- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2007

Federal prosecutors are expected to begin introducing more specific evidence today in the second week of an estimated eight-week trial for three members of the MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, gang on charges of racketeering that involved as many as five killings.

Most evidence introduced last week in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt was hundreds of photos, letters and apparent lists of gang members at meetings that named them mostly by their nicknames. Many photos were of tattoos.

On trial, showing little emotion while listening on earphones to Spanish translators, were Jose Cruz “Piranha” Diaz, 27, of Lanham; Omar “Duke” Vasquez, 28, and Henry “Home Boy” Zelaya, 20.

Little if any evidence last week specifically incriminated a defendant. Most evidence detailed members of cliques and the small communities of gang members.

“We’re going to prove to you that these three men participated in murder,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Jim Trusty told the jury of eight women and nine men.

Mr. Trusty said the first parts of the trial will be devoted to describing and explaining MS-13, which came together in the 1980s.

He said the defendants may not have participated directly in the killings, but the racketeering charges include planning killings, kidnapping, robbery, obstruction of justice and witness tampering. Conviction can result in life imprisonment.

“Some gang witnesses will logically be fearful as they face the defendants,” said Mr. Trusty, who expects 70 to 80 gang members will be summoned to testify.

In 2005, the FBI announced that MS-13 was the country’s most dangerous street gang. Formed in El Salvador, the gang is found in Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Canada and 25 U.S. states.

An estimated 10,000 members live in California, Maryland, Virginia, Arizona, Guatemala, Nevada and Washington, said Detective Frank Flores, of the Los Angeles Police Department.

A local federal grand jury indicted 22 reputed gang members in 2005 on charges of conspiracy, the killing of six persons, racketeering, assault with deadly weapons and four attempted murders related to this case. Eleven defendants have pleaded guilty or been found guilty.

In November, a federal jury in Greenbelt found Edgar Alberto “Pony” Ayala, 29, and Oscar Ramos “Casper” Velasquez, 21, guilty of racketeering. They will be sentenced in May and could be sentenced to life in prison.

Though several of the killings and other crimes occurred in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, much of last week’s photo and paperwork evidence was taken by law-enforcement authorities 15 months ago from a house in Woodbridge, Va.

Other evidence was secured in January 2003 when officers broke up an MS-13 meeting at Bull Run Regional Park on the boundary of Fairfax and Prince William counties in Virginia.

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