Two leaders of a Rochester drug gang face sentencing in November for their roles in a gruesome slaying that occurred nearly 18 years ago on Seneca Nation land in the Town of Collins.
The case took an unusual twist in 2002, when a property clerk with the Erie County Sheriff’s Office gave away some of the evidence that had been stored away by investigators, including a broken blade from a knife that may have been used in the fatal attack.
James “JD” Kendrick, 42, and his brother, Pablo “Paul” Plaza, 43, were convicted of drug-trafficking and murder charges last month after a six-week trial before a jury in Rochester’s federal court.
Their convictions included the 1998 murder of Francisco Santos, an associate of the two gangsters who was forced into a car and driven more than 100 miles from Rochester to a wooded area in Collins, where police said several men taunted him, tortured him and then fatally stabbed him.
Kendrick and Plaza face possible life in prison Nov. 4 when they are scheduled for sentencing by U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci Jr.
Kendrick and his brother ran a violent drug ring from 1993 until 2011, according to Assistant U.S. Attorneys Everardo A. Rodriguez and Melissa M. Marangola. Santos was a former associate of the gang who was murdered because Kendrick and Plaza believed he betrayed them by stealing drugs, money and guns, they said.
Santos’ body was buried in a wooded area of Collins, in southern Erie County, where it was found in May 1999.
The disappearance of the evidence later from the Erie County Sheriff’s Office prompted defense attorneys to seek dismissal of the murder charges.
While U.S. Magistrate Judge Jonathan W. Feldman said he found the mishandling of murder evidence to be “astonishing,” he ruled that it was accidental and would not prevent the defendants from getting a fair trial.
The two men also were convicted of murdering Santos’ friend, Ryan Cooper, and dismembering his body in May 1999.
Janine Plaza-Pierce, the mother of the two convicted dealers, was initially convicted of conspiracy with her two sons. But Geraci, acting on a post-trial motion filed by defense attorney Cheryl Meyers Buth, reversed the conviction against the woman, saying it was legally illogical and could not stand.
“It was inconsistent because the jury found Ms. Plaza-Pierce did not commit any of the underlying federal crimes that made up the conspiracy, and yet, they convicted her of conspiracy,” Buth said. “The judge saw it the same way we did.”
Nine other defendants involved in the drug conspiracy took guilty pleas in the case.
The gang was investigated the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Rochester Police Department.