MS-13's Primary Goal Is Killing, Prosecutor Says at Start of Trial

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Members of the MS-13 street gang live by the motto "We kill, we rape, we control" and follow the orders of leaders known as "The Word," a prosecutor said yesterday as the federal racketeering trial of two alleged gang members began.

MS-13, a violent Latino gang also known as Mara Salvatrucha, has rules that include a standing edict to kill rival gang members, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra Wilkinson said in her opening statement in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt.

"The objective of the gang is to kill people," Wilkinson said.

Prosecutors said in court papers that the gang has 10,000 members in 10 states and the District, as well as in El Salvador, Honduras and Mexico. Wilkinson said MS-13 has many cliques, which she compared to business franchises.

Each clique has a leader, "The Word," and each leader has a top lieutenant, "The Second," Wilkinson said.

The defendants, Oscar Ramos "Casper" Velasquez, 21, of Baltimore and Edgar Alberto "Pony" Ayala, 28, of Suitland, are the first two of 19 scheduled to go on trial. They are being tried under the federal RICO law, which was enacted in the early 1970s to target Mafia groups.

MS-13 gang members have conspired to commit murder, rape, kidnapping and robbery and to obstruct justice by attacking or intimidating witnesses, federal prosecutors allege in their original indictment and two superseding indictments.

The original indictment charges the gang with six homicides and four attempted murders between April 2003 and June 2005. Eight of the attacks were in Prince George's County, the other two in Montgomery County.

A superseding murder indictment handed up last week cites an additional case, from January 2005, when, it alleges, two MS-13 gang members fired into a group of youths sitting outside an apartment building in Fairfax County. One man was killed and two juveniles were wounded in that assault.

Neither Velasquez nor Ayala is charged with murder. Neither faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted, although nine defendants do.

In their opening arguments, defense attorneys for Velasquez and Ayala said prosecutors were trying to convict their clients for the actions of others.

Gary A. Ticknor, Ayala's defense attorney, told jurors that President Harry S. Truman was a member of the Ku Klux Klan for a time. "You can be a member of a horrible organization and be a decent human being," he said.

Richard C. Bittner, Velasquez's attorney, said the government's case against his client amounts to "guilt by association."

According to prosecutors, Velasquez and others accused of being MS-13 members sexually assaulted two teenage girls at a "skipping party" -- in which students ditch school -- May 12, 2003. In her opening statement, Wilkinson said Velasquez wielded a gun during the assault, adding that the victims were 15 and 16 at the time.

Velasquez is also accused of helping assault rival gang members outside a Langley Park nightclub in September 2004 and of attending an MS-13 meeting at which dues were paid.

Ayala is accused of driving with fellow gang members to the Fairfax County apartment building where a man was fatally shot. Ayala is also accused of giving false testimony to a Prince George's grand jury that investigated the beating death of Ashley Antonio Urias in May 2004. Wilkinson said in her initial statement that Ayala was covering up for MS-13 members.

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