An MS-13 gang associate will spend life in prison following his murder conviction for playing a role in the Central Islip deli slaying of a man who was believed to be a rival gang member, according to federal prosecutors.
U.S. Circuit Judge Joseph Bianco meted out the penalty to Jose Suarez, 26, during a sentencing Wednesday in federal court in Central Islip.
Court records show a jury in 2019 convicted the Central Islip man of nine indictment counts that also included charges of conspiracy to commit murder, assault, and brandishing and firing a gun during crimes of violence.
The U.S. attorney's office said Suarez was the getaway driver for the gunman who fatally shot Esteban Alvarado-Bonilla, 29, at El Campesino Deli & Grocery on Jan. 30, 2017.
The Brentwood man was "marked for death" because he had been wearing the No. 18 jersey of now-retired NFL quarterback Peyton Manning — a garment favored by the rival 18th Street gang, according to prosecutors.
The jury found Suarez guilty of assault in connection with a female clerk who was wounded in the deli shooting and, separately, in relation to a fight over a woman at a Brentwood taco shop in December 2016.
Prosecutors previously said that attack outside Super Taco restaurant happened because one of the men who was targeted said the only real members of MS-13 were in El Salvador.
The charges against Suarez were part of a sweeping superseding indictment unsealed in 2017 against more than a dozen defendants that took aim at MS-13. It accused some of the other defendants of crimes that included the 2016 killings of Brentwood students Kayla Cuevas, 16, and Nisa Mickens, 15.
Suarez, who prosecutors said used the street name "Chompira" and was linked to MS-13's Brentwood-based Sailors clique, first went to trial in March 2019. But Bianco declared a mistrial after a monthlong proceeding when a juror alleged that relatives of Suarez followed and photographed him after court ended one day.
The defense said later that investigators had concluded there was no attempt at intimidation. A retrial began in May 2019 that ended in a guilty verdict after seven hours of juror deliberations.
Suarez’s trial attorney, Raymond Colon, had contended prosecutors were targeting Suarez because he "foolishly hung out" with MS-13 members who were cooperating with the government against Suarez with the hope of getting leniency for their own crimes.
But prosecutors countered that the government’s case didn’t depend on testimony of three MS-13 members or associates but included evidence such as a video showing Suarez taking part in the beating by the Brentwood restaurant and gang records of membership activity that the FBI seized.
Suarez’s current defense attorney, John Carman, declined to comment after Wednesday's sentencing.
Eastern District acting U.S. Attorney Seth DuCharme said in a statement that Suarez "will deservedly spend the rest of his life in a federal prison for the brutal murder and mayhem he committed in the name of the MS-13 gang."