect he was being tracked for a kidnapping. Police found Guzman and another man in a blue Plymouth van parked on Saratoga Street. While police questioned them, they were not arrested at the time.
However, Morales and Rivera were parked nearby in a gray Acura TL sedan with tinted windows. Police found a loaded Smith & Wesson revolver on Morales and a loaded Ruger behind one of the seats. Both men were arrested and charged with state firearms charges.
On June 2, the blue Plymouth van was found torched on Andover Street, near Veloz’ residence, investigators said.
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