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Local case against alleged MS-13 gang leader dropped

DEA agents escort Miguel Angel Corea Diaz from

DEA agents escort Miguel Angel Corea Diaz from Nassau Police Headquarters in Mineola on April 19, 2018. Credit: Newsday

A local judge has dropped charges against the MS-13 gang's alleged East Coast leader at the request of the Nassau district attorney's office, according to court records.

Now Nassau prosecutors will rely on federal authorities in Maryland to prosecute Miguel Angel Corea Diaz after accusations that he conspired on Long Island to commit murder and was a major drug trafficker.

Acting State Supreme Court Justice Howard Sturim dismissed the New York indictment last week. It happened after a Nassau prosecutor cited an overlap of allegations and the potential for a mandatory life sentence for Corea Diaz, 37, of Long Branch, New Jersey, in the case of a conviction on one of his federal charges.

The office of Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas — who touted Corea Diaz’s arrest while running for re-election — now also says that exposing witnesses and evidence in a trial in Mineola could have weakened the federal case.

The New York indictment had charged the defendant with three counts of operating as a major drug trafficker and five counts of second-degree conspiracy. A top count conviction would have sent Corea Diaz to prison for up to 25 years to life.

In Maryland federal court, Corea Diaz has been facing a count of conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise since his initial December 2018 federal indictment.

Last month, a superceding indictment added new charges of: conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, murder in aid of racketeering, conspiracy to distribute and to possess marijuana, cocaine and heroin with intent to distribute it, and possession with intent to distribute heroin.

Marcia Murphy, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland, said Corea Diaz is facing up to life in prison on the original charge, along with mandatory life imprisonment if found guilty of the murder in aid of racketeering count. His trial could start next month.

Singas’ office said any sentence related to a potential Nassau conviction would have had to run concurrent with any federal penalty if Corea Diaz had been convicted in both jurisdictions because the indictments “contained the same allegations.”

Singas spokeswoman Miriam Sholder added in a statement that while the district attorney’s office prosecutes most MS-13 members locally, “exposing the confidential witnesses and wiretap evidence in a local trial could weaken the federal case where Diaz faces a much more severe sentence and the prospect of consecutive time.”

Sholder also said Singas’ office had “led a massive 22-agency investigation” that sparked the New York indictment of Corea Diaz and 16 other alleged gang members and “yielded essential evidence used by state and federal prosecutors in five states and two countries.”

The district attorney’s office also said “it was and would still be increasingly difficult and dangerous to transfer” Corea Diaz back and forth between Maryland and New York.

Corea Diaz never came back into Nassau’s custody after his federal arraignment, according to his local attorney, Scott Gross.

Federal court records show Corea Diaz opposed his return to Long Island.

Initially, authorities had extradited Corea Diaz to Long Island in April 2018 from a jail in Maryland where he was facing state drug charges. He pleaded not guilty in Nassau County Court.

But his confinement at Nassau’s jail prompted him to beg a judge to intervene to improve the conditions of his imprisonment, saying he couldn’t speak to his children by phone during what Gross called an “unbearable” 23-hour-a-day lockup.

In April 2019, the El Salvador native rejected a deal a Nassau judge offered that would have carried a 15-year prison sentence and settled his New York case.

Gross said in an interview after the New York case’s dismissal that the defense had “always maintained Miguel’s innocence.”

The Garden City attorney called the dropping of charges against Corea Diaz “one more step toward completing that goal” of exoneration.

Authorities said the January 2018 indictment that included Corea Diaz’s charges put a heavy dent in the gang’s infrastructure on Long Island after an investigation that began in May 2017 when Singas’ office teamed with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

They said the case grew to involve authorities in Maryland, Virginia, New Jersey and Texas and led to a $1 million heroin seizure.

Corea Diaz led the gang’s Sailors clique, reported to several heads of MS-13 in El Salvador and ordered others to commit murders in New Jersey and Maryland before authorities thwarted those attempts, according to Nassau prosecutors.

Evidence from a more than six-month wiretap connected to eavesdropping warrants Singas’ office obtained is central to allegations against Corea Diaz in the federal case, according to court records.

They also show Corea Diaz’s Maryland attorney has asked a judge to suppress evidence from the “wrongful interception” — a motion federal prosecutors have opposed, citing judicial findings of probable cause.

 

Timeline:

January 2018 — A Nassau grand jury indicted Miguel Angel Corea Diaz and 16 other alleged MS-13 gang members. Prosecutors said he led the gang’s East Coast operations.

April 2018 — Defendant extradited from Maryland to New York before pleading not guilty to operating as a major drug trafficker and conspiracy charges.

August 2018 — Defendant decried conditions at Nassau’s jail that his lawyer said included 23-hour-a-day lockup.

December 2018 — A federal indictment in Maryland charged Corea Diaz with conspiring to participate in a racketeering enterprise.

April 2019 — Corea Diaz rejected Nassau judge’s plea bargain offer on New York charges that would have put him in prison for 15 years.

February 2020 — A superceding federal indictment in Maryland accused Corea Diaz of new charges, including murder in aid of racketeering.

March 2020 — A Nassau judge dismissed local charges against Corea Diaz at the request of the Nassau district attorney’s office.

April 2020 — Corea Diaz’s federal trial could start in Maryland.

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