19 Suspected Members of MS-13 Gang Are Indicted
Friday, August 26, 2005
Nineteen men have been indicted on federal racketeering charges in the most aggressive legal assault in the Washington region on a Latino street gang believed by police to be responsible for a growing list of violent crimes.
It is the first racketeering case brought in Maryland against Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, and the latest sign of increased federal involvement in the effort to combat gangs.
The sweeping indictment -- and the resources devoted to obtaining it -- reflect the level of alarm over a group that was little known outside law enforcement circles and the neighborhoods in which it operates as recently as five years ago.
The indictment accuses the 19 alleged MS-13 members of six murders and four attempted murders in suburban Maryland between April 2003 and June 14. Nine of the 10 attacks occurred in Prince George's County; one was in Montgomery County. It also says the defendants conspired to commit kidnapping, robbery and obstruction of justice.
It ascribes a greater level of sophistication and structure to MS-13 than authorities had previously alleged.
According to the indictment, leaders of MS-13 factions from across the United States meet in person and communicate on cell phones to discuss rules and activities. Dues paid at meetings are passed along to support members in prison in the United States and in El Salvador. And members are required to commit acts of violence to stay in good standing.
Among the local cliques that belong to MS-13 are the Sailors Locos Salvatruchos Westside, the Teclas Locos Salvatruchos and the Langley Park Salvatruchos, the indictment says.
Flanked by law enforcement officials from Maryland and Northern Virginia at the federal courthouse in Greenbelt yesterday, Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said during a news conference yesterday that MS-13 members "are in danger of going to federal prison for the rest of their lives." Federal racketeering carries a maximum penalty of life in prison, and there is no parole in the federal criminal justice system.
Prince George's State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey, whose office has obtained convictions against several alleged MS-13 members for murder and assaults, said, "The key is the federal prosecutors are viewed as the sledgehammer as opposed to our hammer."
Rosenstein said agents from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local police officers -- 320 law enforcers in all -- fanned out at 1:30 a.m. yesterday to arrest nine of the suspects. The rest were already in custody on state charges.
The investigation was conducted by the Regional Anti-Gang Enforcement Task Force, which includes federal, local and state law enforcement agencies.
Rosenstein and other officials would not detail which suspect is tied to which crime. Rosenstein also deflected questions about what investigators have learned about the structure and leadership of MS-13. Such details will be revealed in court, he said.