Tren de Aragua Member Accused in NYPD Shooting Alleges Gun Smuggling Scheme

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Written By Lori Walker

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A young migrant accused of shooting two NYPD officers claimed that a violent Venezuelan gang has been smuggling guns into city-run shelters by hiding them in food delivery bags, prosecutors said Wednesday.

Bernardo Raul Castro Mata, 19, made these accusations during a court hearing in Queens, where he will now be placed in protective custody. He confessed from his hospital bed that he is a member of the Tren de Aragua gang, and said two other gang members asked him to commit robberies.

Castro Mata, who entered the US illegally last year, told police he worked for DoorDash and received the gun he used in the shooting from a friend who had hidden it in a bag. He claimed that gang members use this method to bypass security at taxpayer-funded shelters, avoiding metal detectors.

According to recordings read by prosecutors, Castro Mata revealed, “Tren de Aragua members are smuggling firearms into city shelters in food delivery packages – that way they don’t have to go through the metal detectors.”

He also said it’s common for members of the gang to shoot at police because Venezuelan officers are harsh on gang members for minor offenses.

Castro Mata faced a grand jury indictment with 20 counts, including attempted murder, for allegedly shooting Officers Christopher Abreu and Richard Yarusso during a traffic stop attempt. The incident left the officers injured and Castro Mata wounded in the ankle after police returned fire.

During his arraignment, a large number of NYPD officers filled the courtroom, prompting concern for Castro Mata’s safety. He pleaded not guilty, and his defense attorney requested protective custody, which the judge granted along with holding him without bail.

District Attorney Melinda Katz expressed concern that Castro Mata’s statements could make him a target, emphasizing the importance of ensuring he faces trial and is held accountable for the attempted murder charges against the police officers.

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