GREENBELT – Two suspected MS-13 gang members from Maryland are part of a nationwide criminal enterprise engaging in murder, burglary and obstruction of justice, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra Wilkinson in her opening statement Tuesday in the federal trial of Edgar Alberto “Pony” Ayala, 28, of Suitland, and Oscar Ramos “Casper” Velasquez, 21, of Baltimore.
Wilkinson outlined her case in U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland for proving that the two gang members should be convicted under federal Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization Act statutes. The RICO Act was originally designed to prosecute Mafia organizations and is being used for the first time here against Mara Salvatrucha, a gang prosecutors say started in California in the 1980s and has spread to 10 states, the District and at least two Central American countries.
The trial, expected to last six weeks and include as many as 80 witnesses, is the first in a series to come from a massive indictment on federal racketeering charges that accuses the gang of six homicides and four attempted homicides in Maryland between April 2003 and June 2005.
“You are going to understand what MS-13 is all about,” Wilkinson told the jury.
In the course of the trial, the government, she said, will lay bare the coordinated operations of a gang whose motto, “Mata, Viola, Controla” — which in Spanish means, “Kill. Rape. Control.” — is appallingly precise.
While neither Alaya nor Velasquez are charged with murder, both supported the gang’s activities, prosecutors allege.
If MS-13 is proven a criminal enterprise, Ayala and Velasquez’s ties to the gang could be enough to convict them on racketeering charges.
Ayala is accused of searching for a rival gang member with others in MS-13 on the same day that a man was shot to death and two others were wounded outside a Fairfax apartment building, according to the indictment. He is also charged with lying to a Prince George’s County grand jury investigating the murder of Ashley Antonio Urias, who was found beaten to death in Suitland in May 2004.
“My client has never killed anybody. My client has never raped anybody,” said Ayala’s attorney, Gary A. Ticknor, responding to talk about the gang’s motto. And the machete, a weapon associated with MS-13, that police found among Ayala’s belongings during a search last fall, Ticknor said, was used in his job clearing brush for a contractor.
Ticknor, while not explicitly acknowledging Ayala’s affiliation with MS-13, said, “You can be a member of an organization and not pursue its ends. You can be a member of a horrible organization and still be a good person.”
“You’re jumped-in when you’re young,” said Ticknor, referring to the initiation process where new members are beaten for 13 seconds by a group of existing gang members, “and you can’t get out. If you miss the meetings, you will be punished. If you don’t pay your dues, you’re punished.”
Velasquez is charged with sexually assaulting two juvenile girls and having a deadly weapon during a “train rape” with other gang members in 2003. He is also accused of assaulting a rival gang member outside a Langley Park nightclub in 2004.
His attorney, Richard C. Bittner, warned jurors not to overlook the motives of the government’s witnesses, some of whom avoided deportation by agreeing to testify, he said.
Using RICO, the government will have to prove the defendants associated with a criminal enterprise that engages in “a pattern of racketeering activities,” including murder, burglary and obstruction of justice, Wilkinson said.
Tuesday, Wilkinson described MS-13 as a network of “cliques” that function as criminal franchises, all following the same ruthless protocol regardless of geographic proximity.
Gang members are sworn to protect their territory and power from rival gangs, which, Wilkinson said, amounts to “a standing order to kill.” Members recruit persistently, lend financial and arms support to cliques in other regions and cross state lines to attend meetings, she said.
The meetings, Wilkinson said, are “not friendly. It’s not, ‘What movie did you see?’ It’s, ‘Who stabbed who?'” – 30 – CNS-9-26-06