Montgomery County State’s Attorney said the Maryland General Assembly needs to strengthen its racketeering laws in order to curb rise of gangs in the state.
At Tuesday’s meeting, County lobbyists to Annapolis told the County Council that the Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association, which represents the leading prosecutors in all of the state’s jurisdictions, that it will push for a bill in Annapolis in the next legislative session to combat increased gang activity.
“Maryland State’s Attorneys’ Association is working on various proposals, we don’t know what the specifics are of that,” said Sara Morningstar from the Montgomery County Office of Intergovernmental Relations.
John McCarthy, the State’s Attorney for Montgomery County, said Maryland needs a stronger racketeering statute, like the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act to help prosecute gang members.
“Maryland as a state does not have a completely parallel RICO statute – it needs one,” McCarthy said. “So that we would have statewide authority to effectively do the same thing they do at the federal level with RICO.”
Congress passed RICO in 1970 in order to prosecute the leaders of criminal organizations. Recently, the Department of Justice has used the RICO statute to prosecute local members of Mara Slavatrucha or MS-13, an international gang active in the U.S. and Central America.
In October, the Department of Justice announced a federal grand jury indicted eight Maryland-based members of MS-13, one of which is from Montgomery County.
It is not the first time state prosecutors ceded the prosecution of gang members to the federal government. In April, the DOJ announced that six local men connected with three murders in the last two years, would be charged under the RICO statue and not local murder chargers.
“Some of the times we have to rely on our federal partners because they have tools like federal RICO statutes that we don’t have,” McCarthy said. “But you can’t always get them to take that bite at the apple; they got limited resources too. Sometimes they help us, sometimes they don’t.”
In October, the County Council approved $843,693 in additional funding to expand the gang units at the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office and Montgomery County Police Department. The money will allow the County to hire three additional state’s attorneys to prosecute gang members and additional detectives for police to investigate gang-related crimes.
According to McCarthy, there have been 20 gang-related homicides over the past two years, but the numbers are hard to track.