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Long IslandCrime

Three MS-13 gang members sentenced for Miller Place killing

U.S. District Federal Court in Brooklyn is seen

U.S. District Federal Court in Brooklyn is seen on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Three MS-13 gang members from a Brentwood clique were sentenced Thursday to between 24 and 27 years each in federal prison for the 2014 execution-style killing of a fellow gang member on a Miller Place beach.

Milton Contreras, 22, of Brentwood — who admitted in court Thursday to being the trigger man in the killing of Sidney Valverde, 19 — was sentenced to 27 years, while Welman Espinoza-Merino, 35, and Jose Osmin Rubio, 30, both of Brentwood, each were sentenced to more than 24 years in prison.

The three defendants and the victim’s father, also named Sidney Valverde, addressed the court with the aid of a Spanish-language interpreter before the sentences were pronounced.

Valverde spoke of the “very deep, tremendous pain” the loss of his son — whose girlfriend was eight months pregnant at the time of the killing — had caused his entire family.

“I still don’t understand why these gentlemen had to take my son’s life,” he said before U.S. District Court Judge Margo K. Brodie in a Brooklyn federal courtroom. “They knew he was going to be a father and they murdered him. I ask this court to punish the guilty ones with the most weight of the law.”

A fourth man convicted in the killing — Byron Lopez, 26, of Queens — is awaiting sentencing. The four men were indicted on charges of conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, murder in aid of racketeering, obstruction-of-justice murder and firearms offenses.

According to the superseding indictment, the defendants, who all pleaded guilty, lured Valverde, a fellow MS-13 gang member, to the Miller Place beach on Feb. 24, 2014, under the guise of taking care of gang business.

But the four had planned to kill Valverde because they believed he was cooperating with law enforcement about gang activities, the indictment said.

Valverde was shot in the back of the head and his body left on the beach, the indictment said. A beachcomber discovered Valverde’s body about two weeks later.

The sentencings mark “the pursuit of justice against these three MS-13 gang members who brutally murdered a teenager execution-style when they suspected him of cooperating with law enforcement,” U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue said in a statement. He called the prosecutions part of a mission to protect residents from the “violence and lawlessness of MS-13.”

At least 25 people have been killed by MS-13 gang members in Nassau and Suffolk counties since 2016, authorities have said. Federal officials estimate there are some 2,000 members of the brutal street gang — who have bludgeoned their victims with machetes and bats in some of the killings — on Long Island.

Contreras, who was 19 at the time of Valverde’s killing and in the country illegally, grinned during much of the sentencing and exchanged glances and waves with a woman in the gallery. He asked his wife and family “to forgive me for this very bad moment,” but he made no mention of the victim or his family.

Contreras’ attorney, Elizabeth Macedonio of Manhattan, asked for a sentence on the lower end of the guidelines, saying there was “no indication he had any authority in this gang or did any planning,” adding that it seemed likely Contreras was “put up to the crime because he was the younger one.”

Espinoza-Merino, who came to the country from El Salvador on a green card, apologized to the victim and his family and asked the judge to “have some compassion with me.”

His Manhattan-based defense attorney, Gerald DiChiara, asked the judge to consider Espinoza-Merino’s unfortunate childhood — including abandonment by his mother at age 1, and by his father a few years later — which he called a “sad, sad, sad life.” DiChiara said Espinoza-Merino has been studying for his GED while in jail and asked the judge to sentence his client to between 18 and 20 years.

Rubio said he would “like to ask the victim’s family to forgive me.” His attorney, Michael Marinaccio of White Plains, emphasized his client’s “harsh upbringing in El Salvador,” where he became a member of MS-13. He said Rubio did not immediately reconnect with the gang when he arrived illegally in this country in 2010. After the killing, Marinaccio said, Rubio “did manage, to a certain extent, to extricate himself” from the gang and began attending church.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Alixandra Smith dismissed the lawyers’ claims, pointing to the “incredibly violent and premeditated nature of the crime.”

Brodie said she adhered to the lower and middle recommendations in the sentencing guidelines, which span from 24 years to more than 30 years. The judge said she took many factors into consideration, including the victim’s age, but also the “very callous” nature of the crime.

Speaking directly to the victim’s family members, some of whom were in tears, Brodie said she hoped the sentences would “at least bring you some closure.”

Family members declined to comment after the sentencing.

Additionally, each defendant was ordered to pay restitution to the victim’s family in the amount of $6,873.40. Although the judge could have fined the men between $25,000 and $250,000, Brodie declined, explaining that none could afford to pay it.

After serving their sentences, Contreras, Espinoza-Merino and Rubio will face deportation proceedings, authorities said.

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