Jury in MS-13 murder case hears defendant's calls
Leniz Escobar, the alleged MS-13 associate who prosecutors said lured five young men to a Central Islip park where gang members brutally murdered four of them, told her high-ranking MS-13 boyfriend the day after the killings that “four individuals took the train” and are “never coming back,” in recorded phone calls which federal prosecutors have said amounts to a confession.
In two recorded phones calls on April 12, 2017 — less than 24 hours after the killings — Escobar, 22, of Central Islip, speaking to her boyfriend Jeffrey Amador, who was incarcerated at the Suffolk County Correctional Facility in Yaphank, gave a vague account of what happened.
“I [expletive] up royally,” said Escobar, who prosecutors said is known as "la diablita." “I’m just going to tell you that four individuals took the train and who knows when they’ll be back, got me?”
She explained to her boyfriend, who initially sounded confused, that “four individuals are no longer here,” saying they are "seeing the light” and “never coming back.”
Amador, 22, of Brentwood, who prosecutors said was a high-ranking member of the gang whose gang name was “Cruel,” has been indicted on murder and racketeering charges in connection with the Nov. 19, 2015, murder of Cesar Rivera-Vasquez in Babylon.
Escobar, who was wearing a face mask and had no discernible reaction as the calls were played, is on trial in federal court in Central Islip on murder and racketeering charges in connection with the April 11, 2017, killings of Jorge Tigre, 18; Michael Lopez, 20; Jefferson Villalobos, 18; and Justin Llivicura, 16.
Elmer Alexander Artiaga-Ruiz, the lone survivor of the attack, testified earlier this week that he escaped by running and jumping a fence after MS-13 gang members, holding knives and machetes, surrounded him and his friends and directed them to get on their knees.
Artiaga-Ruiz, 22, had made the hand signs of MS-13 and its rival 18th Street gang in photos that he posted on social media, which Escobar saw and reported to the gang, making him a target, according to prosecutors. Artiaga-Ruiz was not a gang member, but a teenager attempting to gain respect and attention, prosecutors said.
Escobar, who prosecutors described as a "devoted associate" of the gang, helped plan the killings. She lured Artiaga-Ruiz to the park to earn more respect, with the promise of smoking marijuana, knowing more than a dozen MS-13 gang members would be waiting to kill them with machetes, blades and a chisel, prosecutors said.
In the recorded phone calls, which were mostly in Spanish and played for the jury Thursday afternoon with English subtitles, Escobar added that she “brought them out” and expressed concern about “one of them [who] still managed to be here on the map” knowing where she lives.
“I used to get them out, so they can get trust and all that [expletive],” said Escobar.
Amador, who said he told her to stay at home, asked: “What did you think you’d get out of all this?”
Escobar, then a 17-year-old high school student, answered: “Nothing. I was gonna be happy. Because I was really happy. I’m telling you straight out, I was happy for this to happen. Nada. I was gonna be happy.”
Amador remarked: “I don’t know how it is that he missed the train when all five were served on a silver platter.”
Escobar replied: “Exactly. He got away. He got away from them.”
Escobar’s lead attorney Jesse Siegel declined to comment on the recordings. Her other attorney Keith White, in his opening statement to the jury, said Escobar didn’t know anyone would be killed at the park that night and added of the calls: "These are not confessions. These are pivots — pivots from a teenage girl who knew she was in danger.”
Before the calls were played, Siegel spent several hours Thursday cross-examining witness Sergio Vladimir Segovia-Pineda, 23, of Central Islip, who testified for the government about his role in the killings.
Segovia-Pineda admitted that he didn’t have firsthand knowledge of Leniz’s alleged role in the killings, that he had lied to law enforcement on more than one occasion and that he was a “criminal” and agreed to cooperate in hopes of receiving a “benefit,” of a lesser sentence, to not be deported and to be admitted into the federal witness protection plan.
But on redirect, Assistant U.S. Attorney Justina Geraci asked Segovia-Pineda why the victims were in the park that night.
“Because they had become a target and Leniz and Keyli [Gomez] convinced them to come out,” he said.
As Escobar and Amador ended their second phone call that afternoon, he told her: “You [expletive] up, but I love you.”
Escobar, giggling, said, “I also love you a lot, a lot, a lot.”