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Long IslandCrime

MS-13 members arrested in Central Islip homicides, court documents show

A makeshift memorial at the site on Friday,

A makeshift memorial at the site on Friday, April 14, 2017, where four people were killed behind a park on Clayton Street in Central Islip. Photo Credit: James Carbone

The four young men whose mutilated bodies were found in a Central Islip park in April were lured there by two female MS-13 associates and met by more than a dozen members of the street gang who beat them to death with wooden clubs and machetes, federal prosecutors say in court documents.

The revelations were made in an indictment charging three suspected member of MS-13 of being among those murdering the four young men on April 11, in court papers obtained by Newsday.

The savagery of the killings, coming on the heels of the similarly brutal deaths of two teenage girls — Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens — in nearby Brentwood has focused a spotlight on Long Island’s problem with gangs, and drawn the attention of both President Donald Trump and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions who vowed to eliminate the gang.

The three MS-13 members charged in the quadruple homicide were identified in the records as Alexis Hernandez, Santis Leonel Ortiz-Flores and Omar Antonio Villalta, who uses the gang nickname “Anticristo.” No detailed identification on them was immediately available.

According to the federal documents, the three were each charged with one count of racketeering, one count of conspiracy to murder rival gang members, and four counts of murder — one count each for the killing of the four men: Justin Llivicura, 16, of East Patchogue; Jorge Tigre, 18, of Bellport; Michael Lopez Banegas, 20, of Brentwood; and Jefferson Villalobos, 18, of Pompano Beach, Florida, who was on Long Island visiting his cousin Banegas at the time.

Family members of the four victims have denied that they were gang members.

The three suspects were arrested Thursday by agents of the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force, working with local police and have pleaded not guilty, officials said.

A hearing was held Monday for Hernandez, who has pleaded not guilty, in federal District Court in Central Islip before U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco.

Hernandez’s attorney, Susan Kellman of Brooklyn, declined to comment Monday as did Eastern District federal prosecutors John Durham, Raymond Tierney and Paul Scotti.

John Wallenstein, of Garden City, the attorney for Ortiz-Flores, 19, declined to comment when reached by telephone. Villalta’s attorney could not immediately be reached for comment.

The indictment against Hernandez, Santis Ortiz-Flores and Villalta is part of a larger superseding indictment accusing MS-13 members of a series of murders and other crimes, stretching back beyond the killing the two high school girls, Cuevas and Mickens.

An accompanying letter, written by federal prosecutors arguing that the three suspects should be denied bail, paints a stark picture of what the government says happened on April 11. An unidentified fifth man went to the park with the victims and escaped, prosecutors said.

“On the evening of the murders, two female associates of MS-13, met up with the five young men, including the four victims,” federal prosecutors wrote in the letter. “The MS-13 suspected that some of the men were from a rival gang, and directed the female associates to lure them to a community park . . . where a group of MS-13 members would be waiting to attack and kill them.”

“When the females got to the park, they led the five individuals to a wooded area . . . and sent a text message of their location to several of the MS-13 members [among the more than dozen] . . . waiting to attack,” the prosecutors continued. “Hernandez, Ortiz-Flores and O. Villalta and the other MS-13 members approached and surrounded the victims.”

“One of the [unidentified] targeted victims ran immediately and escaped, but the group of MS-13 members and associates attacked and killed Llivicura, Lopez, Tigre, and Villalobos, using machetes, knives and wooden clubs,” the memo said. “[The four victims] were surrounded by more than a dozen MS-13 members, including the defendants, and engulfed in a horrific frenzy of violence as they were brutally bludgeoned, sliced and stabbed to death.”

In sum, the prosecutors wrote: “The four victims were marked for death merely because they were suspected of disrespecting the MS-13 and being rival gang members.”

Hernandez, Ortiz-Flores, and Villalta could face the death penalty. Bianco said he would appoint a second attorney for each defendant, one experienced in death-penalty cases.

Although the government says more than a dozen MS-13 members were involved in the killings, only the three men have been identified in public documents. Several others have been arrested but are juveniles, sources said. Though they could be tried as adults after a legal process, they would not face the death penalty even if convicted. Federal proceedings against juveniles are sealed.

Authorities have said their investigation is continuing.

A number of MS-13 members suspected of involvement in the killings either entered the country as unaccompanied juveniles or illegally, sources said. They did not provide a numerical breakdown.

The arrests come as Long island has emerged as a focal point in a national effort to stamp out gang crime — particularly from MS-13 — bringing the issue to the attention of President Trump.

Attorney General Sessions’ visit in April to the Central Islip courthouse, where the defendants are being arraigned and prosecuted, is perhaps the most prominent example of the gang’s impact and the federal resources devoted to the effort to control it.

Sessions said: “I have a message for the gangs that are targeting our young people: We are targeting you. We are coming after you,” Sessions said.

The Justice Department has long been active against gangs on Long Island and since 2002 several hundred MS-13 members have been arrested by the FBI task force and convicted of major felonies by federal prosecutors, officials have said.

More than a half-dozen members of MS-13 were indicted earlier this year in the killings of Cuevas, Mickens, and alleged MS-13 member Jose Pena-Hernandez, 18, whose skeletal remains were found in a wooded area near the former Pilgrim Psychiatric Center in the days after the girls’ bodies were discovered.

Suffolk Police Commissioner Timothy Sini testified at a hearing in May in Washington that 17 of 45 murders in Suffolk since January 2016 were the work of MS-13, even as violent crime in the county has been on the decline.

Last month, Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas announced indictments against 41 alleged members of MS-13 on conspiracy and other felony charges in connection with 32 incidents of violence since 2013 including eight attempted murders, shootings and slashings.

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