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Long IslandCrime

Two more MS-13 members charged in Massapequa Preserve killing, DA says

Raul Ponce outside Nassau police headquarters in Mineola

Raul Ponce outside Nassau police headquarters in Mineola on June 6. Credit: Newsday

Two members of MS-13 were charged with murder and conspiracy in the slaying of a 19-year-old man lured to the Massapequa Preserve and hacked to death, Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas announced Thursday.

Five other members of the gang previously charged with second-degree murder in the January 2017 killing also were charged with second-degree conspiracy in a recent indictment, Singas said.

The district attorney said the victim, Julio Cesar Espantzay, was marked for murder because the gang "believed him to be an enemy of MS-13." She added: “Thanks to law enforcement collaboration, MS-13 is on the run in Nassau and we will ensure these alleged violent murderers are held accountable for this horrific crime.

Raul Ponce, 21, of Hempstead, and Gerson Stanley Juarez, 23, also of Hempstead, pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder and second-degree conspiracy during an Oct. 8 arraignment before Nassau Supervising Judge Teresa Corrigan. The judge ordered both men, who face up to 50 years in prison if convicted of the top count, held without bail.

The indictment said defendant Kevin Granados-Coreas, 21, of Rosedale, Queens, told co-defendants Roberto Abrego-Reyes, 25, of Hempstead, Carlos Portillo, 24, of Hempstead, and Antonio Cullal, 25, of Hempstead, that Espantzay was an enemy of MS-13.

One of the gang members pretended to befriend Espantzay, according to Singas. The gang members enticed him to come to the Massapequa Preserve by telling him they would smoke marijuana with him and that he would have sex, prosecutors said.

Once in the preserve, Granados-Coreas, Cullal, Ponce and Juarez hacked Espantzay to death with a machete, Singas said. They later placed his remains under tree branches, leaves and other brush.

Abrego-Reyes directed Granados-Coreas and Cullal to commit the murder and ordered another defendant, Laura Campos, 30, of Maryland, to drive the defendants to the preserve, prosecutors said.

Espantzay’s body was discovered in March 2017 by a man walking his dog in the preserve.

Portillo, Granados-Coreas, Cullal, Abrego-Reyes and Campos pleaded not guilty to second-degree conspiracy at arraignments held recently. All five had previously pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder.

"He has been sitting in jail for a couple of years now, and he is anxious to get his day in court," said Granados-Coreas' attorney, Martin Goldberg of Franklin Square.

Jeffrey Groder of Mineola, who represents Abrego-Reyes, said the additional charge against his client is not surprising. "There is no new material here," Groder said. "We expect to defend it in court."

Attorneys for the remaining defendants declined to comment or did not return calls for comment.

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