MS-13 Gang Leader Sentenced to Life in Prison for Racketeering Charges Including the Murder of 16-Year-Old Victim in Alley Pond Park in Queens
Earlier today, in federal court in Central Islip, Jerlin Villalta, a member of the Freeport Locos Salvatruchas (FLS) clique of La Mara Salvatrucha, also known as the MS-13, a transnational criminal organization, was sentenced by United States Circuit Judge Joseph F. Bianco to 25 years’ imprisonment for racketeering, including predicate acts relating to his participation in the June 3, 2016 murder of Jose Pena and a conspiracy to distribute marijuana. Villalta pleaded guilty to the charges in October 2018.
Jacquelyn M. Kasulis, Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, William F. Sweeney, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), and Stuart Cameron, Acting Commissioner, Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD), announced the sentence.
“Today’s sentence holds the defendant to account for his vicious stabbing of the victim who was killed for violating the depraved rules of the MS-13. It is fitting that the defendant spend decades behind bars for his participation in this cruel and intentional taking of a human life,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Kasulis. “This Office, in partnership with the Long Island Gang Task Force, will not rest until the MS -13 gang and its violence is eliminated from our communities.”
“This sentencing will ensure that another member of MS-13, who took part in a violent, senseless murder, will be imprisoned for his actions,” stated SCPD Acting Commissioner Cameron. “The department’s incredible partnership with the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force and Eastern District of New York allows gang members, like Villalta, to be held accountable –while sending a message to gang leadership that we will not waver until gang violence is eradicated. I commend all the law enforcement officers, whose countless hours and dedication ensured a successful conclusion on this case.”
In 2016, Villalta and several co-conspirators, including Carlos Argueta and Elmer Alexander Lopez, decided to kill Pena, a member of the MS-13, because he was suspected of violating gang rules. Prior to the murder, Villalta, Argueta, Lopez and other MS-13 members held meetings to discuss killing Pena because they suspected that Pena had cooperated with law enforcement following his arrest in connection with his participation in the attempted murder of suspected rival gang members outside a public library in Brentwood on or about January 15, 2016, and also that Pena might be homosexual. After consulting with MS-13 leadership in El Salvador, Villalta, Argueta, Lopez and the other MS-13 members agreed to murder Pena and tasks were assigned to each of the co-conspirators to carry out the plan, including obtaining weapons and a vehicle to be used in the murder. On June 3, 2016, Villalta, Argueta, Lopez and the other MS-13 members lured Pena into a car and drove to a secluded wooded area in Brentwood on the grounds of an abandoned psychiatric hospital, where they attacked Pena, stabbing and slashing him with knives until he was dead. Pena’s body was discovered four months after his murder. Argueta and Lopez previously pled guilty to racketeering charges in connection with the Pena murder. In December 2018, Lopez was sentenced to 300 months’ imprisonment. Argueta is awaiting sentencing.
Villalta also pleaded guilty to participating in a drug conspiracy, admitting that between January 2016 and December 2016, he and other members of the FLS conspired to distribute marijuana to raise money for the MS-13.
Today’s sentencing is the latest in a series of federal prosecutions by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York targeting members of the MS-13, a violent, transnational criminal organization. The MS-13’s leadership is based in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico, but the gang has thousands of members across the United States, comprised primarily of immigrants from Central America. With numerous branches, or “cliques,” the MS-13 is the most violent criminal organization on Long Island. Since 2003, hundreds of MS-13 members, including dozens of clique leaders, have been convicted on federal felony charges in the Eastern District of New York. A majority of those MS-13 members have been convicted on federal racketeering charges for participating in murders, attempted murders and assaults. Since 2010, this Office has obtained indictments charging MS-13 members with carrying out more than 60 murders in the Eastern District of New York and has convicted dozens of MS-13 leaders and members in connection with those murders. These prosecutions are the product of investigations led by the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force, which is comprised of agents and officers of the FBI, SCPD, Nassau County Police Department, Nassau County Sheriff’s Department, Suffolk County Probation Office, Suffolk County Sheriff’s Office, the New York State Police, the Hempstead Police Department, the Rockville Centre Police Department and the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision.
The government’s case is being handled by the Office’s Long Island Criminal Division. Assistant United States Attorneys John J. Durham, Paul G. Scotti, Justina L. Geraci and Megan E. Farrell are in charge of the prosecution.
JERLIN VILLALTA (also known as “Sonic”)
Brentwood, New York
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 16-CR-403 (S-6)(JFB)
United States Attorney’s Office