- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 19, 2007

Defense attorneys in the federal racketeering trial of three reputed members of the Hispanic gang MS-13 rested their case yesterday after calling just three witnesses.

The testimony concluded nearly six weeks of arguments in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt. Judge Deborah K. Chasanow asked the jurors hearing the case to return Tuesday morning for instructions and said that closing arguments would begin Wednesday.

If convicted, the defendants — Jose Cruz “Piranha” Diaz, 27, of Lanham; Omar “Duke” Vasquez. 28; and Henry “Homeboy” Zelaya, 20 — face life imprisonment.

The defense attempted to discredit government witness Noe “Shorty” Cruz, 27, who testified two weeks ago that he saw the three defendants at numerous meetings of MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha.

Zelaya’s attorney, Tim Mitchell, questioned Donald Robinson, an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, about how much federal agents paid Cruz from June 2005 to March 2006 for information that Cruz gathered for authorities from MS-13 meetings and members.

The total was nearly $95,500, which included the costs of covering or removing tattoos and moving expenses — including moves to and from Tennessee — as Cruz changed residences to avoid gang suspicions.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Trusty cross-examined Mr. Robinson, asking, “When he was removed from Tennessee, was it because he had been shot at?”

Manuel J. Retureta, the attorney representing Diaz, questioned Andrew Arnold, a representative of Sprint Nextel, who said that phone records indicated Diaz’s cell phone was in use in the area of Prince George’s County from 7 p.m. to after 9 p.m. on Jan. 21, 2005.

Prosecutors had placed Diaz at the scene of a gang-related murder in Virginia at that time.

But under questioning from Assistant U.S. Attorney Chan Park, Mr. Arnold said there was no way to know whether Diaz or someone else was using the cell phone at that time.

The FBI has labeled MS-13 the deadliest street gang in the United States. The gang reportedly has more than 10,000 members in 10 states, the District, Mexico and Central America. Much of the trial testimony attempted to establish links between local gang cliques and leaders in El Salvador, including active members in prisons there.

The three men on trial are among 22 defendants indicted on federal racketeering charges in 2005 involving as many as six killings, sexual assaults, kidnapping, robberies, obstruction of justice and witness tampering. Two were found guilty in November. Eight have pleaded guilty. All await sentencing.


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