Thursday, October 20, 2005

Three suspected MS-13 gang members were arrested in Vienna, Va., Wednesday night after police tracked their activity among Los Angeles, Massachusetts and Virginia for five months. One of the men is wanted for an MS-13-related slaying in Massachusetts. All three are illegal immigrants from El Salvador.

Alexander Dominguez, 24, is accused of shooting Miguel Mendez, 37, outside a house in New Bedford, Mass., in October 2004. He is wanted on a Massachusetts warrant and has been traveling with Jorge Alberto Platero Castillo and Jose Zosimo Platero Mercado, two suspected MS-13 members from Los Angeles. They were arrested by U.S. marshals at about 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Vienna apartment where they were staying.

“Dominguez had been traveling back and forth from Massachusetts, California and Northern Virginia,” said Tom O’Brien, a U.S. Marshal Service investigator.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials and the Virginia Violent Gangs Task Force are investigating why the men were in the region.

Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, a Salvadoran gang known for its violence, has been the subject of law-enforcement pressure in Northern Virginia over the past year. With officials keeping a sharp eye on possible gang activity in the area, investigators wonder why Mr. Dominguez would come to Vienna if his goal was to “lay low,” as some officials have suggested.

“I don’t know why you would come down to Vienna, Virginia, where there is a lot of pressure on gangs if you were going to hide out,” said Mike Campbell, a spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), which is investigating MS-13 activities throughout the country.

“We’re examining all leads with the Marshal Service on these guys,” said Dean Boyd, a spokesman for ICE. “Whether they were doing something here related to that is something we’re looking into.”

There is no consensus among law-enforcement officials as to whether MS-13 is nationally organized or simply has different groups of members in different localities throughout the U.S. and El Salvador.

“I’ve had question, upon question, upon question if this is an international organization being run out of El Salvador, and the answer is ‘no,’ ” said Rich Marianos, a spokesman for the ATF. “In the 19 years of my gang experience, I’ve found that it is a common practice for members who are wanted in their own cities to assimilate into a city where they have members of their own gang. That’s a better way to equate the travel than saying they were hooking up.”

Mr. Dominguez will be returned to Massachusetts within the week to face murder charges. Mr. Mercado and Mr. Castillo are being deported to El Salvador.

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