Outlaw gangs

August 30, 2005

THE RULES that MS-13 gang members live by should prove to be their undoing in Maryland. A federal grand jury last week indicted 19 alleged members of the notorious Salvadoran-based gang in a case that seeks to convict individuals for brutal crimes but also to dismantle a ruthless organization. The case illustrates the potential for results when local police team up with federal agencies to attack entrenched criminal gangs. This prosecution should provide a reading on U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein's commitment to "secure the safety and improve the quality of life" of Maryland citizens.

In indicting the 19 alleged gang members, prosecutors are relying on the Mafia-busting federal racketeering law. The accused are charged with six murders and four attempted murders, most in Prince George's County. But the real power of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act lies in its ability to dismantle Mara Salvatrucha, nicknamed MS-13, whose name loosely translates to "Salvadoran gang, fear us." It has been used in other cities successfully and carries life sentences.

To win a conviction under RICO, prosecutors will have to prove that the defendants are part of an organized criminal enterprise and not just a bunch of thugs who fancy gang lingo, colors and tattoos. The indictment suggests that local groups are akin to franchises of a national organization that has meetings, discusses business via cell phone, collects dues and measures good standing by the violent acts committed in its name.

Gang activity in Prince George's and Montgomery counties has become so menacing that officials are including warnings about the groups in back-to-school messages. The joint investigation of the MS-13 gang by Prince George's police and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives offers a powerful combination of local crime intelligence and federal investigative resources. Such cooperation sends a message that needs no explanation - the corrupting influence of gangs on our teenagers won't be tolerated.

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