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MS-13 member pleads guilty to Long Island murders, faces life in prison

Portillo, 26 years old and known as "Oso" and "Turkey," pleaded guilty in a federal court on Long Island, New York

Archive photo of New York Police Department (NYPD)
Archive photo of New York Police Department (NYPD) | Shutterstock

September 1, 2023 9:05am

Updated: September 1, 2023 9:05am

MS-13 gang member Enrique Portillo pleaded guilty Thursday in New York to charges related to his involvement in four murders, including the 2016 killings of teenagers Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens. He now faces life in prison, a maximum sentence being sought by federal prosecutors.

Portillo, 26 years old and known as "Oso" and "Turkey," pleaded guilty in a federal court on Long Island, New York, the location where the incidents took place and where the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) has had a presence for decades.

The leadership of MS-13 is based in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico, but has thousands of members across the U.S. Operating in hand with numerous subgroups, the transnational gang is the most violent criminal organization on Long Island.

In 2017, the criminal activity of MS-13 led then-President Donald Trump to visit the area and declare war on the group, pledging to "dismantle, eradicate, and deport" its members.

That year, 17 murders committed over 18 months were attributed to the "Maras" by authorities.

Among the victims were friends Cuevas and Mickens, aged 16 and 15 respectively, both students at Brentwood High School (a suburb of Long Island). They were killed with machetes and bats - the gang's preferred weapons - as they walked home together.

Neither of the young girls was affiliated with the gang. Cuevas and some of her friends had been involved in a confrontation at school with MS-13 members, who later vowed revenge against her, the prosecution stated.

Furthermore, the statement indicates that Portillo, a member of the Sailors Locos Salvatruchas Westside subgroup, and other gang members set out on Sept. 13 in a car to find rivals to kill.

Once the gang members saw the young girls, they asked an MS-13 leader for permission to kill them, which was granted.

Mickens' body was found on the same day, and Cuevas' body was discovered behind a residence the following day.

In 2017, Portillo was arrested and transferred to a federal prison in Brooklyn, where he attempted to kill two members of rival gangs.