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MS-13 gang leaders guilty in 2010 slayings

Leaders of the MS-13 gang Heriberto Martinez, left,

Leaders of the MS-13 gang Heriberto Martinez, left, and Carlos Ortega, right, are scheduled to go on trial in federal court in Central Islip. Credit: Handout

Jurors on Thursday found two leaders of the MS-13 street gang guilty in connection with four murders and being an accessory after-the-fact in a fifth slaying -- including the deaths of a young mother and her toddler son.

The brief but bloody killing spree over six weeks in 2010 was called by federal prosecutors "a reign of terror" that stretched from Central Islip to Far Rockaway.

The defendants, Heriberto Martinez, 25, of Far Rockaway, and Carlos Ortega, 23, of Brentwood, were both identified as leaders of the MS-13 in Brentwood during five weeks of testimony at the federal court in Central Islip.

While the verdict was being read by the foreman of the 12-person anonymous jury after less than two days of deliberation, Martinez and Ortega showed no emotion.

But after U.S. District Judge Joseph Bianco polled each juror about the verdicts, Ortega said something indiscernible to Martinez, and the two began to laugh.

Martinez was identified by officials as the leader of a Brentwood clique, or chapter, of the gang, although he lived in Far Rockaway, and Ortega was described as "a big homeboy from El Salvador" who was on Long Island to see how the local MS-13 gang operated.

After the verdicts were announced, Eastern District U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said, "Instead of working to lift up their immigrant community, Martinez and Ortega chose to join the killing machine known as MS-13."

"They devoted their energies to spreading senseless violence through the neighborhoods of Long Island, destroying their victims' lives and peace in the community," Lynch said.

One of Martinez's attorneys, Elizabeth Macedonio of Bayside, said her client planned to appeal, as did one of Ortega's attorneys, Marianne Rantala of Commack.

Both Martinez and Ortega face up to life in prison when sentenced in September by Bianco.

Among the victims was a young mother, Vanessa Argueta, 19, of Hempstead, and her son, Diego Torres, 2. The toddler was shot twice in the head; his mother once in the head and once in the chest, testimony showed.

Martinez ordered the Feb. 5, 2010, Central Islip slaying of Argueta and was convicted of a being an accessory after the fact in the killing of Torres.

Bianco ruled that it was too prejudicial for jurors to learn of the age of the toddler and his relationship to Argueta.

Other victims were a reluctant gang member, a young man they thought belonged to a rival gang, and the security guard of a Hempstead bar.

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