A federal jury convicted Jose Hipolito Cruz Diaz, a.k.a “Pirana,” 28, of Lanham, Md.; Omar Vasquez, a.k.a “Duke,” 28; and Henry Zelaya, 20, of conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise involving murder, robbery, obstruction of justice, and witness tampering, U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein for the District of Maryland and Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division at the U.S. Department of Justice announced on Monday.
Vasquez and Diaz were also convicted of conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering.
“Joining MS-13 is a ticket to federal prison. Forty-one alleged MS-13 gang members have been charged with federal crimes in Maryland.” Stated U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein.
“The young men who were convicted today probably will spend the rest of their lives in federal prison, and some of the remaining defendants may face death sentences.”
U.S. Attorney Rosenstein added, “The RICO statute is a powerful tool that allows us to prosecute gang members in federal court for the activities of the criminal organization they chose to join.”
“This conviction is a significant step in our efforts against one of the most violent and sophisticated gangs in the United States,” said Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division.
“We are committed to striking at organizations like MS-13 at every level – from the street thugs to the ringleaders. I commend the federal law enforcement officers and prosecutors who have been working side-by-side with local authorities to make a difference in the fight against violent crime.”
According to testimony presented at the seven-week trial, the defendants were MS-13 leaders who conspired from at least 2001 to April 2006 to operate an MS-13 enterprise in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties through a pattern of racketeering activity which included five murders in Maryland and one in Virginia; the use of deadly weapons including firearms, baseball bats, machetes, bottles or knives in the commission of numerous murders, attempted murders and assaults; assaults on an MS-13 gang member from El Salvador, juvenile females and rival gang members; kidnapping, robbery, obstruction of justice and witness tampering.
Trial testimony showed that Zelaya, leader of the MS-13 Teclas Locos Salvatruchos (TLS) clique, murdered Noel Gudiel, a rival gang member, on April 20, 2003 in Langley Park, Md. Zelaya and other MS-13 members sexually assaulted two juvenile females at a “skipping party” on May 12, 2003. Zelaya and MS-13 member Walter Noel Barahona assaulted a rival gang member on Oct. 21, 2003.
While in prison, Zelaya wrote letters to the TLS clique and other MS-13 gang members in which he: advised how the gang should operate while he was incarcerated; incited the gang members to continue engaging in violent acts; discussed how the gang should handle the leadership of his clique while he was incarcerated, including instructing an MS-13 member to make contact with other MS-13 members in El Salvador; and advised Barahona that a victim of a prior act of violence had not yet identified Barahona as a perpetrator of the crime.
Witnesses testified that Diaz was the leader of the Sailors Locos Salvatruchos Westside (SLSW) clique in Washington, D.C. Vasquez was sent from El Salvador to operate all the cliques in Maryland, Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia. On Jan. 21, 2005 Vasquez, Diaz and other MS-13 members drove to an apartment building in Fairfax, Virginia to look for rival gang members. Two MS-13 members shot at the crowd of youths sitting outside the building, murdering one juvenile male and injuring two other juveniles.
Special Agent in Charge Gregory K. Gant of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) stated, “The successful investigation and prosecution of the MS-13 gang members demonstrates how ATF and our law enforcement partners will not tire until we put the ‘worst of the worst’ violent offenders in jail for the rest of their lives. ATF will not tolerate the violence that the members of the MS-13 gang, or any criminal gang, instill in our communities. Today, with this verdict, we are sending a message that the strength of the criminal justice system is more powerful than the strength of the MS-13 gang.”
Assistant Special Agent in Charge Kevin R. Lewis, of the Baltimore Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation stated, “These convictions are a testament to the commitment of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies to stem the tide of violent crime in our communities. This should send a message to gang members, crews and other criminal enterprises that their violent activities will be aggressively investigated and prosecuted.”
“ICE works closely with our law enforcement partners to identify, disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal street gangs that endanger our communities,” said James A. Dinkins, Special Agent in Charge for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Baltimore. “Ensuring public safety is among the most important homeland security missions of ICE and gang enforcement is a crucial part of that mission.”
