Four men arrested after Montgomery County Police interrupted a robbery at a Wheaton apartment Tuesday night are suspected members of the Salvadoran street gang MS-13, police and county officials said yesterday.
“They’re four members of MS-13 allegedly involved in criminal conduct who are now behind bars,” said Montgomery County state’s attorney Douglas F. Gansler. “We are operating under the assumption they are MS-13 members.”
The suspects — Victor Ramirez and Jose Domingo Hernandez, both 20 and of no fixed address, Juan Hernandez-Jimenez, 20, of Beltsville, and Jovet Ivarroca, 17, of Gaithersburg — were arrested when officers went to an apartment in the 2300 block of Blueridge Avenue in Wheaton at about 9 p.m. to serve a carjacking suspect with an arrest warrant.
Cpl. Sonia Pruitt, a Montgomery County police spokeswoman, said that the apartment is a known brothel in the area and that the carjacking suspect did not live at the apartment.
“It was pretty much unrelated and coincidental that they knocked on the door and there was a crime afoot,” Cpl. Pruitt said.
Cpl. Pruitt said officers knocked on the apartment door and heard someone tell them to come inside. After entering, police found four victims — three men, ages 41, 23 and 21, and a 24-year-old woman — bound and lying on the floor.
The woman had been raped, and all of the victims had been robbed, Cpl. Pruitt said.
Police charged the suspects with first-degree rape and several counts of armed robbery. Mr. Gansler said three of the suspects — Mr. Hernandez, Mr. Hernandez-Jimenez and Mr. Ivarroca — are being held in the Montgomery County Detention Center without bail.
Mr. Ramirez, who authorities said might not have been directly involved in the rape, is being held on a $1 million bond. All four of the men have a preliminary hearing set for Dec. 9.
It was not clear whether the suspects were illegal aliens. Mr. Gansler said members of MS-13 often are here illegally, but not in every case.
“Some are illegal, some are not,” he said. “Obviously there’s different ramifications under the law. Deportation is certainly something considered if they’re illegal.”
MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, was formed in Los Angeles in 1980 by immigrants from El Salvador. The gang has been most active in the D.C. area and in Northern Virginia, and has a growing presence in Montgomery County.
In August, two teens were stabbed at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring and four at a Target store in Wheaton. Twelve persons thought to be members of MS-13, which federal officials have described as an organized crime group, were taken into custody in connection with those attacks.
Cpl. Pruitt said police think two of the male victims in Tuesday’s robbery — the 41-year-old from Rockville and the 23-year-old from Aspen Hill — were customers at the brothel who arrived while the robbery was taking place. It was not clear whether the suspects were customers as well, she said.
“We believe that the second two victims were customers,” Cpl. Pruitt said. “That’s our belief. There’s a whole lot to this that is still being checked out and investigated.”