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October 30, 2002

Somerville rapes case stirs gang worries

From: Boston Globe, MA
Oct. 30, 2002

By Michael S. Rosenwald and Douglas Belkin, Globe Staff, 10/30/2002

While investigators continued searching for more suspects in the reported gang rape of two disabled girls in Somerville, law enforcement officials and residents said yesterday they feared the attack marked a new level of violence for a reputed street gang.

Already, three men who investigators say have ties to a Salvadoran gang have been charged with raping the two deaf girls, ages 14 and 17, in Foss Park last Thursday. One of the girls was lifted from her wheelchair and slammed onto a park bench, authorities say.

Middlesex prosecutors have called the case


The gang to which law enforcement officials have linked the suspects in court is MS-13, which operates nationwide. It is believed to have originated in part with soldiers and their families who left El Salvador after that Central American nation's civil war. Some East Somerville neighborhood residents say the gang has upward of 100 members in the area.

''On its face, it's obviously a frightening situation if the allegations occurred as reported,'' said Suffolk District Attorney Daniel Conley, whose office is involved in a regional task force on gangs that includes prosecutors in Middlesex County, where the rapes occurred. ''This group is obviously a concern.''

Conley, who wouldn't comment on the Somerville assaults, said law enforcement officials have seen stepped-up activity from the gang in the past year in East Boston, Chelsea, and other neighborhoods. MS-13 is not interested in drugs or money, for the most part, Conley said - just violence.

''They seem to be more involved with assaultive behavior, some simple, some very serious,'' Conley said. ''What we've seen recently is that they often attack for no other reason except maybe nationality or gang affiliation.

''They attack in groups. It's never one-on-one. It's large numbers against one person.''

Middlesex prosecutors refused to comment on what, if anything, led the suspects to the victims. The mother of one of the girls said Monday that the attack was retaliation for a fight her son had with MS-13. However, the son said yesterday that was not the case and that he didn't believe the attackers even knew the girl was his sister.

On July 10, in an unrelated case, MS-13 members kidnapped a woman at gunpoint as she left her home to drop an infant daughter at day care, according to police. They allowed her to drop the child at an East Boston day-care facility, then forced her to drive to Medford's Mystic Lakes.

There, police say, the suspects tried to interrogate the woman, a Central American immigrant, about the whereabouts of an older daughter, who allegedly was affiliated with the gang. The woman was eventually released unhurt, but reported the ordeal and police later arrested another teenage girl in the case, on kidnapping charges.

Somerville schools Superintendent Albert Argenziano said a school representative meets weekly with a community-based group, including police and representatives of the Middlesex prosecutor's office. MS-13 is a hot topic.

''These people are very serious,'' he said. ''This is not Romper Room. Some of the key people are in their 20s and 30s. From the literature I've read, this is an extremely dangerous gang.''

Details about the three suspects in custody remained sketchy yesterday. The state had no criminal record information on two suspects: Jose Ortiz, 20, and Carlos Escobar, 18. However, Jesus Pleitez, 18, who is homeless, has been arrested multiple times in or around Somerville.

He recently finished a three-month jail sentence for breaking into a Burger King in May with a butcher knife. He stole $100.71 from the cash register, according to court documents.

Pleitez was also arrested in December on drug charges after police found him sleeping under a porch in Somerville. Two weeks later he was arrested for breaking into a car, for which he was given probation. He has also been arrested for allegedly assaulting someone with a bottle, though he was not prosecuted.

Pleitez's court-appointed attorney, Jacqulyn M. McNeill, did not return phone calls from the Globe yesterday.

Farah Stockman of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. Michael Rosenwald can be reached at

This story ran on page B2 of the Boston Globe on 10/30/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.