What started as an ordinary drug-trafficking investigation developed into a probe that delivered “another heavy blow” to MS-13’s infrastructure with the arrest of the gang’s East Coast leader, a $1 million heroin seizure and the foiling of murder plots involving a Long Island clique of the syndicate, authorities said Thursday.
Eight defendants were arraigned in Nassau County Court as part of a 21-count indictment charging 17 defendants with crimes ranging from murder and drug trafficking to conspiracy and weapons possession.
“We prevented murders and assaults and took down the alleged kingpin of MS-13 for the entire Eastern region of the United States,” Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas said at a news conference.
Singas said all of the accused are facing up to 25 years to life behind bars after a 7-month joint investigation that brought together her office and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration along with other federal authorities and law enforcement officials in multiple states.
She added that the operation “lands another heavy blow to MS-13’s infrastructure” and decimated the leadership of two Long Island subgroups of the gang, the “Hollywood” and “Sailors” cliques.
Law enforcement officials also charged a second defendant in the July machete slaying of Roosevelt teenager Angel Soler. In October, authorities found the teen’s remains in woods on the border of Roosevelt and Baldwin after the victim – originally thought to be 16 but now said to be 15 – had been missing for three months.
The indictment charges Victor Lopez, 29, of Roosevelt, and David Sosa-Guevara, 26, of Long Island and Maryland with killing Soler “in concert with each other and others.” Sosa-Guevara had already been accused of the slaying following his November arrest.
Singas said Soler “was still a child,” but gang members saw him as an MS-13 enemy and the gang’s Hollywood clique lured him into the woods, brutally murdering and mutilating him before partly encasing his body in cement.
Soler’s mother, who has said she brought him to the United States to escape gang violence in their native Honduras, couldn’t be reached for comment Thursday.
All those arraigned pleaded not guilty, according to prosecutors, who said five defendants are in custody and awaiting arraignment and four remain at large.
Lopez’s attorney declined to comment Thursday, but Sosa-Guevara’s Garden City attorney, Karl Seman, said prosecutors “haven’t shown a shred of evidence that my client is involved in the homicide” since the man’s arrest months ago.
Law enforcement officials said the gang’s two local cliques operated in towns including Hempstead, Freeport, Roosevelt, Uniondale, Glen Cove, Greenport and Central Islip. The eight defendants who appeared for arraignment in Mineola before Acting State Supreme Court Justice Patricia Harrington ranged in age from 17 to 29, and all but one had Long Island ties.
Besides Lopez and Sosa-Guevara, prosecutors identified them as: Kevin Torres, 22, of Roosevelt; Ever Morales Lopez, 23, of Roosevelt; Augustine Benitez, 19, of Freeport; Kevin Cuevas Del Cid, 17, of Roosevelt; Mauricio Mendoza, 26, of Greenport; and Elvin Rodriguez, 29, of Englewood, New Jersey.
Authorities said the defendant who allegedly directed the gang’s eastern operations, ordering beatings and murders and running the organization’s drug operations in more than four states, is among those awaiting arraignment. Prosecutors wouldn’t disclose his name, but said he is in custody in Maryland.
James Hunt, the special agent in charge of the U.S. DEA’s New York Division, on Thursday described that defendant as the gang’s “point man on the East Coast who would report to MS-13 hierarchy in El Salvador.”
Hunt also said the probe uncovered a deal for 4 kilograms of heroin that MS-13 made with Mexican organized crime – a transaction brokered from inside a Mississippi prison.
Authorities said the investigation foiled a slaying plot in Nassau County, after Cuevas Del Cid and Benitez in July allegedly conspired to lure a victim into the woods in the area of Roosevelt and Freeport by promising him marijuana, while intending to kill him.
But the defendants realized they didn’t have grave-digging tools and hadn’t scouted the spot for surveillance cameras, and delayed their plan. Authorities arrested Cuevas Del Cid at his Glen Cove landscaping job the next day and thwarted the plot, Singas said.
Authorities said the investigation also prevented a planned slaying in New Jersey, and another in Maryland, both involving MS-13 members from Long Island. It also helped make arrests in two Maryland gang slayings.
Nassau Acting Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder and Geraldine Hart, supervisor of the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force, said their agencies also took part in the MS-13 probe.
“We will continue to bring the fight to them if they want to bring it to us,” Ryder said.
-With Mark Morales