- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Attorneys in the case of three purported MS-13 gang leaders on trial for racketeering charges connected to killings, robberies and assaults are expected to conclude their closing arguments today.

U.S. District Court Judge Deborah Chasanow will then give the case to jurors, who have been listening to witnesses and looking at evidence for seven weeks in the Greenbelt courthouse.

The defendants — Jose Cruz “Piranha” Diaz, 27, of Lanham; Omar “Duke” Vasquez, 28, and Henry “Homeboy” Zelaya, 20 — face life in prison if found guilty.

“It is not a fraternity. It is not a social club,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Chan Park said yesterday. “MS-13 is a criminal enterprise pure and simple.”

During his 90-minute closing argument, Mr. Park also said “MS-13 begins with violence” and “If you don’t follow the rules, you get beaten; you get killed.”

Mr. Park said the racketeering and conspiracy charges do not require that evidence links defendants directly to a crime. Much of the evidence presented over the past weeks attempted to show the defendant are leaders of MS-13.

“We are not prosecuting MS-13,” he said. “We are prosecuting the leaders of MS-13. … Without them, MS-13 wouldn’t be here…. Make them responsible for making MS-13 work. Hold them accountable for their actions.”

Manuel J. Retureta, attorney for Mr. Diaz, held up a rifle, four handguns, a T-shirt numbered 13 and other prosecution evidence, then said: “These have nothing to do with Mr. Jose Cruz Diaz.”

Mr. Retureta also said the testimony of several key witnesses is questionable because they were gang members who had already pleaded guilty or had been convicted and were looking for reduced prison sentences.

Mr. Retureta and Joe Gigliotti, attorney for Mr. Vasquez, focused much of their closing arguments on prosecution witness Emilia Masaya, 22, who immigrated with her family from Guatemala when she was a teenager and joined the Sailors clique.

Masaya, who has admitted to lying previously to a grand jury and who sat with her back to the defendants when testifying, never mentioned Mr. Diaz, said Mr. Retureta.

He also said Masaya is the wife of Santos “Curly” Maximos Garcia, 28, who was indicted with 21 others in August on charges of conspiring to operate a racketeering enterprise that resulted in six murders, six attempted murders in Maryland, kidnapping, robberies and obstruction of justice.

Two defendants have been convicted and 11 have pleaded guilty in the case. All await sentencing.

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