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N.Va. Gang Members Indicted

Racketeering Charges Filed Against Suspects

By Tom Jackman and Jerry Markon
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 16, 2004; Page B01

Two members of the violent street gang Mara Salvatrucha were indicted yesterday by a federal grand jury on racketeering charges that included the slaying of a Herndon teenager, drawing federal authorities deeper into Northern Virginia's struggle against gangs.

The use of federal racketeering statutes, originally designed to combat more traditional organized crime, against alleged street gang members "represents a step up in the effort to use the tools that are available in fighting this problem," U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty said yesterday. Federal authorities nationwide are increasingly using the racketeering laws to combat street gangs, but this was the first time they have been used in Northern Virginia, he said.

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Three of the charges in the eight-count indictment carry the death penalty, McNulty noted, including murder in the aid of racketeering. After prosecutors make a recommendation, the U.S. attorney general will decide whether Alirio Reyes and Osmin Heriberto Alfaro-Fuentes should face the possibility of execution.

Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, is the largest street gang in Northern Virginia, with an estimated 2,000 or more members in the region. McNulty said that the scattered structure of the gang, which is organized in smaller cliques, makes targeting its leadership difficult. Although Reyes and Alfaro-Fuentes are not thought to be top leaders in MS-13, federal agents became involved in the investigation of the Herndon shooting when authorities learned that the pair had fled to California.

The fatal shooting of Jose Sandoval, 17, and the wounding of a 16-year-old female companion on May 16 on a quiet residential street in Herndon helped put a spotlight on gang violence in the area. The incident followed by less than a week a machete attack on a 16-year-old boy in the Alexandria area of Fairfax County. Collectively, the episodes sparked a flurry of renewed interest from politicians and law enforcement in funding, task forces and anti-gang education efforts in the region.

The attack also prompted Herndon Police Chief Toussaint Summers to convene a town hall meeting on May 20 to answer questions about the shooting and plead for tips from the community. Those tips provided the leads that led to yesterday's charges, Summers said.

Authorities said Reyes and Alfaro-Fuentes approached Sandoval and the girl about 9:40 a.m. as they walked on Park Avenue. The girl told investigators that the man who fired the shot was on a bicycle and had "MS" tattooed across his forehead. A second man was on foot. When the two MS members determined that Sandoval was a member of the rival 18th Street gang, they shot him repeatedly, police said.

The girl ran and was shot in the back but survived. Sandoval was the ninth homicide victim at the hands of gang members since 2000 in Northern Virginia. In August, a 10th gang member was gunned down near Manassas.

By late May, Herndon police sought the help of a regional task force of federal marshals and local police officers to find Reyes and Alfaro-Fuentes. On June 18, John Clark, the U.S. marshal for the Eastern District of Virginia, said the task force received a tip that Reyes and Alfaro-Fuentes were hiding in a hotel in Los Angeles.

Mara Salvatrucha has its origins in the Salvadoran community in Los Angeles, and most of its members on both coasts are Salvadoran. McNulty said Reyes and Alfaro-Fuentes, whose ages and home towns were not available yesterday, were Salvadoran natives who were in the United States illegally.

Reyes was initially held on an immigration charge, while Alfaro-Fuentes faced a warrant from another shooting in Herndon in March. Police alleged that Alfaro-Fuentes fired into a car full of rival gang members but did not hit anyone.

The indictment alleges that the pair killed Sandoval to "maintain and increase" their status in the gang and describes MS-13 as "a violent gang involved in a variety of criminal activities including auto thefts, threats, witness intimidation, aggravated assault and murder."

The indictment also notes that "new recruits were indoctrinated into MS-13 rules, which were ruthlessly enforced. One prominent rule encouraged MS-13 gang members to confront, fight and kill rival gang members, known as 'chavalas.' " Sandoval probably was seen as a "chavala," police said, and the Los Angeles-based 18th Street gang is the chief rival of Mara Salvatrucha.

Federal prosecutors in Alexandria have launched two other cases in gang-related killings but did not use the racketeering statutes. MS members Denis Rivera and Noe David Ramirez-Guardado were convicted of killing Joaquim Diaz, who they thought was a chavala.

Rivera and three other MS members have been charged in the slaying of Brenda Paz, a witness in the Diaz case, who violated another MS-13 rule: "silence about gang activity and [no] cooperation with law enforcement," according to the indictment. That case awaits trial, and prosecutors are seeking the death penalty in that case.

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