BOSTON – An MS-13 gang member who previously lived in Lawrence has pleaded guilty to a racketeering conspiracy that involved the first-degree murder of a teen boy in the city on Independence Day weekend in 2015. 

Josue Alexis DePaz, 21, also known as “Gato,” a Salvadoran national, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to conduct enterprise affairs through a pattern of racketeering activity, more commonly referred to as RICO conspiracy, according to federal court records.

Jose Alexander Aguilar-Villanova, 15, was found stabbed to death in Lawrence's South Common on July 6, 2015. 

DePaz was charged with acting with premeditated malice and extreme atrocity and cruelty to kill Aguilar-Villanova, according to court records. 

DePaz admitted he was "involved" and "participated" in the first-degree murder, court records state. 

The MS-13 organization is made up largely of immigrants and descendants of immigrants from El Salvador, with members operating throughout Massachusetts. The gang is known for extreme violence in support of its criminal activities, including drug running and prostitution, according to authorities. 

MS-13 stands for "Mara Salvatrucha," which is a combination of several slang terms. Mara is used in El Salvador as a word for gang. Salvatrucha is a slang term for "fear us," "look out," or "heads up," according to the indictment in DePaz's criminal file in U.S. District Court in Boston. Authorities said DePaz was identified as a member of MS-13’s Everett Loco Salvatrucha clique, which operated in the greater Boston area, according to a statement released by the Department of Justice.

When interviewed by law enforcement officers, DePaz admitted that on July 5, 2015, he was one of two men who stabbed Aguilar-Villanova to death on the South Common in Lawrence.

"In conversations recorded by law enforcement during the investigation, MS-13 members identified DePaz as one of the men who murdered the victim," according to the Department of Justice statement. 

DePaz subsequently was arrested in a house in Somerville with several other MS-13 members.

A search warrant at the house resulted in the recovery of a firearm, several large knives, photographs of MS-13 members flashing gang signs, and a large volume of MS-13 paraphernalia, including blue and white hats, bandanas and rosary beads, authorities said. 

MS-13 members frequently wear blue and white items of clothing to signify their membership in the gang, according to court documents.

DePaz faces up to life in prison, five years of supervised release, a $250,000 fine and will be subject to deportation upon the completion of his sentence.  

His sentencing is scheduled for April 6 before Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV in federal court in Boston.

DePaz, after a three-year investigation,  was one of 61 individuals named in a superseding indictment targeting the criminal activities of alleged MS-13 leaders, members, and associates in Massachusetts. He is the 28th defendant to plead guilty in this case, according to the DOJ statement. 

Also directly implicated in the teen's murder are Oscar Noe Recinos-Garcia, also known as "Psycho," German Hernandez-Escobar, also known as "Terible," Noe Salvador Perez-Vasquez, also known as "Crazy," Jose Rene Andrade, also known as "Triste" and "Inocente," and Manuel Diaz-Granado, also known as "Perverso," according to the indictments.

Police have said the indictments in the teen's death are not an indication that MS-13 activity is growing or proliferating in Lawrence.

The indictments does not specify a motive for the teen's murder but underscores that violent and criminal behavior are the hallmarks of the MS-13 gang.

"Violence is a central tenant of MS-13, as evidenced by its motto — 'matta, viola, controla,' translated as kill, rape, control.  The violence is directed against rival gangs ... and anyone who is perceived to have disrespected MS-13. MS-13 members and associates often commit murders and attempted murders using machetes, knives and chains in order to intimidate rival gang members," according to the indictments.

And to raise money for the gang, MS-13 members "were required to conduct, and, in fact, conducted illegal activities under the protection of the MS-13 enterprise," federal authorities charge.

Members actively recruit high-schoolers as new members and form cliques. A hierarchy is created that expedites "the process of getting orders from leadership in El Salvador to the street and remitting money from the street to leadership in El Salvador."

There is also an initiation process where a prospective member, known as a 'paro,' is allowed to "hang around" gang members. The paros are observed, judged for trustworthiness and required to do whatever a full MS-13 member asks of them. In order to advance into the gang, the prospective member is required to engage in criminal activity, according to the indictments.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.