In a major strike against the Latino gangs that have taken root across the region, three men were convicted yesterday in D.C. Superior Court of carrying out a murderous conspiracy that left four members of rival gangs dead.
Eight other members of the gang pleaded guilty before the trial to various crimes connected to the string of attacks in Northwest Washington, which began in August 2001 and ended two years later. One of the slayings took place in broad daylight outside a Northwest Washington high school.
Many of those who pleaded guilty testified against the three defendants during a two-month trial, laying out the workings of a gang driven to violence not by the drug trade or some other criminal operation but by jealousy over a woman.
Known as Vatos Locos, or “Crazy Guys,” the gang decided to go after its rivals in 1999 amid rising tensions with other gangs and the fallout from a fight over a shared romantic interest. The targets of the conspiracy were Mara R, also known as La Raza or La R, and STC, short for Street Thug Criminals or Street Criminals, according to a 65-count indictment.
Like Mara R, STC and other Latino gangs in the District and the surrounding suburbs, Vatos Locos was made up principally of young men with roots in El Salvador, a country that is now battling a pernicious gang problem.
All three were convicted of conspiracy. Although the charge can be difficult to prove, prosecutors find it an effective way to present a case to jurors who must connect a succession of violent crimes.
“It was very important,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Kevin F. Flynn, who tried the case along with fellow prosecutor Angela S. George. “It put all of the crimes into their proper perspective. This was a group enterprise.”
Earlier this month, in what the U.S. attorney in Northern Virginia said was an effort to bring more sophisticated prosecution tools to bear on street gangs, a federal grand jury indicted two members of the gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, on racketeering charges.