The FBI had found an informant in one of Northern Virginia’s — and the nation’s — most violent street gangs. He secretly taped meetings and identified leaders of the Virginia Locos Salvatrucha, a local arm of MS-13. He had a special agent’s number in an FBI-issued phone.
On Monday, that informant was convicted in a deadly kidnapping.
Dublas Lazo is one of eight young men who helped lure Carlos Otero Henriquez to a brutal death in a West Virginia quarry in May 2016. Otero Henriquez was targeted because he had been advertising his affiliation with the rival 18th Street gang.
Four others were found guilty Monday in connection with the killing; three more pleaded guilty and testified at trial. A gang associate was also convicted Monday of lesser crimes.
Otero Henriquez’s mother and father had attended the three-week trial in federal court in Alexandria. Often with hands clasped and heads bowed, they listened as their son’s killers took the stand and described his death in awful detail, down to the sound his chest made as he was repeatedly stabbed.
The victim’s mother smiled slightly as the verdict was read Monday afternoon. Prosecutors and gang task force members hugged her.
In closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney Morris Parker said Lazo was “double dealing” and never truly came over to the side of the law.
Even before Lazo began wearing a wire, the gang was under federal surveillance.
That January, a young man named Johnny Reyes told his brother that members of the VLS were demanding he pay them “rent” or die. His brother went to the police officer at his school, and soon Reyes was recording the extortion meetings.
Defense attorneys suggested that if members of the gang believed to be linked to the extortion were arrested then, or if the FBI had worked as closely with Lazo as they did with Reyes, Otero Henriquez would still be alive. Prosecutors pushed back hard on those assertions.
“It’s absurd to suggest . . . that the FBI was supposedly responsible for the death of Carlos Otero Henriquez,” Parker said in closing arguments.
Lazo had been in jail that spring and agreed to cooperate with law enforcement. His attorney, Robert Jenkins, said he gave useful information about the gang.
But six weeks later Lazo drove the van that took Otero Henriquez to his death. The 18-year-old had been told they were going to a party. While Otero Henriquez was interrogated and stabbed more than 50 times, Lazo served as lookout.
He argued that he could not have stopped the killing or reported it immediately, because clique leader Wilmar Javier Viera Gonzalez had taken all the other men’s phones.
“They just murdered a man; they just stabbed him to death,” Jenkins said in closing arguments. “Is he supposed to snatch his phone from [Viera Gonzalez] and dial 911?”
Lazo did ultimately confess, after being arrested about two weeks after the slaying for a probation violation. While outside the Leesburg Police Department smoking a cigarette with the detective who recruited him as an informant, Lazo told the story. The others were arrested.
Lazo told the detective, T.R. Allen, that Otero Henriquez was not “street smart.” Andres Velasquez Guevara, a gang hanger-on who helped lure Otero Henriquez to his death after seeing his Facebook photos flashing 18th Street signs, said he doubted the teenager was actually in the gang.
“He just wanted to do something that he wasn’t,” Guevara testified through a Spanish interpreter. “It seemed to me he was not behaving according to his age.” He said some people called Otero Henriquez “Princesa” because he was “acting like a girl.”
He also claimed that he suspected the gang “wanted to do something” to Otero Henriquez but had no idea his friend would be killed.
According to Allen, Lazo said everyone involved was well aware Otero Henriquez would die that night. Lazo and the others insisted they were surprised and terrified that night and acted only under pressure from Viera Gonzalez.
“I have never liked violence,” Lelis Ezequiel Treminio Tobar testified, also speaking Spanish. “I was shaking; my whole body was shaking.”
He was convicted of crimes including kidnapping resulting in death, as were Lazo, Viera Gonzalez and four others. They all face mandatory life sentences. Guevara was convicted of conspiracy to commit kidnapping and faces up to life in prison. One member of the gang was convicted Monday only on charges related to the extortion.
Treminio Tobar said he came to the United States from El Salvador four years ago to escape MS-13. But he became friends with a recruiter for the VLS identified in court as “Espectro.” He got involved with the gang. On the night of Otero Henriquez’s death, he said he participated reluctantly.
“I did not want to grab [the knife],” he testified. “It was all bloody. . . . I just wanted to go home.”
After the slaying, he later told FBI agents, he had trouble eating and sleeping. He and Lazo both cried when they confessed.
Prosecutors said any such shows of emotion were too little, too late.
“Those tears weren’t tears of sympathy for Carlos Otero Henriquez,” Parker said. “Those were tears of misery and regret.”