WASHINGTON - Three men were convicted by a jury today of federal racketeering conspiracy charges, three murders in aid of racketeering activity, and various narcotics and firearms offenses for their roles in a violent drug organization that operated in Barry Farm and other neighborhoods within the District of Columbia and the larger metropolitan area. The victims included a woman who was slain in 2009 because she was a government witness.
The verdicts were announced by U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr., James W. McJunkin, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, Cathy L. Lanier, Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD), Mark A. Magaw, Chief of the Prince George’s County, Maryland Police Department, and Teresa Chambers, Chief of the U.S. Park Police. <
A jury returned the verdicts, finding the defendants guilty of all charges, following more than a week of deliberations and a trial that lasted more than two months in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The jury convicted Mark Pray, 31, of Washington, D.C., Alonzo Marlow, 31, also of Washington, D.C., and Kenneth Benbow, 31, of Capitol Heights, Md., of numerous charges.
The Honorable Rosemary M. Collyer, who presided at the trial, scheduled sentencing for Pray and Benbow on June 22, 2012. Marlow is to be sentenced on June 21, 2012. All three defendants face mandatory sentences of life in prison.
Six others earlier pled guilty to charges, and a seventh man pled guilty in a related case.
According to the government’s evidence, starting as early as 2006, Pray led an organization that distributed large amounts of PCP, crack cocaine, cocaine and marijuana in Barry Farm and elsewhere in the Washington, D.C. area. Pray enlisted family members, friends, and individuals known to him from Barry Farm and elsewhere to distribute controlled substances. Members of the Pray Drug Organization regularly carried firearms to promote and protect the drug enterprise and its interests; committed, attempted, and threatened to commit acts of violence, including murder, to protect and expand the enterprise’s criminal operations; and promoted a climate of fear through violence and threats of violence. Marlow functioned as the group’s “enforcer.” Benbow was a close associate of both men in the enterprise.
“Today a jury of ordinary citizens struck back against a violent drug organization that operated for so many years in Barry Farm and elsewhere,” said U.S. Attorney Machen. “These killers tried to protect their narcotics enterprise by murdering a witness whose truthful testimony could put them behind bars. These guilty verdicts send an unmistakable message to criminals who believe that they can overcome justice with violence.”
“These individuals used threats and violence to control and intimidate their communities in furtherance of their criminal enterprise,” said Assistant Director in Charge McJunkin. “Together with MPD and the Safe Streets Task Force, we remain dedicated to protecting our citizens from those who seek to do them harm, and to bringing to justice those who commit such violent crimes.”
“These defendants and their organization made it clear that they would not be deterred from carrying out their violent and illicit activities,” said Chief Lanier. “They targeted a witness, which demonstrates the ruthlessness of this organization. Today’s verdict should send a strong message to criminals that MPD and our law enforcement partners will continue to focus on violent crime.”
“I am pleased with the convictions of these individuals. It sends a message that you will be held accountable,” said Chief Magaw. “ I am also proud to be a part of the collaborative effort of the law enforcement and prosecutorial partners that made this happen.”
“We are pleased with the outcome of this case,” said Chief Chambers. “It is always rewarding to see the cooperative efforts of several law enforcement agencies bringing increased safety to our communities”
Pray and Marlow were convicted of charges in the killing of the government witness, Crystal Washington, 44, who was shot to death April 10, 2009 in the District of Columbia. Ms. Washington was slain one business day before the start of a trial in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, during which she was to testify for the government against Pray and three other individuals. According to the government’s evidence, Marlow killed Ms. Washington at Pray’s direction to prevent her from testifying in the case.
Pray and Marlow also were convicted of charges in the January 13, 2010, murder of Jheryl Hodge, 20, also in the District of Columbia. Marlow, in consultation with Pray, shot Mr. Hodge several times, in broad daylight, in the middle of the Barry Farm neighborhood. Mr. Hodge was related to a man who Pray and Marlow viewed as a rival.
Finally, Pray and Benbow were convicted of charges in the murder of Van Johnson Jr., 28, which took place September 24, 2008, in Prince George’s County. Pray and Benbow ambushed Mr. Johnson after following him from a nightclub. According to the government’s evidence, they believed that Mr. Johnson had been speaking badly of Benbow.
This prosecution grew out of a long-term FBI/MPD/USPP alliance called the Safe Streets Task Force that targets violent drug trafficking gangs in the District of Columbia. The Safe Streets Initiative is funded in part by the Baltimore Washington High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area as well as the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. The Safe Streets Initiative involves more than 150 Safe Streets Task Forces around the country that combat street gangs by combining federal, state and local police resources.
In announcing the verdicts, U.S. Attorney Machen, Assistant Director in Charge McJunkin, Chief Lanier, Chief Magaw, and Chief Chambers thanked the many dedicated people who worked on the case, including the Special Agents from the FBI’s Washington Field Office; Detectives William Xanten, Michael Murphy and Bryan Kasul, Officer John McElhenny, and Mobile Crime Officers Tim Coughlin and Tina Rahmadhan, of the Metropolitan Police Department; Detectives Paul Dougherty and Wayne Martin, of the Prince George’s County Police Department, and Detective William Sepeck, of the U.S. Park Police. They also thanked the U.S. Marshals Service for its assistance in the investigation.
They also acknowledged the work of those who handled the case for the U.S. Attorney’s Office, including Paralegals Brendan Tracz and Colin Rettamel; Legal Assistants Diane Brashears and Tammy Scott; Litigation Technology Specialist Ron Royal, and the Victim Witness Assistance Unit, including Witness Security Specialist Michael Hailey. They also expressed appreciation to Assistant U.S. Attorneys Seth Waxman and Michelle Zamarin, who participated in the investigation, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Scott L. Sroka and Nicholas Coleman, who provided assistance.
Finally, they thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Matthew P. Cohen and Anthony Scarpelli, who investigated and tried the case.