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Mineola man pleads not guilty in MS-13 machete slaying

Nassau County officials announced Thursday the arrest of a suspected MS-13 member in a fatal machete attack in August 2017 in Uniondale. Luis Alejandro Varela pleaded not guilty to a second-degree murder charge in the slaying of Carlos Rivas-Majano, 22. (Credit: Newsday)

Law enforcement officials nabbed an alleged MS-13 member on a murder warrant when he showed up to apply for United States citizenship nearly two years after taking part in the Uniondale machete slaying of a fellow gangster, authorities said Thursday.

Luis Alejandro Varela, 21, of Mineola, pleaded not guilty Thursday during a Nassau County Court arraignment on the murder charge in the August 2017 killing of MS-13 member Carlos Rivas-Majano, 22, of Uniondale.

Agents with Homeland Security Investigations and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement took the El Salvador native into custody Wednesday in Manhattan after seeing his arrest warrant when he came to a federal office, according to authorities.

Law enforcement officials said the restaurant worker had been able to evade capture since a November indictment that accused him and five other alleged members of MS-13's "Downtown Criminals" clique with second-degree murder in the slaying.

The killers allegedly lured Rivas-Majano into the woods near the Meadowbrook State Parkway and Glenn Curtiss Boulevard in Uniondale before hacking him to death, according to Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas.

“The facts of this case, like every MS-13 homicide, are horrific and that arrest … of this individual makes our community safer,” Singas said at a news conference.

She added that "MS-13 is on the run” due to joint law enforcement efforts. Singas said that in 2016, MS-13 killed 7 young people of Central American descent in Nassau County, followed by 5 victims in 2017 and one in 2018.

Ten murder cases related to the gang are pending trial now in Nassau, with about 26 people facing charges in the killings, nine of them for more than one slaying, according to the district attorney.

Sources previously told Newsday that MS-13 had targeted Rivas-Majano for execution because  he had cooperated with law-enforcement officials.

The district attorney said Thursday that other members “perceived that this victim had somehow betrayed their gang.” 

Nassau police Det. Lt. Stephen Fitzpatrick said the gang suspected Rivas-Majano "of certain cooperations," but the homicide squad commander said he wouldn't be able to comment on whether the victim had cooperated with law enforcement in other cases.

Fitzpatrick said Rivas-Majano went into the woods with other gang members thinking he was getting only "a 13-second beatdown," one of the criminal syndicate's methods of punishing members for violations.

Acting on a tip, investigators found Rivas-Majano's dismembered remains in August 2018 in a shallow grave in the woods.

Prosecutors said Varela, who uses the street name Felon, is the sixth and final suspect in the homicide.

A Nassau judge in April sentenced MS-13 gangster Edar Ventura, 21, of Hempstead, to 32 years to life in prison after he pleaded guilty earlier this year to Rivas-Majano's killing, a fatal shooting and weapon and attempted murder charges. 

Authorities have identified the other defendants in the slaying as: Carlos Benitez-Hernandez, 21, of Uniondale; William Reyes-Fuentes, 24, of Uniondale; Nerlin Chacon-Ruano, 21, of Hempstead; and Jose Quintanilla-Cruz, 24, of Hempstead. All of them pleaded not guilty in November.

Varela's appointed attorney, Adrienne Hausch, said Thursday she had spent only a few minutes with him so far but he seemed like "a quiet, kind, gentle young man."

The Mineola lawyer reserved the right to make a bail request in the future before state Supreme Court Justice Angelo Delligatti remanded Varela to Nassau's jail to await trial.

Varela's brother came to the Mineola courthouse, but declined to comment.

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