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Kingpin pleads guilty in associate's death

Handout photo of drug bust suspect Gilberto Rivera

Handout photo of drug bust suspect Gilberto Rivera "Macho." Credit: Newsday/Handout

Three weeks into a trial expected to last four months, an Oakdale man described as a major heroin dealer in Suffolk pleaded guilty Thursday to murder, robbery and drug-dealing charges.

Gilberto Rivera, 28, admitted shooting friend and fellow drug dealer Luis Maldonado, 27, of Bay Shore, in the head and setting his sport utility vehicle on fire. He also admitted dealing large quantities of heroin, cocaine, marijuana and other drugs.

"It's a fitting end," said Assistant District Attorney John Scarglato, who prosecuted the drug charges. "He was the largest heroin dealer in Suffolk County at the time."

State Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen promised Rivera a sentence of 25 years to life in prison, less than the maximum recommended by prosecutors.

Still, they were "absolutely satisfied," said Assistant District Attorney Glenn Kurtzrock, who prosecuted the murder charge. "The defendant accepted responsibility for his actions. He will have decades to think about what he did."

Defense attorney Bruce Barket, of Garden City, declined to comment, but Kurtzrock said the plea made sense. "The evidence was overwhelming," he said.

The evidence included drugs and 18 cellphones seized at his home and voluminous recordings of wiretaps on those phones.

Last week, a State Police investigator spent days on the witness stand explaining the meaning behind hours of coded phone conversations. In many of the conversations, Rivera is heard giving prices for heroin or cocaine or setting up meetings to deliver drugs to fellow street dealers.

Prosecutors say Rivera grew upset with Maldonado and invited him to meet at a secluded spot off the Long Island Expressway in Holtsville in September 2008. There, Rivera shot him in the head and stomach and set a propane tank in the vehicle on fire. When Rivera was arrested soon afterward in Florida, he had facial burns and singed eyebrows.

Rivera was charged with robbery for stealing $30,000 in cash and jewelry from another drug dealer.Cohen will sentence him July 19.

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