Gang Trial Hangs on Informant's Testimony

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 3, 2006

Noe "Shorty" Cruz knew that his fellow MS-13 gang members didn't care much for police informants. Members who turned on the gang to help the police were "rats," and the violent gang ethos called for them to have their tongues cut out.

So when a fellow gang member confronted him in a Riverdale parking lot with the words, "Ordoño sends his greetings," he knew he had to act quickly, Cruz said. "Ordoño" was Felipe Ordoño, a Prince George's County anti-gang police detective -- and the investigator who directed Cruz as he worked undercover for nearly two years.

Cruz said the taunt didn't surprise him. "I got angry," he later testified. Cruz said he told his fellow gang members to "stop talking such stupidity." The gang member responded that he was only joking, Cruz testified.

Federal prosecutors hope that Cruz's account of the heart-stopping confrontation, and his description of a multitude of crimes his fellow gang members committed, will help convince jurors that MS-13 is not a garden-variety street gang but a violent and international criminal enterprise.

Cruz, 25, is a key prosecution witness in the federal racketeering trial that is nearing an end in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. Attorneys gave their closing arguments yesterday.

Federal prosecutors have brought racketeering charges against 22 alleged members of MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha. The indictment accuses the gang of six murders and four attempted murders between April 2003 and June 2005 in Prince George's and Montgomery counties. Cruz testified against the first two defendants to go on trial: Oscar Ramos Velasquez, 21, known as "Casper," and Edgar Alberto Ayala, 29, who goes by the nickname "Pony."

Gary A. Ticknor, Ayala's attorney, said yesterday in his closing statement that his client did not participate in any murders or robberies and did nothing to intimidate witnesses. Velasquez's attorney, Richard C. Bittner, said the government's case against his client amounted to "guilt by association. He never committed a criminal wrong."

During nearly four days on the witness stand, Cruz described an array of criminal activities carried out by MS-13.

He testified that the gang robbed prostitution houses, videotaped two Prince George's County police officers and a federal agent and spoke of killing an officer, and that an MS-13 leader bemoaned Ordoño's "busting everybody."

Most of the activities Cruz described occurred in neighborhoods hugging the Prince George's and Montgomery borders, where many MS-13 members live.

According to the testimony of Cruz and Ordoño, this is how Cruz became a key informant:

Prince George's police had scores of photographs of MS-13 gang members but didn't know who they were. In December 2003, Ordoño visited Cruz in the county jail, hoping that Cruz would put names to some of the photos. Cruz was locked up for allegedly assaulting a girlfriend.

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