Alleged MS-13 member pleads guilty to gang killings in Long Island park

CENTRAL ISLIP, Long Island (WABC) -- A reputed member of the violent MS-13 gang pleaded guilty Monday to charges relating to his participation in the massacre of four young men in a Long Island park in April of 2017.

Josue Portillo, who was 15 years at the time and is now 17, was initially charged as a juvenile. But earlier this month, a judge granted a motion by the government requesting he be tried as an adult. Portillo, an illegal alien from El Salvador, was in immigration custody in Virginia when charged, and he was subsequently transferred to the custody of the FBI's Long Island Gang Task Force.

He pleaded guilty to conspiracy to murder rival gang members and the murders of the four victims, individually. The victims were 16-year-old Justin Llivicura, of East Patchogue; 18-year-old Jorge Tigre, of Bellport; 20-year-old Michael Lopez Banegas, of Brentwood; and 18-year-old Jefferson Villalobos, of Pompano Beach, Florida, who was on Long Island visiting his cousin Banegas at the time.

Authorities say the four young men were lured to a park by two female associates of MS-13, which was hunting for rivals and perceived enemies. Once there, the youths - some still in high school - were surrounded and attacked with machetes, knives and wooden clubs "in a horrific frenzy of violence," according to the court papers. A fifth young man who had accompanied the victims to the park escaped.

Portillo admitted in court that he personally murdered Lopez by stabbing him to death with knives.

Federal prosecutors said the four victims plus the person who escaped "were marked for death merely because they were suspected of disrespecting the MS-13 and being rival gang members."

MS-13, also called Mara Salvatrucha, is a major international criminal enterprise, with tens of thousands of members in several Central American countries and many U.S. states. It is believed to have been founded as a neighborhood street gang in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s by immigrants fleeing a civil war in El Salvador.

"Josue Portillo's guilty plea today marks a milestone in the investigation of MS-13's brutal murders of four young men lured to their violent deaths in a park on Long Island," United States Attorney Richard Donoghue said. "We hope the victims' families can find some measure of solace in knowing that the perpetrators of these murders are now being held responsible for their crimes."

Portillo was one of more than a dozen alleged gang members arrested in the case. When sentenced, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. Upon completion of his sentence, he faces deportation from the United States.

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