Member of Violent Long Island Street Gang "The MS-13" Convicted of Murder
Following two weeks of trial and one day of deliberation, a federal jury on Long Island returned a verdict late yesterday afternoon convicting LEONEL MEJIA, also known as “Little Chino,” a member of La Mara Salvatrucha (“MS-13”) street gang on Long Island, of the September 13, 2003 shooting murder of 19-year-old Edgardo Sanchez in North Massapequa, New York. The evidence at trial established that MEJIA murdered Sanchez, an MS-13 Member himself, because he and other MS-13 members discovered that Sanchez had provided the Nassau County Police Department with information leading to the arrests of six Freeport and Hempstead MS-13 members on charges of murder and other violent crimes.
When sentenced by United States District Judge Leonard D. Wexler, the defendant faces a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment.
“Gang wars have raged in our streets far too long, victimizing other gang members and innocent bystanders alike,” stated United States Attorney ROSLYNN R. MAUSKOPF. “Eliminating gang violence presents one of the greatest challenges to law enforcement on Long Island, and for that reason it is one of our highest priorities. We have and will continue to devote all available resources to this effort.” Ms. MAUSKOPF praised the efforts of the participating law enforcement agencies, and thanked the Nassau County District Attorney’s Office for its cooperation and assistance.
On February 4, 2004, the government filed charges against MEJIA and 29 other leaders and members of three violent gangs – “MS-13,” the Bloods, and Murder Unit – for five murders, firebombing, assaults, robbery, and drug distribution, many of which offenses grew out of gang wars that have raged in Nassau and Suffolk Counties during the past several years. The charges were the product of a coordinated initiative, code-named “Operation Streetsweeper,” by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, including the FBI Long Island Gang Task Force (comprised of members of the FBI, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, New York State Police, the Nassau County Police Department, Hempstead Village Police Department, Freeport Police Department, Port Washington Police Department, and the Nassau County Department of Corrections), ATF, the Suffolk County Police Department, and the Southold Town Police Department.
The MS-13 is a violent international street gang comprised primarily of immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, many of whom are in the United States illegally. With hundreds of members locally, the MS-13 is the largest street gang on Long Island. In Nassau County, members belong to chapters, or “cliques,” located primarily in Hempstead, Freeport, Roosevelt, New Cassel, and Westbury. In Suffolk County, the gang’s cliques are located primarily in Brentwood, Huntington, Copiague, Farmingdale, and Islip.
At trial, the government established that the MS-13 engages in a variety of violent criminal activities, including murder, assault, firearm offenses, and robbery, as well as narcotics distribution. Much of their violent criminal activity is directed at members of rival gangs, including the Salvadorans with Pride (“SWP”), the Latin Kings, and the Bloods. However, over the last five years, dozens of innocent bystanders on Long Island have been injured or killed by the gang’s indiscriminate violence. At trial, former MS-13 members testified that the gang reserves its harshest punishment for members or associates who cooperate with law enforcement authorities. Former members testified that the gang’s rules call for the execution of all such police informants. The evidence further proved that MEJIA transferred from the Far Rockaway clique to the Hempstead clique several months before the murder and that he “earned” his “quota” in the Hempstead clique by murdering Sanchez. MS-13 members are required to commit acts of violence, referred to as “quotas,” upon joining a clique in order to enhance the gang’s reputation for violence.
Over the past two years, more than 30 members of the MS-13, 50 members of the Bloods, and four members of Murder Unit have been convicted on federal charges in this district, including murder in aid of racketeering, aggravated assault, narcotics distribution, firearms trafficking, and immigration offenses.
The government’s case was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Richard Donoghue and James McGovern.
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