Man sentenced for ‘98 murder on reservation

ROCHESTER – U.S. Attorney William J. Hochul, Jr. announced Tuesday that Pablo Plaza, born in 1976, who was convicted of the murder of Francisco Santos on the Seneca Indian Reservation in Erie County, in October 1998, was sentenced to 25 years in prison by U.S. District Judge Frank P. Geraci. The defendant was also convicted of conspiring with others to traffic drugs in the Rochester area, including cocaine, cocaine base, heroin and marijuana during the period from approximately 1993 to March 2011.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Everardo Rodriguez, who is handling the case, stated that Francisco Santos was a member of the drug distribution conspiracy and was believed to have stolen drugs and money from other members of the conspiracy. In retaliation for the theft, Plaza and other members of the conspiracy assaulted Santos, while another member slashed Santos across the side of the head with a knife. Sometime after the beating, the co-conspirator who slashed Santos on the head was arrested for the assault.

To further retaliate for the original theft and to prevent Santos from testifying against the co-conspirator on the assault charge, Plaza and a group of other co-conspirators found Santos and drove him to the Seneca Indian Reservation. They took the back roads rather than the Thruway. Once at the reservation, they took Santos down a dirt path behind some trees and stabbed him to death and buried him in a shallow grave. Plaza admitted to having personally stabbed Santos and to having observed other co-conspirators also stabbing him.

The pending indictment charges four other codefendants with the murder of Francisco Santos (James Kendrick, Pablo Plaza, born in 1972 (Plaza’s older brother with the same name), Janine Plaza Pierce (the mother of Kendrick and the older Plaza) and Angelo Cruz). The pending indictment also charges Kendrick with another murder of Ryan Cooper. The trial of these remaining defendants is expected to take place early next year. The fact that a defendant has been charged with a crime is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.

The sentencing is the result of a joint investigation on the part of Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, New York Field Division, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge James S. Higgins, the Rochester Police Department, Violent Crime Team/Firearms Suppression Unit, under the direction of Chief Michael Ciminelli, Numerous federal, state and local law enforcement agencies also assisted in the investigation, including the New York State Police, under the direction of Major Scott Crosier; the Erie County Sheriff’s Department, under the direction of Sheriff Timothy B. Howard; the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the United States Drug Enforcement Agency, under the direction of Acting Special Agent in Charge James J. Hunt, New York Field Division; and the Schenectady County District Attorney’s Office, under the Direction of District Attorney Robert M. Carney.