Accused cop-shooting NYC migrant is suspected member of bloodthirsty Tren de Aragua gang: sources (2024)

The migrant accused of shooting two NYPD cops is suspected of being a member of the infamous, bloodthirsty Venezuelan gang Tren de Aragua, law enforcement sources told The Post on Tuesday.

Bernardo Castro Mata, 19 — who illegally entered the US last year, then had his asylum case dismissed as part of a Biden administration “mass amnesty’’ program — is believed to have been lured into the powerful criminal syndicate’s clutches after his arrival in the country, sources said.

Mata, of Venezuela, was living in a hotel-turned-city migrant shelter in Queens before the cops’ shooting in the borough Monday — and authorities are concerned that such sites are becoming breeding grounds for gang culture, sources said.


Investigators suspect Mata is a member of the gang because of a tattoo he has on one of his arms of a clock attached to an anchor — a photo of which was exclusively obtained by The Post.

The tat is a favored Tren de Aragua ink, authorities have said.

Social media postings also indicate Mata may be a member of the gang, which is notorious in New York City for employing roving bands of robbers on mopeds to attack victims, sources said.

The deeply troubling development came as the suspect was charged Tuesday with two counts of attempted murder and a slew of other chargesin the cops’ shooting.

After Mata’s arrest in the shooting, which involved him on a moped, police alsoidentified him as a person of interestin two violent scooter snatch-and-grab robberies targeting women in Queens on May 21.

Law enforcement sources said Tuesday that authorities are now eyeing him in at least three more recent robberies involving force — including one with a gun the day before the cop attack.

Mata is suspected of working with at least two other men in the now-five violent robberies, most of which include him and one of his cohorts riding up on a moped to attack their victims, sources said.

On Sunday, Mata and an accomplice allegedly drove up to a victim at Bruckner Boulevard and Buhre Avenue in The Bronx around 6:40 p.m. and swiped a purse with $30 in it, an iPhone, debit and credit cards and ID, sources said. The suspects displayed a gun, sources said.

Three days earlier, on May 30, Mata was allegedly in a Lot Less in Queens and tried to shoplift some items, sources said. When security tried to stop him, he whipped out a gun and fled on a scooter, sources said.

Before that, on May 25, Mata and a cohort allegedly attacked a woman at 31st Avenue and 48th Street in Astoria in Queens, ripping off her Gucci purse with Airpods and $150 inside, sources said.

​Cops have yet to charge Mata with the robberies.

A source said migrant shelters are ripe for gang culture because of the money that’s offered for the crimes and the sense of belonging in strange and sometimes violent new surroundings.

The gang — infamous for its cruelty, including for how easily it kills women — has been having members pose as asylum-seeking migrants to infiltrate the US southern border, sources have said.

The syndicate then organizes lucrative rings of moped-riding bandits around cities such as the Big Apple to snatch items including cellphones, sources said.

The phones are used to drain financial accounts of cash, then sent to Colombia to be wiped and resold, sources said.

The gang’s murderous activities also include drug-dealing and human trafficking — which has taken hold in some New York City shelters, too, sources said.




Mata arrived at the Queens shelter, a facility catering to families, with three other people but hadn’t been living there since May 15, sources said.

Several migrants at the shelter have said the suspect and some cohorts were involved in a dispute there at one point in which one of them pulled a gun. Metal detectors were installed at the facility and left up for a few weeks, then taken away, they said.

It wasn’t clear where Mata allegedly got the illegal gun used in Monday’s cop shooting, but weaponshave been known to be sharedby moped theft rings.

Tren de Aragua’s reign of terror is becoming so serious in the city that New York’s National Guard was told several months ago to begin checking arriving migrants for tattoos linked to the gang.

In addition to a clock, tattoos linked to the gang include a Nike logo featuring NBA legend Michael Jordan along with his uniform number 23. The number is a nod to “January 23,” the Venezuelan neighborhood that spawned a revolutionary group in the 1980s.




The gang’s favored tats also include a crown, AK-47 assault rifles, stars and gas masks.

Its name, Tren de Aragua, is Spanish for “Aragua Train” and refers to a railroad project in Aragua, Venezuela, that paved the way for enough fraud and grift to start the organized criminal enterprise.

As for Mata, he is accused of shooting two cops who tried to stop him as he drove a moped without plates the wrong way down a Queens street early Monday.

His asylum case had been dismissed in a Chicago immigration court about two weeks earlier — meaning that while he was neither denied nor granted asylum, he was freed to roam about the US legally and indefinitely, since he had no known criminal background at the time.

Accused cop-shooting NYC migrant is suspected member of bloodthirsty Tren de Aragua gang: sources (2024)
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