An admitted member of the MS-13 street gang pleaded guilty Tuesday to the killing of a suspected member of a rival street gang in a Central Islip deli in 2017 "to further" his position within the gang.
Mario Aguilar-Lopez, 20, of Brentwood, admitted in federal court in Central Islip to his role in the shooting murder of Esteban Alvarado-Bonilla and the wounding of a deli clerk at the El Campesino Deli in January 2017. The clerk, identified only as “Jane Doe” in court papers, survived, officials said.
Aguilar-Lopez theoretically faces up life in prison, but would more likely get up to 33 years under federal sentencing guidelines.
“I shot a rival gang member with the intent to further my position within MS-13," the defendant said in court, speaking in Spanish to U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco. "I found out one of the bullets fired hit a female worker at the deli … but she lived.”
One bullet fired by Aguilar-Lopez from behind Alvarado-Bonilla — who was shot “multiple times” — passed through the victim’s head and struck the deli clerk, who was standing in front of Alvarado-Bonilla, prosecutors said.
Alvarado-Bonilla was in the rival 18th Street gang and was killed while wearing a jersey worn by members of that gang, the No. 18 football jersey of retired NFL star quarterback Peyton Manning, according to sources familiar with the case.
The deli was near the border of Central Islip and Brentwood.
In court, Aguilar-Lopez, who also faces deportation after serving his sentence, said he joined the Brentwood Sailors clique of MS-13 in 2015.
“Aguilar-Lopez committed a deliberate coldblooded broad daylight murder in the name of MS-13, shooting a suspected rival gang member from behind and seriously wounding an innocent bystander who was simply working her job,” said Eastern District United States Attorney Richard Donoghue in a statement.
Alvarado-Bonilla's murder came several months after the September 2016 killings of two Brentwood High School teenagers, Kayla Cuevas, 16, and Nisa Mickens, 15. His killing was ordered by the same leaders of the MS-13 Sailors clique who had ordered the murders of the two girls, according to federal prosecutors.
More than two dozen members of the gang are awaiting trial or sentencing in federal court after arrests by the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force, which includes local police. Many, including those accused in the slayings of Cuevas and Mickens, are awaiting a decision by the Justice Department on whether they will face the death penalty.
The Justice Department had previously determined that Aguilar-Lopez would not be subject to the death penalty, officials have said. The reasons for such decisions are usually not made public, as in Aguilar-Lopez’s case. He was not charged in the murders of the teenage girls.
But the Sailors' leaders — Alexi Saenz and his brother Jairo Saenz, both of Brentwood — have been charged in the girls' murders, as well as that of the suspected rival, Alvarado-Bonilla, prosecutors have said.
According to prosecutors, another MS-13 clique member, Enrique Portillo of Central Islip, saw Alvarado-Bonilla, at the deli, and told the Saenz brothers. They then ordered Aguilar-Lopez, another gang member and an associate to kill Alvarado-Bonilla, prosecutors have said.
The three went to the deli, and Aguilar-Lopez went up behind the victim and fired several shots, prosecutors have said. The Saenz brothers provided the gun, according to prosecutors.
Portillo is also charged in the murder of the teens, Cuevas and Mickens.
In that case, Cuevas had been in disputes with MS-13 members, prosecutors have said. About a week before she was killed, Cuevas and some of her friends “were involved in an altercation with MS-13 members at Brentwood High School,” and gang members “vowed to seek revenge,” the prosecutors have said.
On the night of the slayings, several groups of MS-13 members were riding around Brentwood looking for rival gang members to attack when one group saw Cuevas walking with her friend Mickens.
Those MS-13 members called the Saenz brothers who gave them the go-ahead to kill the girls, prosecutors said.
Aguilar-Lopez’s attorney, Anthony Ricco, of Manhattan, declined to comment after his client’s Friday’s plea, as did Eastern District prosecutors John Durham, Raymond Tierney, and Michael Keilty.