The leader of an MS-13 chapter in Queens was sentenced on Friday to 30 years in prison. Hector Aleman Lemos, 32, had been accused of two homicides, including the shooting of a 13-year-old boy. He pleaded guilty to murder conspiracy and racketeering charges in March.
“Lemos spread death and destruction throughout his community,” U.S. Attorney Loretta Lynch, who announced the punishment in the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, said in a statement. “No one in his orbit was safe from the violence that accompanied him.”
Often the word “gang” gets thrown around too loosely in the criminal justice system. On one side of the spectrum are the informal packs of neighborhood young men who give their clique a name and sometimes cause varying levels of trouble. MS-13 is on the other side of that spectrum. It is organized and powerful, infamous for its viciousness against enemies and snitches.
MS-13 is an acronym for Mara Salvatrucha. “Mara” alludes to a type of fire ant and is the Spanish slang for “gang,” and “Salvatrucha” stems from the Spanish word for “trusted” or “loyal.” The “13” corresponds to the letter “M,” representing the organization’s alliance with the Mexican Mafia prison gang. Like the Crips and Bloods, MS-13 was born in Los Angeles before eventually spreading across the country–it now has chapters in at least 33 states.
Lemos’ sentence comes amidst a nationwide law enforcement focus on weakening the gang.
“Since 2002, more than 200 MS-13 members, including more than two dozen clique leaders, have been convicted on federal felony charges in the Eastern District of New York,” federal official claimed in a statement. “More than 100 of those MS-13 members have been convicted on federal racketeering charges.”
Lemos, nicknamed “Diablito,” was the boss for the chapter in Flushing, Queens. Authorities charged him with fatally shooting 25-year-old John Halley in 2007. According to court documents, Lemos and at least one other associate had been driving around Yonkers when they saw Halley and some friends on the street and mistook them for rival gang members. Prosecutors say Lemos got out of the car and opened fire.
Prosecutors also charged that Lemos was involved in the shooting of a 13-year-old boy “standing on the stoop of a house in Flushing, New York that Lemos believed to be a rival gang location.”
“Lemos was the leader of a gang that turned our streets into a shooting gallery, and killed innocent bystanders in its bid to dominate the streets,” Lynch said after Lemos pleaded guilty.
Lemos, who is a citizen of El Salvador, faces deportation following his sentence.