Melvi Amador-Rios, a.k.a. “Letal” and “Pinky,” Also Convicted of Ordering a Non-Fatal Shooting That Left Victim Paralyzed and Participating in Multiple Armed Robberies
A federal jury in Brooklyn today returned a guilty verdict against Melvi Amador-Rios, a leader of the Centrales Locos Salvatruchas (“CLS”) clique of La Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, a transnational criminal organization, on 17 of the 18 counts of a third superseding indictment. Amador-Rios was convicted of racketeering, murder in-aid-of racketeering in connection with the May 16, 2017 fatal stabbing of 16-year-old Julio Vasquez in Queens, attempted murder in-aid-of racketeering, conspiracy to commit murder in-aid-of racketeering, assault-in aid-of racketeering, firearms offenses and four counts of Hobbs Act robbery. The verdict followed a three-week trial before United States District Judge Rachel P. Kovner. When sentenced, Amador-Rios faces a mandatory term of life in prison.
Breon Peace, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, Christie M. Curtis, Acting Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), and Edward A. Caban, Commissioner, New York City Police Department (NYPD), announced the verdict.
“With today’s verdict, an extremely dangerous MS-13 gang leader aptly nicknamed “Letal,” or “Lethal,” has been brought to justice for his murderous racketeering crimes and now faces a mandatory life sentence,” stated United States Attorney Peace. “The outstanding work of our prosecutors, along with members of the FBI and the NYPD, underscores this Office’s continuing efforts to make our communities safer by dismantling violent gangs.”
“With the guilty verdict today, Amador-Rios has rightly been found responsible for these senseless and heinous violent crimes carried out by MS-13 in Queens. MS-13 relies on violence and fear for control, but the verdict serves as reminder that their actions will not be tolerated. The FBI New York Safe Streets Task Force remains steadfast in our efforts to remove the threat of this violent and dangerous gang from our communities,” stated FBI Acting Assistant Director-in-Charge Curtis.
“Today’s guilty verdict is the next step toward delivering justice for the victims of this violent criminal,” stated NYPD Commissioner Caban. “The NYPD, in close collaboration with our law enforcement partners at the FBI and the Eastern District of New York, will continue to conduct aggressive, precisely-directed investigations like this that stanch the violence – an essential step toward healing gang-plagued communities and fulfilling our duty to protect all New Yorkers in every neighborhood.”
Murder of Julio Vasquez
Beginning in fall 2016, the CLS clique, led by Amador-Rios decided to kill a CLS chequeo, or low-level MS-13 members, (referred to in the superseding indictment John Doe 3) who had been violating the clique’s rules, including by associating with members of the rival 18th Street gang. Amador-Rios ordered Julio Vasquez, also an MS-13 chequeo, to carry out the killing of John Doe 3. Vasquez was tasked with killing John Doe 3 because he too had been violating the clique’s rules and was suspected of cooperating with law enforcement. After Vasquez failed to kill John Doe 3, Amador-Rios ordered Vasquez be killed. On May 16, 2017, Vasquez was lured to a wooded area of Alley Pond Park where co-conspirators Josue Leiva and Luis Rivas stabbed him more than 30 times, killing him. Vasquez’s body was discovered by a bird watcher in the park on May 21, 2017. Leiva and Rivas pleaded guilty on July 14, 2023 to racketeering charges, including Vasquez’s murder. They are awaiting sentencing.
2016 Attempted Murder
In October 2016, Amador-Rios ordered a CLS chequeo to kill a member of the rival 18th Street gang. The chequeo targeted a boy that he believed to be a member of the rival 18th Street gang (referred to in the superseding indictment as John Doe 1). In the early morning hours of October 23, 2016, in the vicinity of 179th Street and 90th Avenue in Jamaica, Queens, the CLS chequeo, accompanied by two others, confronted John Doe 1, who was 16 years old at the time. At Amador-Rios’s direction, the chequeos beat John Doe 1, shot him in the head, and attempted to shoot him a second time as he lay on the ground. The gun malfunctioned, but, as a result of the gunshot wound, John Doe 1 was permanently paralyzed. Following the arrests of the chequeos for the shooting, Amador-Rios informed them in a prison call that “you guys already have the pass, you know, to be homeboys, you know,” indicating that they would be promoted in the gang for committing the attempted murder. The three chequeos have each pleaded guilty to their participation in the assault and attempted murder of John Doe 1, including variously assault in-aid-of racketeering, attempted murder in-aid-of racketeering and discharging a firearm in furtherance of a crime of violence.
Amador-Rios participated in the armed robbery of a money transfer business in which an employee was pistol whipped, three armed robberies of convenience stores all in Jamaica, Queens, as well as related firearms offenses.
This effort is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF
Today’s conviction is the latest in a series of federal prosecutions by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York targeting members of the MS-13. The MS-13’s leadership was based in El Salvador and Honduras, but the gang has thousands of members across the United States. Since 2003, hundreds of MS-13 members, including dozens of clique leaders, have been convicted on federal felony charges in the Eastern District of New York. A majority of those MS-13 members have been convicted on federal racketeering charges for participating in murders, attempted murders, and assaults. Since 2010, this Office has obtained indictments charging MS-13 members with carrying out more than 45 murders in the district and has convicted dozens of MS-13 leaders and members in connection with those murders. These prosecutions are the product of investigations led by our law enforcement partners including the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force, comprising agents and officers of the FBI and NYPD.