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Area police hear lowdown on MS-13 gang

March 25, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - MS-13, one of the most violent street gangs in the county, is showing up in the area, police said Thursday.

MS-13 members, who have been identified in murders and numerous assaults, and are described as being violent "just for the sake of being violent," have been seen at Charles Town Races & Slots, Sgt. Tom Hansen of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department said.

Officials at a Thursday conference on gang activity said MS-13 gang members like a vacation like anyone else, and the track is a "big attraction" to them.

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The presence of the MS-13 gang in a community can be detected by certain graffiti they scrawl in public places. Cpl. Steve Cox of the Ranson Police Department said he has seen the Nike "swoosh" logo - considered to be a gang sign - in the area.

Jefferson County Sheriff Everett "Ed" Boober previously said gangs are moving into Jefferson County from Northern Virginia and they like using the area to conduct meetings.

"Ladies and gentlemen, these people are everywhere," Cpl. Michael Rudin-ski of the Hyattsville (Md.) Police Department told local authorities during the daylong seminar at the West Virginia Air National Guard base south of Martinsburg.

Rudinski has dealt extensively with gangs in his job as a school resource officer and was invited to speak to local police so they will be aware of the problem and how to deal with it, Hansen said.

In addition to police from Berkeley County, Jefferson County, Washington County and other surrounding areas, local court officials and Jefferson County Schools officials attended the seminar, Hansen said.

About 60 people attended a morning session of the seminar and about 25 attended an afternoon session.

Using video tape of gang activity, Rudinski showed how the gang life operates. The video footage showed violent gang rituals and how gang members use hand signals to communicate with each other.

MS-13 gangs are well organized and members often are divided into different levels, according to information presented at the conference. Gang members at the top level take on duties to financially support the group and below that are "territory" members, who make up local cliques of the group, according to information from the seminar.

Below that are "scavengers" and "experimenters," who want to be gang members, Rudinski said.

Those often are the most dangerous people because they will do anything to be a member of the gangs, he said.

MS-13 members often pay dues of about $5 to $10 a week to their groups, Rudinski said.

If there are 500 members of a local gang, that equates to a income of about $10,000 to $20,000 a month for the organization, Rudinski said.

"We're talking about serious cash. We're talking about cash that will allow them to do pretty much what they want to do," Rudinski said.

Gang money often is sent to El Salvador, where many gang members are from, or to pay for jail bonds, Rudinski said.

Rudinski said teenagers and younger children are attracted to the gangs. The types of youths who are most attracted to gangs include ones who have low self-esteem, who are having trouble at home, or who see gangs as a way to get instant gratification from a lucrative lifestyle, Rudinski said.

It's a way for kids to get things that are important to them, like a $150 pair of shoes, Rudinski said.

"Maybe mom and dad can't afford it. Well, the gangs can. They will give them the money," Rudinski said.

Kids as young as 10 are joining gangs like MS-13 and often they do not realize what they are getting into, Rudinski said.

Some pro sports figures have been tied to gangs, Rudinski said. The athletes grew up around that lifestyle and stay loyal to the gang life, sometimes even giving money to gangs, Rudinski said.

The FBI estimated late last year that there are as many as 2,000 members of MS-13, who have strong ties to Virginia cities, including Leesburg, Alexandria and Fairfax.

Police in Washington County have said some MS-13 members are in Hagerstown and the group has had emerging documented activity during the last year in Frederick, Md., and Winchester, Va.

In Jefferson County, police also have identified gang activity in the area of Bloomery Road, which runs along the Shenandoah River, Hansen said Thursday.

In Berkeley County, police believe gang members probably have passed through the area but none of the groups appear to be "in place" in the county, Berkeley County Sheriff Randy Smith said Thursday.

Smith said a group of police investigators who regularly meet about every one or two months has been discussing ways of keeping gang activity under control in the Eastern Panhandle.

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