Family members of four young men cry at the spot...

Family members of four young men cry at the spot were they were killed behind a park on Clayton Street in Central Islip in April 2017. Credit: James Carbone

A reputed MS-13 member who spent years on the run admitted Wednesday to participating in the brutal 2017 killings of four young men in a Central Islip park.

Henry Edenilson Salmeron, 24, formerly of Brentwood, pleaded guilty to racketeering before U.S. District Court Judge Gary Brown in federal court in Central Islip.

He told the judge he was part of a group of MS-13 members and associates tasked with keeping the victims in a wooded area behind a soccer field, where police would later find their mutilated remains piled on top of each other.

“I knew that the reason we were surrounding and holding the victims was so that the other gang members could kill them,” Salmeron told the judge through a court interpreter.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Reputed MS-13 member Edenilson Salmeron pleaded guilty to racketeering in federal court Wednesday in connection with the brutal 2017 slaying of four young men in Central Islip.
  • He told the judge he was part of a group tasked with keeping the victims in a wooded area behind a soccer field so other gang members could kill them.
  • Salmeron spent years on the run before the U.S. Marshals Service and FBI found him in Guatemala in 2021.
  • Prosecutors have called the killings “one of the most brutal and horrific crimes committed by the MS-13 on Long Island.”

The victims of the deadly violence on April 11, 2017, were Justin Llivicura, 16, of East Patchogue; Jorge Tigre, 18, of Bellport; Michael Lopez Banegas, 20, of Brentwood; and Lopez Banegas' cousin, Jefferson Villalobos, 18, who was visiting the area from Pompano Beach, Florida.

Law enforcement officials have said MS-13 members believed the victims were rival gang members who had been disrespectful to their organization, so they lured them into the woods with the help of two female associates before attacking them with machetes, knives, wooden clubs and an ax. The victims’ families have denied they had ties to any street gangs.

Police were led to the victims’ remains by a friend, Alexander Artiaga-Ruiz, who escaped the attackers by jumping a fence and a stone wall.

Prosecutors have called the killings “one of the most brutal and horrific crimes committed by the MS-13 on Long Island.” Salmeron fled the United States after the killings.

The U.S. Marshals Service and FBI found Salmeron in Guatemala before a transnational anti-gang unit arrested him there in February 2021, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

He was extradited to the United States, where he was arraigned on the racketeering indictment five months later.

The racketeering charge Salmeron pleaded guilty to Wednesday carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Before Salmeron entered his plea, Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Scotti estimated the guideline sentencing recommendation would be that he serves 24 1/3 to 30 1/3 years in federal prison. Brown warned Salmeron, who said he is not a U.S. citizen, that he would likely be deported from the country after serving his sentence.

Salmeron’s defense attorney, Peter Brill of Central Islip, said his client will also be credited for the months he spent in jail in Guatemala as part of his plea agreement.

Scotti said at trial prosecutors would have presented evidence and testimony from cooperating witnesses to prove Salmeron participated in the conspiracy to commit murder.

Evidence would have included telephone records and social media posts showing how the co-conspirators planned and executed the killings, Scotti said.

Murder victims, from left, Jefferson Villalobos, 18, of Florida, Michael...

Murder victims, from left, Jefferson Villalobos, 18, of Florida, Michael Banegas, 18, of Brentwood, Jorge Tigre and Justin Llivicura, both 16, of Bellport. Credit: Family handouts

To date, more than a dozen people have been charged in connection with a homicide case that rattled a Suffolk County community already beset with fears about MS-13's reach. Salmeron is the sixth defendant to plead guilty.

Anderson Sanchez, who also pleaded guilty to racketeering in connection with the killings, was the most recent co-conspirator to be sentenced and since March has been serving 32 years in federal prison.

A pair of ringleaders in the attack, Josue Portillo and Freiry Martinez, pleaded guilty and were each sentenced to 50 years or more in prison.

Another co-conspirator, Leniz “LaDiablita” Escobar, was convicted by a jury in April 2022 and faces life in prison. She is currently seeking a new trial and oral arguments are scheduled for July 26.

Escobar and Keyli Gomez, who testified as a cooperating government witness at her trial, lured the young men with the promise to smoke marijuana, according to trial testimony. 

Since her conviction, her attorneys have argued that prosecutors failed to disclose information that contradicted the statement of a witness.

On Wednesday, Salmeron said the woods behind the park were a hangout spot for MS-13, who prosecutors have said are responsible for more than 60 murders on Long Island.

Brown set Salmeron’s sentencing for Dec. 1.

New contractor hired for Bethpage drums ... Blue Angels on LI ... What's Up on LI Credit: Newsday

Newsday/Sienna College poll ... Avalon Bay apartments in Amityville ... JFK travel this weekend ... Summer concert preview

New contractor hired for Bethpage drums ... Blue Angels on LI ... What's Up on LI Credit: Newsday

Newsday/Sienna College poll ... Avalon Bay apartments in Amityville ... JFK travel this weekend ... Summer concert preview

Latest videos

SUBSCRIBE

Unlimited Digital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months

ACT NOWSALE ENDS SOON | CANCEL ANYTIME