A federal judge Tuesday sentenced the leader of Brentwood's MS-13 clique to 25 years in prison, telling the defendant who admitted to racketeering, three attempted murders and a drug conspiracy he was "not beyond redemption" but the sentence had to reflect his actions.
"This type of conduct terrorizes not just the individuals targeted but the entire community ... The public needs to be protected from this type of act," U.S. Circuit Judge Joseph Bianco said while sentencing Ronald Catalan, 30, in Central Islip.
The Brentwood man, known by the street names "Stranger" and "Extrano," pleaded guilty in 2018 to a firearms charge and a racketeering count, admitting other acts as part of that crime that included the attempted murders of three people he and other MS-13 members targeted as rival gangsters.
Catalan also admitted to a conspiracy to distribute cocaine and marijuana, an enterprise the U.S. Attorney's Office said he used to fund gun purchases, buy more narcotics and send money to MS-13 leaders in El Salvador.
The defendant's indictment includes charges against more than two dozen people with alleged MS-13 affiliations, accusing other defendants of crimes that include the 2016 slayings of Brentwood High School students Kayla Cuevas, 16, and Nisa Mickens, 15.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Paul Scotti said Tuesday that MS-13 has been "the most violent and destructive gang on Long Island for the better part of two decades." He also said in asking for a 25-year sentence for the defendant that Catalan joined the gang more than a dozen years ago before rising to a leadership position he maintains in federal lockup.
The prosecutor said Catalan was born and educated in the United States and had a job, but chose not to turn away from MS-13 — instead taking part in shootings in residential areas "with innocent civilians and families" nearby.
In a 2009 attack, Catalan and two cohorts targeted players on a Brentwood basketball court whom they believed to be Bloods — wounding one victim — in order to complete their initiation into MS-13, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Prosecutors said in a 2015 North Bay Shore assault, Catalan led other MS-13 members to shoot at people they believed to be Latin Kings — wounding two — in retaliation for an MS-13 gang member's beating.
Defense attorney Peter Brill asked for a 20-year sentence for Catalan, citing childhood trauma he said included abuse, along with mental illness in Catalan's family and his client's desire to come out of prison "as a changed person" skilled in a vocational trade.
Catalan "is not evil" but "it has been difficult for him to quickly move from the path that he was on," Brill said.
The defendant also spoke Tuesday, reading a handwritten statement that brought him to tears.
Catalan expressed remorse for his actions and apologized to people in his life he felt he had failed, including his former girlfriend and her daughters, ages 7 and 8, who were in the courtroom. He asked Bianco to "see me as the broken man I am," who is "ashamed" and "ready to close this chapter in my life."
The judge said he considered Catalan's remorse, acceptance of responsibility and difficult childhood, but also that the defendant hadn't been able to extricate himself from gang life. Bianco said he believed Catalan's words were "genuine" but outweighed by his actions, including recent jail violence.
Eastern District acting U.S. Attorney Mark Lesko said in statement that Catalan "will deservedly spend decades in prison for the violent and brutal acts he committed and directed others to carry out as a leader of the MS-13."
Brill said after court that MS-13 embraced Catalan when he was a homeless teenager trying to escape abuse after growing up in California and New York.
"While Mr. Catalan's crimes were certainly deserving of punishment, the public fear of MS-13 clearly led to a higher sentence than he otherwise would have received," he added.