About 1,000 federal and local agents rounded up 21 members of the MS-13 gang from homes and stores across Los Angeles early Wednesday.
Law enforcement members from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department participated in 40 raids.
“Today we disrupted this gang’s command and control,” Eric Harden, special agent in charge of the ATF’s Los Angeles field division, said a news conference Wednesday.
Agents arrested 44 people in the racketeering case with more than half of them undocumented immigrants, acting U.S. Attorney Sandra Brown said. The arrests included 12 senior leaders of the gang, according to the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles.
“With thousands of members here in the Southland, the gang’s power is widespread — power which it maintains with severe acts of violence,” acting U.S. Attorney Sandra R. Brown said in a statement. “Today’s charges and arrests, however, will deal a critical blow to the top leadership of this criminal organization and will significantly improve safety in neighborhoods across this region.”
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said the raids were aimed to curb violent crime and not immigration violations. MS-13 often “preys on” undocumented immigrants, Beck said.
Charges include federal racketeering and narcotics conspiracy. If convicted, most of them could face decades in federal prison — and three could face the death penalty for crimes in 2015, Brown said.
Facing murder charges are Carlos Alfredo Cardoza Lopez, 23, known as “Little Boy,” who allegedly fatally shot an innocent bystander inside the gang-controlled Little San Salvador Nightclub and Restaurant; Alexander Paredes Rivas, 39, known as “Blacky,” for allegedly killing a man at a strip mall; and Joffri Molina, 24, known as “Espia,” accused of killing a man on a North Hollywood street.
Authorities said the MS-13 is among the largest criminal organization in the United States with 30,000 members worldwide and 10,000 in the United States. Los Angeles is the home base of the gang.
The probe, which began in June 2014, targeted the leaders, the most violent members of MS-13 and those with links to the Mexican mafia.
The sweep was based on sealed federal indictments before President Donald Trump, who wants to wipe out the gang, took office.
“They’ve been here since the ’80s and have thrived to this date,” Harden said. “They’re a transnational or international gang. Their level of brutality is extreme and high, similar to what we read about and hear with the drug-trafficking cartels in Mexico.”
MS-13 began in the 1980s in Los Angeles when El Salvadorians come into the United States.
The gang forces new members to endure a 13-second beating known as “jumping in,” authorities say. But the beatings by fists and bats often last longer than 13 seconds.
New female members jump in or are “sexed in” by engaging in sexual relations with MS-13 members.
Last week, ICE announced it concluded a six-week nationwide operation targeting gangs, including MS-13 members, that made 1,378 arrests.
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