One suspect attended meetings where fellow gang members plotted to kill a police officer, another directed an attack that left a teenage girl dead and a third was "smack dab in the middle of two homicides," a federal prosecutor said yesterday, urging a judge not to release on bond those alleged members of a violent Latino gang indicted in Maryland last week.
As some of the 19 suspects appeared in court for bond hearings on federal racketeering charges, Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra Wilkinson provided details of their alleged offenses and, in the process, shed more light on how prosecutors believe Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, operated in the Washington suburbs.
"This is what they do: They hurt people and brag about it at these meetings," she told U.S. Magistrate Judge Jillyn K. Schulze.
Schulze ordered four of the men detained and scheduled hearings for four others at the request of defense attorneys who said they needed time to investigate their clients' circumstances. Five were previously denied bond; six are awaiting hearings.
The sweeping indictment announced last week accuses the 19 alleged members of MS-13 of committing six murders and four attempted murders between April 2003 and this June. Eight of the attacks occurred in Prince George's County, the other two in Montgomery County.
The 10-page indictment alleges that the defendants conspired to commit kidnapping, robbery and obstruction of justice. It also alleges that MS-13 leaders from throughout the nation meet in person and communicate on cell phones to discuss gang rules and activities. The indictment alleges that MS-13 members are required to commit acts of violence to stay in good standing.
The indictment does not accuse any of the defendants of specific attacks. Officials from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Prince George's police, which along with other law enforcement agencies are collaborating on the investigation, have declined to divulge how investigators penetrated the gang.
Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein said further details would emerge in court, and they began to yesterday.
Wilkinson told Schulze that Ronaldo Diaz Vasquez, 25, also known as Duende, took part in at least two meetings in which gang members discussed killing a police officer. None of the defendants are charged with trying to kill a police officer, and no attempts on any officer's life by an MS-13 member in the Washington area have been reported.
The prosecutor also said that Diaz Vasquez had admitted to investigators that he is a member of MS-13. Investigators found a machete at his Wheaton home, Wilkinson said, adding that machetes are a "weapon of choice" for the gang.
Investigators seized from Diaz Vasquez "jail mail" from fellow gang members, and some letters made reference to "carrying machetes proudly for MS-13," Wilkinson said.
Allen H. Orenberg, Diaz Vasquez's defense attorney, told Schulze that his client lives with his parents and two brothers and had been working "pretty regularly" as a roofer and a day laborer. Diaz Vasquez expected to be rehired at an auto repair shop in Bethesda, Orenberg said.
In another hearing, Wilkinson alleged that Israel Ernesto Palacios, 28, directed the October 2004 attack in which two teenage girls were abducted, taken to an Adelphi cemetery and shot. Nancy Diaz-Cruz, 17, was killed, and a 15-year-old girl was wounded. Investigators found a machete in Palacios's Silver Spring home, Wilkinson said.
Peter Goldman, Palacios's defense attorney, told Schulze that his client, also known as Homie, has lived in the United States for seven years and has never been convicted of a crime in this country. Palacios has worked for more than two years as a carpenter in Baltimore and supports two young children, Goldman said.
In a third case, Wilkinson said Edgar Alberto Ayala, 28, also known as Pony, was involved in two homicides and is a leader of one of the MS-13 factions. Two machetes were found at the Wheaton home where Ayala lives with his father, his wife and other relatives, Wilkinson said.
Ayala's brother, Alexis Ayala, 22, was sentenced in March by a Prince George's Circuit Court judge to 30 years in prison for the May 2004 murder of a man beaten to death in a cemetery in Suitland. Alexis Ayala pleaded guilty to second-degree murder; prosecutors said that Ayala and two other men are members of MS-13 and that they beat the victim because they believed he was with a rival gang.