Suffolk County Police investigate the crime scene where four bodies...

Suffolk County Police investigate the crime scene where four bodies were found in the woods near the Central Islip Recreation Center in April 2017. Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara

An alleged MS-13 gang associate was sentenced to 32 years in federal prison Thursday for his role in the killing of four young people who were lured into a Central Islip woods in April 2017.

Anderson Sanchez, 23, had pleaded guilty to racketeering in December 2021 for his participation in the killing of Justin Llivicura, Michael Lopez, Jorge Tigre and Jefferson Villalobos. He was one of a dozen MS-13 gang members and associates charged in connection with the slayings.

Visiting Circuit Court Judge Joseph Bianco said that while Sanchez had accepted responsibility for his role in the killings, he had other factors to consider in sentencing him, including the harm caused by the crime.

“I have considered your remorse,” he told Sanchez before issuing a sentence beyond the 24 1/3 to 30 years, 5 months recommended under federal sentencing guidelines

Defense attorney Gerald DiChiara had asked for a sentence at or below the minimum guideline range.

The four victims’ bodies were found by police piled on top of each other in a wooded area next to the Central Islip Recreation Center on April 12, 2017. The victims, who were all between 16 and 20 years old, were lured to the area by two women so the MS-13 gang members and associates, including Sanchez, could attack them in retaliation for possibly being affiliated with another gang and posing as MS-13 members, prosecutors said. 

“More than a dozen armed gang members and would-be gang members, including [Sanchez], appeared out of the darkness, surrounded the victims, forced them to the ground and, ignoring their pleas for mercy, marched the victims deeper into the woods where they were butchered with machetes, knives and an ax, and bludgeoned with club-like tree limbs,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Megan Farrell wrote in a presentencing memo.

The mothers of Tigre and Lopez gave victim impact statements at the sentencing, each sobbing as the other spoke. At one point, Lourdes Banegas, the mother of Lopez and the aunt of Villalobos, looked over her shoulder at Sanchez’s mother, her head down as she sat in the courtroom’s third row.

“[The defendants] are breathing, they can see daylight,” Banegas said through a Spanish interpreter. “My son cannot. They took away everything from me.”

Banegas described her son, a native of Nicaragua, as the “happiness of our household” and said Villalobos had recently moved to the area, and went to the park that day because his cousin invited him.

Tigre’s mother, Berta Ullaguari, also speaking through the interpreter, explained the heartache of leaving her son behind in Ecuador when he was just 2 years old. A single mother of six children, Ullaguari brought Tigre to the United States eight years later. She acknowledged that Sanchez was similarly left behind in El Salvador before being reunited with his parents years later.

“But [my son] didn’t come to this country to kill,” she told the court. “He came here to work, as I worked to get ahead for my children.”

Ullaguari said Sanchez and his co-defendants “took away my dreams.”

Bianco told Ullaguari he has also raised six children and he said of her losing a child that he “can’t imagine what you went through at that time and what you still go through.”

Sanchez, who said he was not aware of the plans for the attack until they began, apologized to both mothers before being sentenced.

“I want to express my repentance for what I did when I was out there,” Sanchez said. “I’m sorry for what happened.”

DiChiara said his client “became afraid and followed orders” that evening.

In her presentencing memo, Farrell said that although Sanchez was 17 at the time of the murders, he “played a role in one of the most brutal and horrific crimes committed by the MS-13 on Long Island.”

Ringleader Josue Portillo was previously sentenced to 55 years in prison and Freiry Martinez, who helped him plan and orchestrate the attacks, is serving a 50-year sentence. Another co-defendant, Leniz "La Diablita" Escobar, was convicted last April and is seeking a new trial.

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