Unprecedented action aimed at weakening MS-13 street gang
Hector Becerra, Sam Quinones and Andrew Blankstein in Los Angeles and Danielle Ryan in Washington (Los Angeles Times) | October 12, 2012
Mara Salvatrucha MS-13 on Thursday won the distinction of being the first street gang designated by the federal government as a “transnational criminal organization.”
Local law enforcement officials cheered what they saw as the unprecedented federal action, saying they hope it can significantly dent the gang’s power.
The designation gives the U.S. Treasury Department the power to freeze any financial assets from the gang or its members and prohibits financial institutions from engaging in any transactions with members of the group.
Officials said the move is designed to reduce the flow of gang money within the United States and across the border. Authorities believe money generated by MS-13 groups in the United States is funneled back to the group’s leadership in El Salvador. The designation is likely to make it more difficult for gang members to use banks and wire transfers to move their profits.
The gang is now believed to have as many as 30,000 members and is rapidly expanding. More than 8,000 of those members are said to be operating within the United States in more than 40 states and the District of Columbia.
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said Thursday’s federal action could make a difference.
“As the reach of gangs becomes more international, the seizing and freezing of assets becomes essential to addressing the violence that comes along with it,” he said.
Among the other organizations to receive the designation are Japan’s Yakuza organized crime syndicate and Mexico’s Zetas, whose leader, Heriberto Lazcano, was killed by Mexican Marines on Sunday. An armed gang later stole his body from a funeral parlor.
MS-13 began among El Salvadoran refugees — many of them young ex-soldiers — who came to Los Angeles to escape civil war in their home country in the 1980s. Salvadorans congregated in large numbers in the Pico-Union neighborhood and the area near MacArthur Park.
Experts say Mara Salvatrucha has behaved in far more sophisticated ways than a typical L.A. barrio street gang. It has diversified into activities such as drugs, extortion and human trafficking.
The gang’s grip on immigrant neighborhoods of L.A. has loosened in recent years amid a drop in crime and a crackdown by the Los Angeles Police Department and other law enforcement agencies. But MS-13 has spread into Central America and east as far as Washington, D.C., which has a large Salvadoran population.
Image source: Gubta
Tags: el salvador, federal action, financial assets freeze, Mara Salvatrucha MS-13, transnational criminal organization