- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 25, 2005

Early morning police raids yesterday in Silver Spring and parts of Prince George’s County netted nine of the 19 MS-13 members who have been indicted in the most serious federal crackdown on the street gang to date.

The case marks the first known time that the federal government has prosecuted members of MS-13 for being part of a criminal organization, using a law that was created to break up the Mafia.

“MS-13 is an organized crime gang group,” said Rod J. Rosenstein, U.S. attorney for Maryland. “We have strong tools to fight gang violence and we are going to use those tools here in Maryland.”

Mr. Rosenstein announced that 19 men were indicted Tuesday on federal racketeering crimes of murder, attempted murder, and other acts of criminal conspiracy under the RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) statute.

At least seven of the MS-13 members are thought to be illegal aliens, because they did not have Social Security numbers, a law-enforcement official said. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials placed detainers on at least three of the gang members so that if they are ever released they will be deported.

ICE took 14 illegal aliens who were associates of the gang members into custody during the raids yesterday and began the deportation process.

The youngest gang member was 18, and a law-enforcement official said most of the gang members indicted were in leadership positions within MS-13 in Maryland.

All 19 face the same charge of “conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise known as La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.” They all face the same maximum sentence of life for crimes including six murders, five attempted murders, beatings, kidnappings, drive-by shootings and obstruction of justice.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said, “The violent activities of MS-13 represent a serious threat to the safety of our communities. We’re going to fight violent gangs with the same proven strategies and partnerships that have been successful in our efforts to confront organized criminal enterprises in the past.”

Ten of the indicted gang members were already in police custody for other crimes, including Santos Maximos Garcia, 28, of Silver Spring; and Nelson Bernal, 24, of Hyattsville, also known as Alfredo Sanchez. They were arrested Aug. 8 and charged with first-degree murder in Montgomery County, in connection with the stabbings at Springbrook High School and the Wheaton Target store on Aug. 5.

Mr. Bernal, whose nickname is “Lil Man,” is thought to have done the stabbing at Springbrook, where two teenagers were stabbed five or six times, police said. The victims survived the attacks.

Montgomery County State’s Attorney Douglas F. Gansler said the federal charges are superior to the state charges because in a state case, a jury often cannot be told if a defendant is a gang member, because it would be considered prejudicial.

Under the federal RICO charges, the joining of the gang to commit organized criminal gang activity is part of the crime, and can be made an integral part of the case.

Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said he was relieved to get federal help with the gang problem. He said that five of the six murders charged in the indictments, and four of the five attempted murders, occurred in Prince George’s.

“We’ve been facing major challenges in Prince George’s County when it comes to crime,” Mr. Ivey said. “The federal prosecutors are viewed as the sledgehammer, in addition to our hammer.”

Mr. Ivey said he hoped to have more success in local cases now that gang members are aware that federal prosecutors are involved.

The raids were carried out at 1:30 a.m. by 320 federal agents and local police, including about 120 agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which was the lead agency in the operation. Police executed search warrants in 21 locations.

Congress passed the RICO Act in 1970 to enable law enforcement to crack down on organized crime, and last week FBI officials said that MS-13 threatens to become just as organized in the U.S. as the Mafia once was.

Robert Clifford, director of the FBI’s MS-13 National Gang Task Force, organized a meeting last week with representatives from Central American governments and at least 80 law-enforcement officials from around the country. Afterward, Mr. Clifford said “unequivocally” that MS-13 is as organized in Central America as the Mafia was in the U.S.

“MS-13 is growing in power [in the U.S.] because there are immigrant communities springing up around the country. MS-13 members follow them because this is where they can engage in the extortion of these communities,” Mr. Clifford said. “It’s organized crime, it’s a criminal enterprise.”

The murders and other crimes charged in the indictment occurred between April 2003 and June 2005. According to the indictments:

• On April 20, 2003, MS-13 members beat and then fatally shot Noel Gudiel, a rival gang member, in Langley Park.

• On June 10, 2003, they tried to murder a juvenile rival gang member outside High Point High School in Beltsville.

• On Nov. 22, 2003, they stabbed Eliuth Madrigal to death in Silver Spring and fatally shot a fellow MS-13 member Randy Calderon, 15, in Mount Ranier.

• On May 21, 2004, they beat Ashley Antonio Urias, 38, to death at the Washington National Cemetery in Suitland.

• On Oct. 25, 2004, they kidnapped two juvenile females in Adelphi, murdering one and attempting to kill the second.

• On Mar. 26, 2005, they killed a juvenile male in a drive-by shooting in Hyattsville.

MS-13 AT A GLANCE

An early morning raid in Silver Spring and parts of Prince George’s County yesterday netted 19 accused members of the MS-13 gang.

(locations of the raids:

8124 14th Ave., No. 4, Hyattsville

1309 Merrimac Drive, Hyattsville

8439 12th Ave., Silver Spring

11455 Cherry Hill Road, Beltsville

5701 64th Place, Riverdale

4902 Madison St., Riverdale)

WHAT’S IN A NAME: MS-13 is short for Mara Salvatrucha, a violent gang formed in El Salvador that gained a foothold in the United States with the arrival of Central American immigrants. “Mara” means gang, “Salva” is short for El Salvador and “trucha” is slang for “fear us,” “look out,” or “heads up.” To be initiated, a prospective member is beaten for 13 seconds by other members.

GROWTH OF A GANG: Authorities say MS-13 is growing in the Washington region, especially in the Maryland suburbs and Northern Virginia. Montgomery County police think gang members were behind two separate stabbings earlier this month at a shopping mall and school.

FROM MAFIA TO MARA: The U.S. attorney’s office has charged the 19 men under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, known as RICO. The law was passed to combat organized crime groups such as the Mafia. It is now used for a wide variety of crimes.

Source: Associated Press; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

The Washington Times


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