“I appreciate the dedication of the police investigators and members of the U.S. Attorney's Office who worked tirelessly to investigate and prosecute this case,” Colonel Thomas E. Hutchins, Secretary of the Maryland Department of State Police said. “The Maryland State Police will remain a committed partner in outstanding efforts like this that interrupt and dismantle the operations of criminal gangs.”
Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger stated, “These convictions serve as a perfect example of what inter-agency coordination and cooperation can accomplish. The law enforcement community is committed to coordinating efforts at the state and federal level to combat gang-related crime; and it is making a positive impact throughout the region. I am pleased see the success of this trial and commend the various agencies who participate in the ATF R.A.G.E. Task Force and the United States Attorney’s Office for their hard work in this case.”
Colonel David Rohrer, Chief, Fairfax County Police Department, said “I appreciate and commend the cooperative efforts of my detectives, other local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, and the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Maryland for this investigation, prosecution, and conviction. The message is clear that we do not, and will not, tolerate violent crime.”
Each defendant faces a maximum sentence of life in prison for conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise. U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow scheduled sentencing for Zelaya on July 6, 2007 at 9:00 a.m., for Vasquez on Aug. 6, 2007 at 2:00 p.m., and for Diaz on Aug. 10, 2007 at 2:00 p.m.
To date, this office has charged 41 gang members with various federal offenses, with 26 defendants charged in this RICO conspiracy case. Twelve MS-13 gang members have been convicted in this RICO conspiracy case. Edgar Alberto Ayala, age 29, of Suitland, Maryland and Oscar Ramos Velasquez, age 21, of Baltimore, were convicted at trial by a federal jury in November 2006 of the racketeering conspiracy and face a maximum sentence of life at their sentencing on May 21, 2007.
Seven defendants, all of Maryland, have pleaded guilty, including Barahona, age 23, of Hyattsville, who was sentenced on April 16, 2007 to 14 years in prison; Ronaldo Diaz Vasquez, age 26, of Wheaton, who was sentenced on April 2, 2007 to nine years in prison; Franklin Mejia Molina, age 23, of Silver Spring, who was sentenced on December 4, 2006 to over 9 years (114 months) in prison; and Juan Lopez, age 21, of Riverdale, who was sentenced on October 16, 2006 to 87 months in prison, all for racketeering conspiracy. Jose Pena Aguilar, age 25, of Beltsville, was sentenced to 10 years in prison on November 6, 2006 for using a firearm in furtherance of a racketeering conspiracy, to be served consecutive to a 20 year sentence received in the Circuit Court, Prince George’s County for attempted murder.
U.S. Attorney Rosenstein expressed his appreciation for the investigative work performed by the ATF; the Prince George’s County Police Department; the FBI; U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); the Montgomery County Department of Police; the Howard County Police Department; the Maryland National Capital Park Police; the Maryland State Police and the Fairfax County, Virginia Police Department.
U.S. Attorney Rosenstein also recognized Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Glenn F. Ivey, Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy, and Fairfax County, Virginia, Commonwealth’s Attorney Robert F. Horan, Jr., for the assistance that they and their offices provided.
Jim Kouri, CPP is currently fifth vice-president of the National Association of Chiefs of Police. He's former chief at a New York City housing project in Washington Heights nicknamed "Crack City" by reporters covering the drug war in the 1980s. In addition, he served as director of public safety at a New Jersey university and director of security for a number of organizations. He's also served on the National Drug Task Force and trained police and security officers throughout the country. He writes for many police and crime magazines including Chief of Police, Police Times, The Narc Officer, Campus Law Enforcement Journal, and others. He's appeared as on-air commentator for over 100 TV and radio news and talk shows including Oprah, McLaughlin Report, CNN Headline News, MTV, Fox News, etc. His book Assume The Position is available at Amazon.Com, Booksamillion.com, and can be ordered at local bookstores. Kouri holds a bachelor of science in criminal justice and master of arts in public administration and he's a board certified protection professional.