Millions promised to help fight MS-13 on Long Island, but local residents say it’s not enough

BRENTWOOD, NY — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo secured nearly $20 million for Long Island communities to help fight and prevent violence associated with the MS-13 gang, but some local residents, while grateful for the support, say it's not nearly enough.

The new funding was announced on the anniversary of the killing of four young men, allegedly at the hands of MS-13.  Jefferson Villalobos, 18; Michael Banegas, 20; Jorge Tigre, 18 and Justin Llivicura, 16, were not gang members themselves, but were tortured and killed, apparently in retaliation for at least two of the young men rejecting MS-13 activity.

"They were evil, motivated assassinations," Gov. Cuomo said at a community center where he was slated to sign the spending bill into law.

"It's a total of about $20 million," he said to the audience made up largely of politicians, community activists and members of law enforcement.

However, the press release from Cuomo's own office indicated that the amount of money secured in the bill is $18.5 million.

It's intended to both assist law enforcement to carry out anti-gang activity, as well as to support programs that help to prevent people from joining gangs in the first place.

"Such as social and educational services [or] a job for a young person," Cuomo said. The funding also supports "after school programs, where [children] can learn and they can be safe."

But local resident Liz Cordero was critical.

"This isn't even a drop in the bucket," she told PI11 News.  "It's an insult."

Cordero, the mother of five current or former Brentwood High School students, was in attendance with Maria Heuskin, another parent at the high school in Brentwood.  The Suffolk County town is home to many of the 17 murder victims on Long Island whose deaths in the last two years are attributed to MS-13.  The mothers said that a state government education funding formula should have given schools in the area $130 million more in aid.

Cuomo's "comprehensive plan is very intense, and it's the solution, right?" Cordero told PI11 News.  "But the money, it doesn't meet up with the expectations."

Nonetheless, Gov. Cuomo signed into law the $18.5 million provision that sends funds to both community programs and to law enforcement.  Law enforcement leaders, meanwhile, acknowledged that they have work ahead of them to promote community involvement.

"Our job is to make sure that those people who can benefit the most from these programs know about these programs, and are targeted" to get them involved," Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini said.

Cordero and Heuskin agreed, but the local residents said there are many more people like them, who feel that the state has shortchanged their community by not disbursing all of the funds that Albany's own formula had concluded was needed in western Suffolk County.

The two mothers are organizing a student and parent rally to call for the state to inject funding into the area.  The rally is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. on Friday.