MS-13 Case Adds Salvadoran Inmates

Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales discusses the indictment of three Salvadoran prisoners in an ongoing case against the MS-13 gang.
Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales discusses the indictment of three Salvadoran prisoners in an ongoing case against the MS-13 gang. (By Win Mcnamee -- Getty Images)
By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 6, 2007

While jailed in their home country, Salvadoran leaders of the MS-13 street gang directed fellow members in suburban Maryland to commit violent crimes, including murders, federal officials said yesterday.

According to an indictment announced yesterday by Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and other federal law enforcement officials, one MS-13 leader who was in jail in El Salvador, Saul Antonio Turcios Angel, also known as "Trece," called local gang members from his cell Oct. 9, 2005, to tell them to kill members of rival gangs.

Eris Marchante-Rivas and Victor Ramirez, both alleged members of Teclas Locos Salvatruchos, an MS-13 clique in Maryland, responded that day by fatally shooting two men in Riverdale, prosecutors said.

The two men who were killed, Jose Cerda and Edward Trujillo, were targeted because they were believed to be members of a rival gang, said an investigator with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, who declined to be identified because the case is ongoing. ATF is part of a task force of local and federal investigators who have been probing MS-13 and other Latino gangs since 2003.

In addition to Turcios Angel, two other gang leaders from El Salvador are charged in the new indictment: Dany Fredy Ramos Mejia, also known as "Sisco," and Rigoberto Del Transito Mejia Regaldo, also known as "Ski."

All three are incarcerated in their home country. Ramos Mejia is serving 16 years for having weapons of war, attempted robbery and kidnapping; Turcios Angel is awaiting trial on an attempted murder charge; and Mejia Regaldo is awaiting trial on a murder charge.

According to prosecutors, on Aug. 21, 2005, Mejia Regaldo killed a man named Anber Juarez Sanchez in Howard County. Mejia Regaldo committed that crime because he believed the victim was a member of the rival 18th Street gang, the ATF investigator said.

Gonzales and Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said the indictment underscores the international scope of the criminal activities of MS-13, which is also known as Mara Salvatrucha. The gang is composed primarily of immigrants from El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico and Guatemala. Federal officials estimate it has a presence in 40 states.

The indictment, handed up by a grand jury in federal court in Greenbelt, also demonstrates the willingness of MS-13 members to engage in "acts of violence just for the sake of violence," said Michael J. Sullivan, acting director of ATF.

Rosenstein said the United States has no extradition treaty with El Salvador, so the only way the three Salvadorans would serve time in the United States would be if they were arrested here or in a country in which the United States has a treaty, or if El Salvador changes its laws.

The three slayings bring to eight the number of killings federal officials allege that MS-13 members committed in Maryland from 2003 to 2005. Members committed another homicide in Northern Virginia during that time period, according to a previous indictment.

Federal officials say the killings were part of a broad enterprise engaged in by members of MS-13.

In August 2005, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Maryland announced the indictment of 22 MS-13 members who were charged under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, or RICO. The act has been successfully used to prosecute gangs in Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta and Utah over the past decade.

Including the three Salvadoran defendants whose indictments were announced yesterday, 30 defendants have been charged in the Maryland RICO case.

Five defendants who have gone to trial have been convicted by two federal juries in Greenbelt of racketeering charges. Another nine have pleaded guilty to racketeering or related charges.

In addition to the alleged edict from Turcios Angel, other gang leaders from El Salvador have attempted to order the deaths of rival gang members, according to testimony. Last fall, during the trial of the first two defendants, government witnesses testified that MS-13 leaders in El Salvador sent two Salvadoran gang members to suburban Maryland. One of the Salvadorans told local gang members that they should kill two rival gang members a week, but local gang leaders rejected that idea because it would invite too much attention from law enforcement, according to testimony.

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