A federal jury in Central Islip returned a guilty verdict today against Leniz Escobar, an associate of the Leeward Locos Salvatruchas (“Leeward”) and Brentwood Locos Salvatruchas (“Brentwood”) cliques of La Mara Salvatrucha, also known as the MS-13, a transnational criminal organization. Escobar was convicted of racketeering, including predicate acts of murder, conspiracy to murder rival gang members, and obstruction of justice; and murder in aid-of racketeering, in connection with her participation in the April 11, 2017 murders of Justin Llivicura, Michael Lopez, Jorge Tigre and Jefferson Villalobos. The verdict followed a four-week trial before United States Circuit Judge Joseph F. Bianco. When sentenced, Escobar faces up to life in prison.
Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Michael J. Driscoll, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), and Rodney K. Harrison, Commissioner, Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD), announced the verdict.
“With today’s verdict, Escobar has been held responsible for the crucial role that she willingly played in orchestrating one of the most vicious and senseless mass murders in the district in memory,” stated United States Attorney Peace. “The defendant showed utter disregard for human life by leading the victims into a killing field, to their slaughter, to enhance her stature with her fellow cold-blooded murderers within the MS-13 gang. It is my hope that Escobar’s conviction will bring some measure of closure to the relatives of the victims and serve as a warning to other gang members that this Office, together with our law enforcement partners, will not rest until everyone responsible for these murders is held accountable and the MS-13 no longer poses a danger to our district.”
Mr. Peace expressed his thanks to the members of the FBI’s Long Island Gang Task Force for their outstanding work on the case.
“As proven at trial, Ms. Escobar played a crucial role in a heinous and senseless crime, the 2017 slayings of four young men believed by MS-13 to be members of a rival gang. Subsequent to the murders she continued to demonstrate her callous disregard for human life when she boasted about her role in the killings to enhance her stature within the gang. While nothing can bring the victims back, it is our hope that today’s verdict can bring their families a measure of comfort, knowing justice has been served,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Driscoll.
“Today’s verdict sends a clear message that those who associate with a gang will be held accountable for their involvement with gang activity,” stated SCPD Commissioner Harrison. “Escobar showed a complete disregard for human life and put her allegiance to the gang ahead of the rule of law. I applaud all those involved from the Suffolk County Police Department, the FBI and our partners in law enforcement for their hard work and dedication to justice.”
The evidence at trial proved that on the evening of April 11, 2017, Escobar, also known as “Diablita,” and a co-conspirator, Keyli Gomez, lured five young men, including the four murder victims, to a park in Central Islip where they were attacked by members of the MS-13. The MS-13 members believed the victims to be members of a rival gang, at least two of whom had disrespected the MS-13 by posting photos on social media in which they wore certain items and flashed hand signs that signified membership in the MS-13 gang. Escobar and Gomez showed the gang-related photos to members of the MS-13, who confirmed the young men did not belong to MS-13, and it was decided that the victims would be killed. Gomez testified at the trial that she and Escobar drove with the victims to the park, led them to a predetermined wooded area, and sent the MS-13 members text-messages notifying them of their arrival. The MS-13 members and associates proceeded to the designated location and encircled the victims under the cover of darkness. One of the intended victims immediately fled and was able to escape. Llivicura, Lopez, Tigre and Villalobos were surrounded by MS-13 members, who attacked them with machetes, knives, an axe, and wooden clubs. After the attack, the MS-13 members dragged the victims’ bodies to a more secluded spot in the woods, piled them up, and then fled. The victims’ bodies were discovered the following evening.
In the days following the murders, Escobar bragged to other MS-13 members about her role in the killings and, in recorded calls with her boyfriend, who was a high-ranking member of the Brentwood clique, discussed the attack in detail. Using barely coded language, and referring to the victims who were killed, she said, “four individuals took the train and who knows when they’ll be back, got me?” Escobar then shared how that plan went awry when one person escaped, adding “But one of them, one of them managed to still be here on the map” and “he knows stuff about me.” In a separate call, Escobar told her boyfriend that she was “happy for this to happen.” Of the four victims, she said they were “never coming back . . . somewhere else . . . seeing the light . . . no more . . . out of here . . . not on the map.”
Additionally, Escobar destroyed evidence of her involvement in the murders by disposing of a sweatshirt stained with the blood of a victim, tossing her cellular phone from a moving vehicle when she was being followed by the police, and falsely telling detectives that she and Gomez were victims of a random robbery in the park on the night of the murders. Gomez pleaded guilty to racketeering charges in connection with the murders and is awaiting sentencing.
More than a dozen MS-13 members and associates have been charged in connection with the April 11, 2017 murders.
Today’s conviction 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. 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, resulting in the convictions of 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 Paul G. Scotti, Justina L. Geraci and Megan E. Farrell are in charge of the prosecution.
Islip Terrace, New York
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 21-CR-101 (JFB)
Danielle Blustein Hass
United States Attorney’s Office