October 14, 2005
Violent gang with Central American roots expands deep into U.S.
By David Kihara
Las Vegas Sun
One of the largest and most vicious street gangs in the world has been increasing its membership and activity in the Las Vegas Valley, killing rival gang members and extorting immigrants along the way, according to a national expert with the FBI.
The Mara Salvatrucha gang, also known as MS-13, has been in the valley since the early 1990s, but has become more active in recent years as the number of immigrants has grown, said Robert Clifford, director of the FBI's MS-13 task force in Washington.
The most recent evidence of that came Tuesday when Metro Police arrested 20-year-old Sergio Valencia, an alleged MS-13 member. He is charged with murder for allegedly gunning down a rival gang member in an alley in August 2004.
MS-13 members are notorious for their tattoos, and Valencia has the letters "MS" tattooed on his stomach, according to his arrest report.
Police say Valencia shot 23-year-old Ricardo Rodriguez in an alley behind 5917 Vegas Drive after Rodriguez flashed a hand symbol for a another gang.
Another alleged MS-13 member who was reportedly with Valencia at the shooting, Juan Martinez, was arrested in March on charges of robbery with a weapon and kidnapping, according to Valencia's arrest report.
According to the report, Martinez was identified by another MS-13 gang member as "the leader of the Mara Salvatrucha Hollywood Locos in Las Vegas."
According to an Oct. 6 Metro Police bulletin, there are approximately 100 MS-13 gang members in Las Vegas or unincorporated Clark County, and they are known to live or hang out in three areas in particular:
Pennwood Avenue at Arville Street, near Clark High School, just northeast of Desert Inn Road at Decatur Boulevard.
Toni Avenue at Lulu Avenue, just south of UNLV and southwest of Tropicana Avenue at Maryland Parkway.
Sierra Vista Circle at Cambridge Street, just east of the Boulevard mall and southwest of Desert Inn Road at Maryland Parkway.
The bulletin says Metro's gang unit has been actively pursuing and interviewing MS-13 members. This year Metro's Gang Crimes Bureau conducted 19 interviews with self-admitted members and 11 criminal investigations targeting them.
The arrest of Valencia also adds to the list of members behind bars. As of Oct. 5, there were seven MS-13 members jailed at the Clark County Detention Center, the report stated. Another five MS-13 members have been arrested and deported by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency with Metro's help, the report added.
In May, because of the national attention MS-13 was getting at the time, Metro sought to gather and update intelligence on 70 of the gang members believed to be in the valley. Police could not find 56 of them, but the other 14 were either arrested, deported or interviewed, according to the bulletin.
Clifford said the federal MS-13 task force has been coordinating efforts with the local FBI office and with Metro Police "because of the growing number of MS-13 members in Nevada."
The FBI's task force, formed in 2004, was designed specifically to disrupt the gang.
"We're seeing a much larger presence (in Nevada) than we previously thought," Clifford said.
MS-13's growing numbers in the valley is tied in large part to the immigrant labor force working in the service industry, he said. MS-13 members are trailing Hispanic immigrants to the valley to extort or commit other crimes against them, Clifford said.
"Some MS-13 members are involved in the labor (force), but more ominously they are preying upon the immigrant community," he said.
Clifford said much of the crime committed by MS-13 members is not reported because the immigrant victims often have a fear of law enforcement or might worry about their immigration status.
The gang members first started showing up in Las Vegas in the 1990s, in that era's lower income neighborhoods near the Stratosphere, according to the Metro bulletin.
"They immediately displayed their violent nature with a series of walk-up style shootings of rival gang members, the Naked City Rascals," the Metro bulletin said.
After that, the gang popped up in the neighborhood behind Jerry's Nugget in North Las Vegas, near Lake Mead Boulevard and Fifth Street, according to the bulletin.
The gang is reported to be active in drug trafficking, killings and extortion in 33 states, including the District of Columbia, and at least five other countries, mainly in Central America.
The Mara Salvatrucha gang is known not only for its international reach but also its brutality. Members have been known to slice off the fingers of their rivals with machetes, have a tendency to kill suspected informants and commit gang rapes, according to the FBI.
"In times of universal deceit, telling the truth will be a revolutionary act." George Orwell