New prosecutor will focus on gang crimes

Activity near Washington will likely be a top target

September 06, 2005|By Matthew Dolan | Matthew Dolan,SUN STAFF

Justice Department officials have approved funding of a new federal prosecutor to exclusively handle gang-related prosecutions inside Maryland's U.S. attorney's office.

The move comes after a sweeping indictment last month against 19 suspected members of the Hispanic gang MS-13 who were arrested on federal racketeering charges that include a string of homicides and attempted killings in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein, who took office this summer, said he told Justice Department officials that the state had an urgent need to beef up its prosecutorial resources to focus on gangs in suburban Washington and on gun-related crime in the Baltimore region.

His office has 65 prosecutors split between the state's two federal courts in Baltimore and Greenbelt. Rosenstein plans to fill five vacant slots within the next few months. A new agreement with the city will bring two additional prosecutors to Baltimore to handle gun-related prosecutions.

It was unclear where the new gang prosecutor will work. Rosenstein said Greenbelt would be the likely choice because an organized-crime prosecutor in Baltimore already focuses on the city's drug-related gang activity and because the new prosecutor approved last week would more likely target such gangs as MS-13 in the Washington region.

"MS-13 is a new and specific challenge in Montgomery and Prince George's," Rosenstein said. "A major focus of our anti-gang strategy remains to combat loosely organized, street-level, violent drug gangs in Baltimore. [The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosive's] Violent Crime Impact Team is a big part of our anti-gang program in Baltimore, and it is working well."

Andrea Smith, an assistant U.S. attorney in Baltimore who helps coordinate the local Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force, said the new anti-gang prosecutor should help prosecutors who have used a similar strategy against drug-related, violent organizations, such as the Lexington Terrace gang in the city.

"We target a neighborhood under siege," Smith said. "These organizations are multijurisdictional and often nationwide in scope. We start to piece together what's going on, where the connective tissue is and then scoop out that group."

The indictments announced against MS-13 tie reputed gang members, including a Baltimore carpenter, to murders and other crimes from April 2003 through June of this year. Prosecutors accused them of kidnappings, drive-by shootings and a killing in a cemetery. Six people were slain in suburban Washington, and authorities say gang members attempted to kill another five.

MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, originated in Los Angeles among refugees from El Salvador. Members also come from Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico. Mara refers to a gang, while Salva is an abbreviation for Salvadoran. Trucha is slang for "fear us," according to federal authorities.

An estimated 10,000 MS-13 members are in the United States, many in the Washington suburbs, which has a large population of Central American immigrants. Montgomery County police said they believe at least 500 gang members are active in the county, many of them part of MS-13.

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