Trial scheduled for MS-13 associate charged in deaths of 4 men | State and Region

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CENTRAL ISLIP, NY (AP) — A federal jury will hear opening statements Monday in the trial of a Long Island woman accused of luring four young men to their slaughter by more than a dozen street gang members MS-13.

Prosecutors say Leniz Escobar helped orchestrate the 2017 massacre as a teenage gang associate before falsely claiming to be a victim of the ambush.

Escobar has pleaded not guilty to racketeering charges in the four deaths that prosecutors described as “a horrific frenzy of violence” involving machetes, knives and tree limbs in a Central Islip park.

Defense attorney Jesse Siegel told The Associated Press that “after almost five years, Ms. Escobar is looking forward to her day in court.”

MS-13 was seeking to settle a score, prosecutors say, and believed the young victims were members of the rival 18th Street gang. Families of the victims have denied that any of the men killed were part of a gang.

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Prosecutors allege that Escobar, who was 17 at the time, sought to curry favor with MS-13 and alerted its members to the location of the victims in a wooded area. Under MS-13 rules, the killings were “pre-authorized” by gang leaders, prosecutors said, and contributors to the carnage were at risk of becoming members or rising through the ranks of the organization.

Authorities said Escobar then threw his cellphone from a moving vehicle, along with a SIM card that had been removed and damaged so badly that law enforcement could not recover its contents.

“Furthermore, Escobar threw away the bloody clothes she was wearing on the night of the murders,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.

MS-13, also known as La Mara Salvatrucha, recruits young teenagers from El Salvador and Honduras, although many gang members were born in the United States. The gang has been charged with dozens of murders since January 2016 across a wide swath of Long Island.

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Elna M. Lemons