Charges point to spread of gang

The Baltimore Sun

The beating death of a teenager found in Howard County and the armed holdup of a Reisterstown grocer were carried out by members of MS-13, a violent street gang whose leaders gave orders from inside a prison in El Salvador, according to a federal racketeering indictment unveiled yesterday.

Officially known as Mara Salvatrucha, MS-13 has long had a prominent and violent foothold in the Washington suburbs. The 30-count indictment makes it clear that the gang's activity has spread throughout the Baltimore region, and law enforcement experts say it has expanded to far-flung corners of the state.

The indictment charges that Rigoberto Del Transito Mejia Regaldo, nicknamed "Loco Rigo" - a gang member now in El Salvador - participated in the 2005 killing of Anber Juarez-Sanchez, an 18-year-old from Silver Spring whose skeletal remains were found in Jessup in January last year.

It also accuses Regaldo, 28, in the May 2006 attempted robbery and stabbing of the Baltimore County grocer.

U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said at a Washington news conference yesterday that the new charges significantly expand a sweeping, two-year-old federal prosecution of the gang in Maryland.

Officials said the case links more than two dozen MS-13 gang members to eight killings and a raft of other crimes in Maryland dating to 2001.

In a separate case, Baltimore County prosecutors filed notice last month of their intent to seek a death sentence for suspected MS-13 gang member Jose Hernandez-Aguilar, 25, who is charged in the January 2006 stabbing deaths of two men whose bodies were found near an Arbutus school.

Baltimore County police declined to provide any information about the allegations against Regaldo that are outlined in the indictment, which contained scant details.

"He was being investigated for attempted murder in Baltimore County and is now a part of an ongoing federal investigation, so we can't comment," said Bill Toohey, a county police spokesman.

Howard County officials said they had suspected that Juarez- Sanchez's death might be a part of "something bigger" and contacted federal authorities.

"For several years now, we have acknowledged at least the presence of people associated with several violent gangs, including MS-13, in Howard County," said William J. McMahon, the county police chief.

"It makes us want to redouble our efforts in tracking people who may be involved in gang activity, but I certainly don't think by any stretch of the imagination that we are overrun with a gang issue."

Besides Regaldo, two other suspected gang members were charged in the indictment. Dany Fredy Ramos Mejia, nicknamed "Sisco," and Saul Antonios Turcio Angel, nicknamed "Trece," are charged with involvement in murders, robberies and witness intimidation for at least seven years in Maryland.

In the fall of 2004, the indictment says, Mejia and Angel produced a videotape instructing fellow MS-13 gang members in El Salvador. On the tape, they also shared information with Maryland gang members, court documents say.

A year later, according to the indictment, Angel talked with members of the Teclas Locos Salvatruchos clique in Maryland on a cell phone inside a Salvadoran prison about some of the violent crimes carried out in Maryland.

All three defendants charged this week are in prison in El Salvador, charged with crimes committed in that country. If convicted in the United States, they could get life in prison for conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise.

In Maryland, state prison officials said they had seen "an MS-13 presence among those arrested in Baltimore City, but not a large presence compared to several other gangs," Mark Vernarelli, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, wrote in an e-mail yesterday.

At a conference in Columbia last summer, the state's leading investigators of organized crime concluded that the Bloods - and not MS-13 - remained the state's biggest gang problem.

A recent estimate by Baltimore police put the number of known or suspected gang members at 2,600, including 400 Bloods, 100 Crips and a few dozen members of MS-13.

To promote sharing information about imprisoned gang members, Kristen Mahoney, director of the Maryland Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention, said yesterday that her office will soon award $500,000 in grants to local jails to keep track of gang members and distribute the intelligence to other corrections officials statewide.

Sgt. Andrew Eways of the Maryland State Police's Gang Enforcement Unit said MS-13 has expanded gradually statewide over the past decade.

"MS-13 isn't one large gang," Eways said. "It's a lot of smaller regionalized or localized group that share a common name."

Sun reporters Melissa Harris and Nicholas Shields contributed to this article.

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