A leader of a Latino street gang that took four lives and scarred countless others in a bid to eliminate its rivals was sentenced yesterday to 151 years in prison for his part in the conspiracy.
Oscar Chavez, who had come home to the District after going absent without leave from the Marines, was convicted in D.C. Superior Court of murder in three of the slayings. Prosecutors portrayed him as the driving force behind the violence of Vatos Locos, or "Crazy Guys."
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"Where Oscar Chavez went, violence followed," Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin F. Flynn told Judge Patricia A. Broderick, who presided over a two-month trial last year.
Chavez's return in 2001, after going AWOL and being discharged from the Marine Corps, appeared to bring out the most violent acts among members of Vatos Locos, Flynn said. In light of that, he said, it was imperative that Chavez never again be free.
"If this . . . man were ever to see the streets of Washington, D.C., again, there would be hell to pay," said Flynn, who tried the case with Assistant U.S. Attorney Angela S. George.
Chavez, 24, took the stand at trial and denied having even heard of Vatos Locos. Yesterday, he again denied any role in the killings or conspiracy in remarks to the judge.
"I got found guilty of charges that I got nothing to do with," he said, his hands cuffed behind his back.
One of 12 people charged in the conspiracy, Chavez and two others went to trial after most of the defendants cut deals and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors. Several gang members testified for the government, and in court yesterday, Chavez accused them of implicating him to help themselves. "They were willing to say anything to get their time reduced," he said.
But after deliberating for several days, jurors convicted Chavez and his co-defendants, Enrique Morales and Juan Castillo-Campus, in December of conspiracy and murder.
The violence unfolded from 2001 to 2003 in Northwest Washington, with Vatos Locos targeting rival gangs Mara R, also known as La Raza or La R, and STC, short for Street Thug Criminals or Street Criminals, prosecutors said. Like other Latino gangs in the District and its suburbs, Vatos Locos was made principally of young men with roots in El Salvador.
Chavez was convicted of first-degree murder in the July 2002 killing of Walter Villatoro, 22, a member of Mara R, and the September 2002 killing of Antonio Gonzalez, 23, a member of STC. He also was convicted of second-degree murder in the October 2002 shooting of Willian Lazo, 20, a member of STC who was slain on the track behind Roosevelt High School, at 13th and Upshur streets NW.
Police and prosecutors believe that the investigation and the eventual convictions of Chavez and 10 other Vatos Locos members diminished the reach of the tight-knit gang. Now, Flynn said, they hope that the sentence handed down yesterday will serve as a warning to young people in and around the District to avoid gangs and the violence they breed.