LOS ANGELES TIMES
MAY 17, 2017
Roughly two dozen accused members of the violent MS-13 gang were arrested before dawn Wednesday as federal and local investigators forced their way into homes across Los Angeles County in a sweep that came as a result of a two-year racketeering investigation.
Investigators with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the FBI and officers with the Los Angeles Police Department raided two dozen locations Wednesday morning.
The suspects are all charged in federal indictments that will be unsealed Wednesday, officials said.
Authorities said they have recently targeted 42 suspected members of the gang, including those arrested Wednesday. The remaining suspects were already in custody, officials said
Shortly after 4 a.m., heavily armed ATF agents — wearing helmets and bulletproof gear and carrying tactical rifles — forced their way into a storefront and a back building near Exposition Boulevard and Western Boulevard in South Los Angeles, Agents approached in an armored vehicle down a narrow alleyway behind the small business.
Once inside, federal agents and police detectives found what they described as gang members involved in human trafficking, as well as possible victims. The storefront, which appeared to be locked from the outside, was full of garbage.
A few of the people detained were handcuffed and lined up facing a metal fence in the alleyway next to the armored vehicle.
The sweep was based on sealed federal indictments orchestrated before President Trump — who has cast MS-13 as a deadly domestic scourge that his administration will wipe out — took office.
Federal prosecutors have repeatedly used charges of racketeering and conspiracy to undercut the growth of MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha. This week, authorities used the charges to target the suspected gang members for allegedly trading drugs and weapons across Southern California.
MS-13 was started in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s by Salvadoran immigrants — many of them young ex-soldiers — fleeing their country's civil war. Salvadorans congregated in large numbers in the Pico-Union neighborhood and the area near MacArthur Park.
It was the first street gang to be designated a transnational criminal organization. That designation, which came in 2012, gave the U.S. Treasury Department the power to freeze any financial assets from the gang or its members and to prohibit financial institutions from engaging in any transactions with members of the group.
The gang has developed a reputation for ruthlessness. Tales of torture, cutting off body parts and killing innocent relatives have made it a feared entity as it has spread across the nation.
In Los Angeles, MS-13 members have been convicted of a long list of crimes including assault, murder, conspiracy, racketeering, extortion, kidnapping, human smuggling, robbery and drug trafficking.
The gang vaulted to national notoriety in 2004 when members used a machete to hack off the hand of a 16-year-old rival gang member. In the run-up to that incident, the gang had been linked to at least five killings in the Washington, D.C., suburbs.
A Times investigation in 2007 found that the push to send gang members back to El Salvador had unintended consequences. Deporting MS-13 members to El Salvador allowed the gang to expand its foothold there. Meanwhile, newly-organized cells in El Salvador established beachheads in the United States.
The gang’s grip on immigrant neighborhoods of Los Angeles has loosened in recent years amid a drop in crime and a crackdown by the LAPD and other law enforcement agencies.
Last month, Trump administration officials blamed what they called lax immigration enforcement for the rise of MS-13 and promised a stronger federal response.
Trump tweeted, without evidence, that the Obama administration “allowed” MS-13 to form in America.
“The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS-13 gangs to form in cities across U.S. We are removing them fast!” the president tweeted.