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Feds: Life sentence for Long Island gang member accused of multiple murders

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An MS-13 gang member from Long Island was sentenced Monday to life in prison on murder, weapons and conspiracy charges after the slayings of five people, including a mother and her toddler, according to federal prosecutors.

Heriberto Martinez, 26, was sentenced Dec. 9 at the U.S. District Court in Central Islip. Officials said life imprisonment was a mandatory sentence after being convicted last March.

After a six-week trial, federal prosecutors said they proved Martinez and fellow MS-13 gang members were responsible for multiple murders in February and March 2010. Among the victims were 19-year-old Vanessa Argueta of Central Islip and her 2-year-old son, Diego Torres.

The bodies of the young mother, who was shot in the head and chest, and her toddler son, who was also shot twice in the head, were found in a wooded area of Central Islip. Prosecutors said Martinez, the leader of the Coronados Clique of La Mara Salvatrucha, “authorized” the murders before allegedly assisting three co-conspirators in fleeing apprehension.

Martinez was also convicted of the execution-style murder of a 23-year-old security guard at El Rancho Bar and Grill in Hempstead. A few days before the slaying, Martinez and several other MS-13 members were involved in a dispute with workers at the bar over an unpaid tab, the U.S. Attorney’s office said. The verbal altercation soon turned physical and Martinez was reportedly hit with pepper spray.

Before he left the bar, Martinez reportedly told the victim, Nestor Moreno, 23, that he was affiliated with MS-13 and threatened, “It’s not going to end like this.” Prosecutors said he returned a few days later with four co-conspirators and shot Moreno in the head at point-blank range.

Federal authorities later identified the murder weapon as the same gun used to kill Argueta and her son a few weeks before.

Martinez additionally faces sentencing for the murder of a fellow gang member in March 2010 after the victim was allegedly reluctant to attack members of rival gangs, according to prosecutors. Fellow MS-13 members allegedly lured Mario Alberto Canton Quijada to a beach in Far Rockaway, where they tried to shoot him with the same gun. When the weapon jammed, Martinez and the other gang members hacked Quijada to death with knifes and machetes, authorities said.

“The range of victims, from a bouncer doing his job, to the cases of mistaken identity, to the fellow gang member who didn’t want to kill, to a young mother and her toddler, underscores these defendants’ callous disregard for human life. They will soon spend the rest of their own lives contemplating the choices they made,” said U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch.

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