An MS-13 associate testified Tuesday that he overcame his reluctance to kill a gang rival because a part of MS-13’s code required following orders of top gang leadership in El Salvador, who, he was told, approved of the murder plot and wanted it carried out as planned.
Kevin Cifuentes, 25, testified that he did not have trouble following MS-13’s brutal code of killing rivals and savagely beating those who showed disrespect. But Cifuentes, testifying as a government witness at the trial of a fellow gang associate, said he was reluctant to immediately murder the rival gang member because there were too many witnesses and surveillance cameras at the site of the proposed crime.
He took part in the killing, he said, because of a part of the gang’s code that required following the orders of the top leadership in El Salvador. He said the local Long Island leaders of his Brentwood MS-13 clique told him the “homeboys” approved of the plot and wanted it carried out.
Cifuentes’ initial reluctance proved correct, if not because of his reasoning: Suffolk police responding to the January 2017 slaying of Esteban Alvarado-Bonilla, at a deli in Central Islip, recognized Cifuentes as a member of MS-13, and assumed he had something to do with the killing, he testified in federal court in Central Islip.
Alvarado-Bonilla was believed to be a member of the rival 18th Street gang and was wearing the No. 18 football jersey of former NFL star Peyton Manning, which is favored apparel of that gang.
Cifuentes, posing as a customer, had helped coordinate the killing from inside the deli, and had stayed at the scene as the gang’s observer of the incident, he said, under questioning by federal prosecutor Raymond Tierney. Tierney is prosecuting the case with Michael Keilty.
While questioning Cifuentes, Tierney played videos of the killing, and of the alleged killers coming to and leaving the scene, from surveillance cameras at the deli and from nearby cameras at homes and a gas station.
Cifuentes was known by investigators to have been involved in an earlier beating at a Brentwood restaurant of a man and his uncle who had shown what was considered disrespect toward MS-13, he said. And when police showed up at the deli, they said he must have had something to do with the killing, he said.
“You had left a man almost dead at the Super Taco,” one of the officers told him, referring to the December 2016 incident.
“It was all over for me,” Cifuentes said, and added, referring to investigators, “they had already figured it out.” In return for protection for himself and his family, Cifuentes said, “I made the most difficult decision of my life — to become a snitch.”
Cifuentes has been testifying at the trial of an alleged MS-13 associate, Jose Suarez, who is also accused of taking part in the Alvarado beating and the earlier attack on the uncle and nephew at the Super Taco.
Cifuentes is the third person affiliated with MS-13 to testify at the trial as a government witness who not only provided evidence against the defendant, but also provided detailed insight into the gang’s operation — its code of brutality toward rivals and its hierarchical structure
Suarez has maintained his innocence, and his attorney, Raymond Colon of Manhattan, said he is only being prosecuted because of his friendship with MS-13 members.