A Hempstead man pleaded guilty Tuesday to taking part in four MS-13 killings in Nassau County in a deal that will send him to prison for 32 years to life.
Raul Ponce, 23, admitted to belonging to the gang and to participating with other members in a 2016 slaying in the woods of Uniondale; two murders in the Massapequa Preserve, one in 2016 and one in 2017; and a 2017 deadly shooting on a Hempstead street.
The plea deal followed Ponce's arrest this month on two new murder charges following his earlier indictment on murder and conspiracy charges in two other killings.
"Raul Ponce and his co-defendants participated in the tragic murders of four people, targeted because they disrespected MS-13, were perceived enemies of the gang, or were caught up in this transnational gang’s senseless, unprovoked violence," Nassau Acting District Attorney Joyce Smith said in a statement after Ponce's plea.
Smith added that prosecutors "remain committed to ridding this reprehensible violence from our communities."
As part of his plea, Ponce on Tuesday admitted to first-degree manslaughter in the June 1, 2016 slaying of Osmin Campos-Sandoval, 19, of Hempstead. Law enforcement officials have said MS-13 lured Campos-Sandoval into the woods of Uniondale because they believed he was a rival gang member and smoked marijuana with him before attacking him.
A felony complaint had alleged Ponce provided a weapon that first was used to shoot the victim before co-conspirators stabbed the victim in an act authorities said ultimately caused the 19-year-old's death.
Ponce told a judge Tuesday at first through a Spanish language interpreter that he "never brought a gun," but later admitted to causing Campos-Sandoval's death while acting in concert with others.
The defendant also admitted to first-degree manslaughter in the March 20, 2017 killing of Nelson Rodriguez, 37, of Hempstead. Authorities have said six MS-13 members were on the hunt for a rival gang member to kill, circling the village's Front Street area in a white Honda Accord before the deadly shooting of the auto body shop worker.
Rodriguez was walking home from work when the gang spontaneously targeted him, according to court proceedings in the trial of two other alleged gang members who now are serving 50 years to life in prison for the victim's murder.
Ponce on Tuesday also pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the Aug. 23, 2016, slaying of Bryan Steven Cho Lemus in the Massapequa Preserve. Authorities have alleged MS-13 members lured the victim to the wooded area before they hacked the 18-year-old Uniondale man to death because of a petty dispute before burying him in a shallow grave.
Lemus accepted an invite to smoke marijuana in the woods, not knowing MS-13 saw him as an enemy before the gang executed him, according to law enforcement officials.
Ponce's plea before Acting State Supreme Court Justice Helene Gugerty on Tuesday came after the same judge in August sentenced his younger brother, Samuel Ponce, then 20, to 9 years to life in prison for Lemus' slaying.
Raul Ponce also pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the Jan. 28, 2017 slaying of Julio Cesar Gonzales-Espantzay, 19, of Valley Stream.
Gang members lured the 19-year-old to the woods with the promise of marijuana and sexual favors, using his killing as a way to try to improve their stature in MS-13, according to authorities. They said Gonzales-Espantzay was struck with a machete and shot.
Gugerty said Tuesday that she planned to sentence the elder Ponce brother, who authorities said used the street name "Shadow," under the terms of the deal that prosecutor Jared Rosenblatt and Garden City defense attorney Daniel Russo had negotiated. Russo declined to comment after court.
The judge set Ponce's sentencing for Jan. 25.