New York’s MS-13 leader Melvi Amador Rios faces a life sentence after trial

Melvi Amador Rios, MS-13 leader, faces life sentence in New York after guilty verdict on 17 charges, including murder.

Melvi Amador Rios was found guilty today of ordering the murder of a 16-year-old teenager and overseeing several other violent crimes as a leader of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) criminal gang organization in New York.

After a two-week trial in Brooklyn Federal Court, a jury found Melvi Amador Rios guilty of 17 of the 18 charges he faced, including murder in aid of organized crime, which carries a mandatory life sentence, noted Daily News.

Prosecutors accused the 32-year-old Hispanic of heading the “Centrales Locos Salvatruchas” (CLS) clique, which operated primarily out of Jamaica, Queens. In that role he led a group of teenage “checkers,” sending them on killing missions so they could move up within the gang, the feds argued. His brother Santos Amador Rios and four other cooperating witnesses testified against him during the trial, linking him to the May 2017 murder of Julio “Bad Boy” Vasquez (16), and the previous near-fatal shooting of Luis Serrano (16) in October 2016.

While already in prison, in September 2019 Amador Ríos, Josué Leiva and Luis Rivas pleaded “not guilty” for the death of Vásquez. Vasquez’s brutal murder happened in 2017 at Alley Pond Park in Queens. The other victim, Luis Serrano, was shot in the face and paralyzed. Amador Rios also masterminded four armed robberies at Queens businesses, prosecutors alleged.

Santos, a 33-year-old Honduran and also a former CLS branch member, said at his brother’s trial that he wanted to change his life and “leave all the bad things behind.” “It’s not that I want to do what I’m doing now, but I can’t rot in jail. He knows that and I know that I love him very much, but there is nothing I can do,” she said in her testimony at the end of July.

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Assistant U.S. Attorney Raffaela Belizaire said every murder committed by the MS-13 “clique” in Queens went by the order of Amador Rios, who, as leader, was responsible for enforcing the gang’s rules, which included killing rivals and “traitorous” members whenever possible and never talking to police.

The jury heard from another cooperating witness, Jose Gonzalez Rivera, who explained how Amador Rios and others beat him when he joined the gang and said the leader put him to work selling marijuana. When asked about the consequences he would face for cooperating with the government, he sadly replied, “Certain death.”

Murray Singer, defense attorney for Melvi Amador Ríos, made an unusual argument to the jury in the trial that began on July 24. He admitted that the defendant is a gang member but said that would not be enough to convict him. “It is not a crime to be affiliated with MS-13…Being a member of MS-13 is not a crime,” he said.

Long Island and Queens are two of the areas with the largest Mara Salvatrucha presence in the U.S., where dozens of murders and disappearances are attributed to it. The Central American-based group is associated with recruiting young men and women, mostly of Latino origin.