DEA agents escort Miguel Angel Corea Diaz, also known as...

DEA agents escort Miguel Angel Corea Diaz, also known as "Reaper," from Nassau Police Headquarters in Mineola in 2018. Credit: Newsday

The MS-13 gang member who led the transnational criminal enterprise’s East Coast operation is going to prison for life after a sentencing Friday in federal court in Maryland that followed a related prosecution that began on Long Island, according to law enforcement officials.

Last year, a Maryland jury found Miguel Angel Corea Diaz guilty of conspiring to participate in MS-13, along with murder in aid of racketeering and a conspiracy to commit that crime.

They also convicted the El Salvador native, who was known on the street as "Reaper," of possessing heroin with intent to distribute it and of conspiracy to possess heroin, cocaine and marijuana while intending to distribute it.

The federal jury found Corea Diaz, 39, of Long Branch, New Jersey, and another gang official organized a squad of MS-13 members to go to Virginia and murder a high school student who’d had a dispute over marijuana with a gang member.

Federal prosecutors said the MS-13 members kidnapped the 17-year-old from his front lawn and cut off one of his hands before killing him. They said Corea Diaz and his cohort then helped hide and protect the killers.

In a sentencing memo, prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Maryland and the U.S. Justice Department's Organized Crime and Gang Section said Corea Diaz oversaw territory for the gang that included New York, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and Texas. 

As an MS-13 boss, he was "a role model for young Hispanic males ... who joined MS-13 and committed heinous violence at his direction and encouragement," they said.

Corea Diaz's attorney, Stephen Mercer, didn't respond to a request for comment Friday but in court paperwork recently asked for a sentence of no more than about 21 years in prison for his client. The filing also said Corea Diaz disputed allegations he had authority over MS-13 in several states.

The Maryland trial came after a Nassau judge in 2020 dropped local charges against Corea Diaz of operating as a major drug trafficker and conspiracy at the request of Nassau prosecutors.

The office of former Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas, whose team got a 2018 indictment against Corea Diaz after a law enforcement investigation that included 22 agencies, cited an overlap of allegations in the New York State case and the federal case.

Singas’ office said exposing confidential witnesses and wiretap evidence in a Nassau trial could have weakened the federal case, where Diaz faced the prospect of a more severe sentence.

In the Nassau case, authorities said what started as an ordinary drug-trafficking investigation developed into a probe that delivered a "heavy blow" to MS-13's infrastructure with the arrest of its East Coast leader, a $1 million heroin seizure and the foiling of murder plots involving a Long Island branch of the gang.

Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly said in a statement Friday that the investigation "quickly mushroomed" as authorities "learned more about MS-13 and the reign of terror being directed by Corea Diaz."

She added: "Working with more than 20 agencies, we disrupted MS-13 operations on the East Coast. I thank the U.S. Attorney's Office in Maryland, the FBI, and our countless partners who helped bring Corea Diaz to justice."

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