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Suffolk MS-13 gang leader gets 35 years for murder

Wilver Lopez, a leader of the MS-13 street

Wilver Lopez, a leader of the MS-13 street gang in Suffolk County, was sentenced to 35 years in federal prison. Photo Credit: Handout

A leader of the MS-13 street gang in Suffolk County was sentenced to 35 years in federal prison Tuesday for the murder of a fellow gang member.

In a lengthy statement, Wilver Lopez, 29, of Central Islip, apologized to the victim's family, his own family, and to federal prosecutors and the FBI agents who had arrested and prosecuted him for his 2004 killing of Genaro Venegas 24, also of Central Islip.

"In prison, God started to rule my life," said Lopez, who was the leader of the MS-13 Leeward clique in the Brentwood-Central Islip area, and who has been in jail since his arrest in 2005. "I want to ask for forgiveness from the family of the victim. . . . Hopefully, one day they can forgive me for what I have done. . . . But I know there are consequences and that is why I am here today. [And to] all the young people on the street, I want them to know there is something better than gangs and that is God."

Venegas' brother, Segundo broke down uncontrollably in tears and sobs, as he told U.S. District Judge Leonard Wexler before the sentencing, "He not only killed my brother - but he is killing my mother, little by little."

Both spoke in Spanish, which was translated into English by a court interpreter.

"Eliminating gang violence in our communities is one of our highest priorities and we will continue to utilize all necessary resources in this effort," Eastern District U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch said in a statement.

The body of Venegas was discovered on Sept. 21, 2004, in Bethpage on the same day that another MS-13 murder victim, Olivia Melendez Mendoza, 16, of Hempstead, was found 13 miles away in Old Westbury.

The two had been killed on different days by members of different MS-13 cliques who suspected that they were informants, officials have said. It was a coincidence that their bodies were discovered on the same day.

Several other members of MS-13 have pleaded guilty in the two murders and are awaiting sentencing.

At the time of the Venegas and Mendoza murders, sources familiar with the investigations said that neither was an informant. But Tuesday, court papers and officials said that Venegas had been cooperating with local police.

The murders of Venegas and Mendoza occurred at a time when MS-13 was trying to rebuild and assure loyalty of members and associates after federal prosecutors had charged 37 gang members on Long Island with violent crimes.

On an FBI wiretap, Lopez is recorded talking about the Venegas murder and saying "I put one in his chest and three in the head."

Federal prosecutors Richard Donoghue and John Durham declined to comment after the sentencing, as did Lopez's attorney, Peter Tomao.

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