Gang Members Describe Life Inside MS-13

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 18, 2006

There wasn't a lot of discussion when members of the MS-13 street gang ran into Noel B. Gudiel on a Langley Park street more than three years ago.

According to court testimony, one went behind Gudiel and began flashing MS-13 hand signs. Another tapped Gudiel with a baseball bat. A third grabbed Gudiel and threw him to the ground. Gudiel stood up and vowed revenge. Then a gang member killed him.

"Homeboy shot him," gang member Jose "Stomper" Constanza said matter-of-factly as he testified last week in a gang racketeering trial in federal court in Greenbelt.

Constanza, who witnessed the killing, said Gudiel was killed because he was believed to be in an enemy gang. When a federal prosecutor asked how he knew Gudiel was with a rival gang, Constanza, a leader of an MS-13 clique, replied: "I didn't know exactly. I'd heard rumors he'd been jumped in."

Constanza's testimony provided a detailed and often chilling glimpse into the workings of MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha. Constanza and other MS-13 members who are cooperating with the government have described a world in which gang members with nicknames such as "Killer Bill," "Scorpion" and "Gangster" met regularly to pay dues and discuss gang rules. The gang meted out punishment, in the form of beatings or worse, for infractions.

Clique leaders were required to consult with gang leaders in El Salvador. Members had to fight the members of rival gangs. The rules included prohibitions against using crack cocaine, saying the word "red" or wearing that color.

But for all the efforts to impose order, the lives of gang members were often chaotic, with many violent incidents erupting when MS-13 members were drinking heavily, according to testimony.

The gang, composed primarily of immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, has been responsible for dozens of violent attacks in the Washington region in recent years, according to law enforcement officials.

A federal indictment issued last year accused MS-13 of six homicides and four attempted homicides in suburban Maryland between April 2003 and June 2005. The Gudiel slaying, on April 20, 2003, was one of the slayings included in the indictment.

Federal prosecutors allege that MS-13 is far more structured than most neighborhood gangs, with contacts that reach to Los Angeles and El Salvador.

Constanza's testimony came as the government put on its case against Oscar Ramos "Casper" Velasquez, 21, of Baltimore and Edgar Alberto "Pony" Ayala, 29, of Suitland. Neither is accused of murder.

Velasquez is accused of helping set up a gang rape of two teenage girls May 12, 2003, and of assaulting rival gang members outside a Langley Park nightclub in September 2004.

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