Family members of victims Michael Banegas and Jefferson Villalobos mourn...

Family members of victims Michael Banegas and Jefferson Villalobos mourn in 2017 at the Central Islip site where the two were killed. Credit: James Carbone

An associate of the MS-13 gang has pleaded guilty to federal charges on Long Island for his role in the murders of four young people who were lured into the woods on a spring evening in 2017 in Central Islip, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

The associate, Anderson Sanchez, 22, faces a maximum of life imprisonment at sentencing and later deportation for his participation in the murders of Justin Llivicura, Michael Lopez, Jorge Tigre and Jefferson Villalobos, the department said.

Murder victims Jefferson Villalobos, Michael Banegas, Jorge Tigre and Justin...

Murder victims Jefferson Villalobos, Michael Banegas, Jorge Tigre and Justin Llivicura. Credit: Family

Attorneys for Sanchez — Gerald DiChiara and Nicholas Pinto — couldn’t be reached for comment.

More than a dozen people connected to MS-13 have been charged for roles in the slayings.

Sanchez’s plea — to charges of racketeering — was entered Thursday before U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven I. Locke of District Court for the Eastern District of New York in Central Islip.

MS-13, known as Mara Salvatrucha, is an international gang that started in Los Angeles four decades ago but has expanded to Long Island and across the U.S. as well as a half-dozen other countries.

In a news release, the local U.S. attorney, Breon Peace, said: "With today’s guilty plea, Sanchez admits to being a willing participant in the stabbing and beating deaths of four young men for their alleged ‘disrespect’ of the MS-13 and is held accountable for his horrific crime."

The release says that Sanchez admitted that the night of the killings, two female associates of MS-13 lured five young men, including the four who would be slain, to a park to be murdered.

"The MS-13 members and associates believed the victims to be members of a rival gang who had disrespected the MS-13. Sanchez and several other MS-13 members and associates met in a wooded area behind the park where weapons were distributed and the plan to kill the victims was discussed," the news release said.

Soon thereafter, the females got to the park, led the victims to a spot picked in advance, and texted the MS-13 gang members of the arrival.

"Sanchez and the other MS-13 members and associates proceeded to the designated location and encircled the victims under the cover of darkness," the release said.

One of the would-be victims fled and managed to escape.

Sanchez and others surrounded the four victims. The murderers had "machetes, knives, and wooden clubs," and "led the victims deeper into the woods where they were brutally murdered."

Afterward, "the MS-13 members dragged the victims’ bodies to a more secluded spot in the woods and then fled."

The bodies were found the next night.

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