All that Marvin Joel Rivera-Guevara seemed to want was a better life, a life that came to a violent end by Moore’s Creek when he was just 24 years old.
Now, prosecutors say they’ve finally gotten justice for the young Salvadoran immigrant, as the gang leader who ordered the 2017 slaying has been sentenced to life in prison.
Andy Tovar, age 33, of White Post, received his sentence Wednesday after pleading guilty to multiple charges stemming from Rivera-Guevara’s death and two attempted killings, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia in Alexandria.
"Tovar is considered to be one of the highest-ranking MS-13 members in the United States," the government said in a release.
At the time of the hit he ordered on Rivera-Guevara, Tovar may have seemed ordinary. He lived in a trailer park beside Dinosaur Land near Front Royal and drove a 1996 Honda Civic with 175,000 miles on the odometer. He earned $25,000 to $33,000 a year assembling traffic signals for a manufacturer in Manassas.
At home, he had a girlfriend and a one-year-old daughter and a six-year-old son. Rent in the trailer park was just $250 a month. But by his own admission he was spending more than that, $360 a month, on phone, cable, and internet and had rung up a $1,500 balance with T-Mobile. Federal prosecutors say he had sidelines: selling cocaine and enforcing discipline by ordering minions to kill.
Government files say that Tovar led an MS-13 clique called "Guanacos Lil Cycos Salvatruchas," which roughly translates to "silly little psycho gangsters." But there was nothing silly about what happened five years ago in Charlottesville.
According to court files in Alexandria and Albemarle County, Rivera-Guevara had been working at two restaurant jobs. He and his brothers had fled the violent streets of their native El Salvador, according to the GoFundMe appeal organized in the aftermath of his death, and he would send money to his wife, still in El Salvador.
Unfortunately for Rivera-Guevara, two of his co-workers at Fabio’s NY Pizza at the corner of East High and Long Streets were members of MS-13, according to prosecutors.
He allegedly remarked that MS-13 did not make the rules in the U.S., a comment that made its way back to Tovar in Northern Virginia. Prosecutors say Tovar interpreted the comment as disrespect for the gang and decided to kill him.
On the night of July 3, 2017, after work, a 17-year-old co-worker climbed into Rivera-Guevara’s car under the pretense of smoking pot or meeting women and suggested a drive into the Woolen Mills neighborhood. Unknown to Rivera-Guevara, according to court evidence, another car filled with four gang members from Northern Virginia was following his vehicle away from the pizzeria.
Once at the end of Market Street, Rivera-Guevara’s car was blocked, and he was ordered out at gunpoint and forced to walk into a wooded area. There the gangsters rained machete strikes onto his body and his head. By the coroner’s count, there were at least 144 blows, so many that the handle of the machete broke.
The government says machete attacks are a hallmark of MS-13 violence and the sharp blows mutilated Rivera-Guevara so badly that family members could not identify his body, which had been dumped into Moore’s Creek.
The Virginia Medical Examiner identified him using DNA, according to its report.
The five gang members then drove Rivera-Guevara’s vehicle to Ingleridge Farm Road in Albemarle County, where, according to previous testimony, they set it on fire.
In 2018 and 2019, Albemarle County prosecutors got guilty pleas from four of the participants on charges including "murder by mob.”
Juan Carlos Argueta was 17 when he led his Fabio’s co-worker into the ambush. He got 25 years in prison.
Jose Luis Escobar-Umana was 23 when he forced Rivera-Guevara toward Moore’s Creek at gunpoint. He got 30 years.
Walter Antonio Argueta Amaya was 20 when he traveled from Northern Virginia for the killing. He got 30 years.
Eduardo Zelaya was 17 and living in Manassas at the time of his participation. He got 25 years.
A fifth alleged conspirator, Omar Antonio Villalta-Vasquez was 22. Nicknamed "Anticristo," he also worked at Fabio’s. He was brought into custody in Charlottesville just 10 days after Rivera-Guevara’s slaying on federal charges stemming from another case, a three months-earlier quadruple killing on New York’s Long Island.
The government accuses him of commanding the plot against Rivera-Guevara by falsely telling Tovar that Rivera-Guevara was a member of a rival gang, choosing the murder location, and wielding a .380 pistol during the ambush. His case remains pending.
After the slaying, Tovar received a gory photograph of the aftermath, expressed gratitude to Escobar-Umana and Zelaya, and told them they would be promoted to "homeboys," according to Tovar’s sentencing report.
As the leader of his so-called "clique," Tovar proudly relayed the news to MS-13 members back in El Salvador and then told his team that the El Salvadoran gang members were also proud.
In 2019, as the government’s case against him was advancing, a wiretap showed that Tovar stated, “we are going to kill the snitches," according to his sentencing report. That earned him a punishment upgrade, as did his use of juveniles to carry out crimes.
His actions include two attempted killings in Northern Virginia that resulted in devastating, permanent injuries to the victims, according to prosecutors.
"Tovar is not a victim of circumstance," wrote Jessica D. Aber, the lead federal prosecutor. "He has chosen to lead a criminal and violent lifestyle as a longtime leader of MS-13."
"Tovar’s choices, actions, and commands have led to destruction and carnage, and destroyed families and communities," she continued. "Based on all of these factors, a sentence of life imprisonment is warranted and appropriate."
During the Albemarle prosecutions, then Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert Tracci would summarize the Rivera-Guevara family’s feelings because their written victim impact statements had been placed under seal for fear of inflaming retribution-minded gangsters. Those statements are still under seal.