Earlier today, in federal court in Central Islip, Jhonny Contreras, a member of the Brentwood Locos Salvatruchas clique of La Mara Salvatrucha, also known as the MS-13, a transnational criminal organization, pleaded guilty in federal court in Central Islip to racketeering and related firearms charges in connection with his participation in the May 26, 2013 murder of Derrick Mayes, the May 28, 2013 murder of Keenan Russell, and the November 19, 2015 murder of Cesar Rivera-Vasquez. The proceeding was held before United States District Judge Gary R. Brown.
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 guilty plea.
“With today’s guilty plea, the defendant has admitted to participating in a murderous rampage that was senseless and demonstrated a total disregard for human life by hunting down victims based on an offending article of clothing or a tattoo. His heinous acts were motivated by a twisted desire to increase his status within the MS-13 gang. This case underscores the resolve of this Office and the Long Island Gang Task Force to bring the MS-13 to justice for their crimes against our communities,” stated United States Attorney Peace. “We offer our sympathy to the victims’ families and loved ones who join the tragic community of those devastated by gun violence, and hope today’s plea will bring some measure of closure on their path to healing.”
“These murders are a grim reminder of the violence and lack of regard for human life that MS-13 exudes – killing innocent people simply because they are wearing a certain color or are believed to be from a rival gang,” stated SCPD Commissioner Harrison said. “With today’s guilty plea, Suffolk County is undoubtedly a safer place and I commend the Eastern District of New York and the members of the Long Island Task Force for their tireless efforts ridding communities of gang violence.”
According to court filings and statements by the defendant at the guilty plea proceeding, Contreras participated in the murders of Derrick Mayes and Keenan Russell over the Memorial Day weekend in 2013. On May 26, 2013, Contreras and another MS-13 member armed themselves with a .25 caliber handgun and 20-gauge shotgun and drove around Central Islip in a stolen minivan looking for rival gang members to kill. While on Wilson Boulevard, Contreras and his co-conspirator observed Mayes, an African-American man, who they did not know and wrongly assumed to be a member of the Bloods street gang because he was wearing an article of red clothing. The MS-13 members approached Mayes, shot him multiple times, killing him. The following night, Contreras and several other MS-13 members, who were armed with the same .25 caliber handgun and 20-gauge shotgun, as well as a 9mm handgun, again drove around Central Islip in the stolen minivan and other vehicles, looking for rival gang members to kill, and observed several African-Americans, including Russell, outside of a house party on Acorn Street. The MS-13 members approached Russell, who they did not know and again mistakenly assumed to be a member of the Bloods, opened fire with the weapons, killing him. Later, the MS-13 members learned that the minivan had been linked to the murders and they agreed to destroy it. Contreras and several other gang members drove the minivan to a wooded area in Ronkonkoma, wiped it down to remove any fingerprints, doused it with gasoline, and set it on fire.
In addition, Contreras admitted during his guilty plea today to participating in the murder of Cesar Rivera-Vasquez on November 19, 2015, in Babylon. Rivera-Vasquez was murdered by Contreras and other MS-13 members because they suspected him of belonging to a rival Mexican gang, Raza Loca. On the night of the murder, Contreras and his co-conspirators saw Rivera-Vasquez at a deli located close to the Babylon Long Island Railroad station. Contreras and the other MS-13 members convinced the victim to leave with them to smoke marijuana and brought him to an isolated area behind a nearby baseball field. The gang members, who were armed with knives and a baseball bat, told the victim to take off his shirt so they could observe a tattoo they believed signified the victim’s membership in the rival gang. After observing the tattoo, Contreras and the other MS-13 members attacked Rivera-Vasquez, beating him with the bat and stabbing him repeatedly with knives before one of the co-conspirators took one of the knives and cut his throat. After Rivera-Vasquez was dead, the MS-13 members buried his body near a large mound of dirt, and Rivera-Vasquez’s body was not discovered until April 2018. When sentenced, Contreras faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
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.
Brentwood, New York
E.D.N.Y. Docket No. 16-CR-403 (GRB)