Five defendants who authorities say are linked to MS-13 and attempted to abduct and murder a Brentwood High School student earlier this month pleaded not guilty Wednesday to conspiracy and attempted kidnapping.
Suffolk County prosecutors and police say the five — three members of MS-13 and two associates — plotted to kidnap and kill the 16-year-old male because they believed he belonged to a rival gang.
The suspects hoped the slaying would elevate their status in MS-13, the street gang blamed for more than two dozen murders on Long Island in recent years, authorities said.
Attorneys for the suspects said their clients are not members of the gang and that the evidence presented so far suggests authorities have overreached.
“Just because someone is from El Salvador doesn’t mean he is a member of MS-13,” said attorney Peter Mayer of Hauppauge, who represents defendant Oscar Fuentes.
A grand jury indictment on Friday charged the defendants with second-degree conspiracy, second-degree attempted kidnapping and conspiracy in the fifth degree. The indictment said police found a knife, bat, tarp and duct tape in a 1995 Mercury van the suspects were riding in when they were arrested Dec. 7.
Fuentes, 18, is a junior at Brentwood High and entered the United States as an unaccompanied minor from El Salvador. The other defendants are Jorge Bermudez-Cedillos, 18, a freshman at Brentwood High School; Lilliana Villanueva, 17, a Brentwood ninth-grader; Vidal Contrera-Ortiz, 18, a Brentwood junior; and Miguel Rivera, 20, the only defendant not a student.
Bermudez-Cedillos, and Villanueva also entered the United States as unaccompanied minors, authorities said. Rivera and Contrera-Ortiz are undocumented immigrants. All five are being held on federal immigration detainers.
State Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho in Central Islip ordered the four young men to be held on $500,00 cash bail or $1 million bond. Bail for Villaneueva was set at $50,000 cash or $100,000 bond.
Outgoing Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini, who will become the county’s district attorney in January, said at a news conference earlier this month that plainclothes officers spotted the defendants trying to abduct the victim not far from Brentwood High.
Police had beefed up patrols in the area after receiving reports that gang members in a van had harassed and assaulted other students.
Defense attorneys, however, said their clients had no prior criminal records and were being portrayed unfairly.
“She’s this young, scared girl,” said Villanueva’s attorney Mary Beth Abbate. “Very scared.”