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Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, is an international criminal gang that originated in Los Angeles, California, in the 1970s and 1980s. The gang later spread to many parts of the continental United States, Canada, Mexico, and Central America, and is active in urban, suburban, and rural areas. Most members are Central American, Salvadorans in particular. MS-13 is defined by its cruelty, and rivalry with the 18th Street Gang. As an international gang, its history is closely tied to U.S.–El Salvador relations. Above all, U.S. interventions and responses to the Salvadoran Civil War were essential to the gang's formation.
Mara Salvatrucha gang member with gang's name tattooed on his back
|Founding location||Los Angeles, California, U.S.|
|Territory||El Salvador; Guatemala; Honduras; United States;|
|Ethnicity||Mostly Salvadorans, Hondurans, and Guatemalans|
|Criminal activities||Drug trafficking, illegal immigration, robbery, larceny, human trafficking, extortion, murder, money laundering, prostitution, racketeering, battery, kidnapping, and arms trafficking|
|Allies||Other Sureños gangs|
|Rivals||18th Street gang|
Norteños affiliated gangs
In 2018, the gang accounted for less than 1 percent (10,000) of total gang members in the United States (1.4 million), and a similar share of gang murders. The gang is a core component to Republican Party messaging on immigration policy in the United States. The Trump administration and Republican politicians have argued that hardline immigration policies are necessary to combat MS-13, and have for example justified the Trump administration's implementation of a family separation policy to deal with MS-13. There is no evidence that weak immigration enforcement or sanctuary city policies contribute to MS-13 activity. Republican politicians, President Trump in particular, have falsely accused Democratic politicians of supporting MS-13.
There is some dispute about the etymology of the name. Some sources state the gang is named for La Mara, a street in San Salvador, and the Salvatrucha guerrillas who fought in the Salvadoran Civil War. Additionally, the word mara means gang in Caliche slang and is taken from marabunta, the name of a fierce type of ant. "Salvatrucha" may be a combination of the words Salvadoran and trucha, a Caliche word for being alert. The term "Salvatruchas" has been explained as a reference to Salvadorian peasants trained to become guerrilla fighters, referred to as the "Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front."
Central Americans are the primary victims of MS-13. Many of the victims are minors. Minors also make up the majority of suspects arrested for killings attributed to MS-13. Many school districts receiving Central American migrants were reluctant to admit unaccompanied teenagers when they arrived from Central America, which left them home alone and vulnerable to gang recruitment. Recruitment is often forced. In El Salvador, children are recruited while traveling to school, church, or work. Youth who are arrested for whatever reason are usually impressed into some gang or another during incarceration. They are notorious for their violence and a subcultural moral code based on merciless retribution. Aspirants are beaten for 13 seconds as an initiation to join the gang, a ritual known as a "beat-in".
MS-13 is both public and indiscriminate in its violence. Infanticide and femicide are common, with El Salvador hosting the third highest femicide rate in the world. In 2016 alone, one in 5,000 Salvadoran women were killed. Legal impunity is a key factor. In femicide cases, only 5% result in convictions. Violent retributions target both enemy gangs as well as their families, friends, and neighbors. Entire families will be wiped out in a single attack, regardless of age. Buses full of passengers from the wrong parts of town will be burned in broad daylight, passengers still aboard. Police officers, government officials, and community organizations are also frequent targets. Attacks like these have led the Supreme Court of El Salvador to authorize the classification of gangs as terrorist organizations.
This cruelty of the distinguished members of the "Maras" or "Mareros" earned them a path to be recruited by the Sinaloa Cartel battling against Los Zetas in an ongoing drug war in Mexico. Their wide-ranging activities have drawn the attention of the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, who have initiated wide-scale raids against known and suspected gang members, arresting hundreds across the United States. In an interview with Bill Ritter in late 2017, Nassau County, New York District Attorney Madeline Singas, referring to crimes committed by MS-13 gang members, stated: "The crimes that we're talking about are brutal. Their weapon of choice is a machete. We end up seeing people with injuries that I've never seen before. You know, limbs hacked off. And that's what the bodies look like that we're recovering. So they're brutal. They're ruthless, and we're gonna be relentless in our attacks against them." The choice of a machete is in contrast to other gangs, which prefer to use guns. Officials assert the gang has ambitions to become a 'national brand' with an organization to match the Mafia or Mexican drug cartels and estimate its membership has grown by several thousand in the last decade with a presence in forty states.
Many Mara Salvatrucha members cover themselves in tattoos, including the face. Common markings include "MS", "Salvatrucha", the "Devil Horns", the name of their clique, and other symbols. A December 2007 CNN internet news article stated that the gang was moving away from face tattoos so as to be able to commit crimes without being noticed.
Members of Mara Salvatrucha, like members of most modern American gangs, utilize a system of hand signs for purposes of identification and communication. One of the most commonly displayed is the "devil's head" which forms an 'M' when displayed upside down. This hand sign is similar to the symbol commonly displayed by heavy metal musicians and their fans. Founders of Mara Salvatrucha borrowed the hand sign after attending concerts of heavy metal bands.
In the U.S., MS-13 has an especially heavy presence in Los Angeles County and the San Francisco Bay Area in California; the Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas of Fairfax County, Virginia, and Montgomery County and Prince George's County, Maryland; Queens and Long Island in New York; Newark, Plainfield, Jersey City, and Elizabeth, New Jersey; the Boston, Massachusetts area; Charlotte, North Carolina; Atlanta, Georgia; and Houston, Texas. There is also a presence of MS-13 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Strength numbers include more than 10,000 nationally and 2,000 on Long Island, New York. It is estimated to have around 30,000 members internationally. According to the 2009 National Gang Threat Assessment, "The gang is estimated to have 30,000 to 50,000 members and associate members worldwide, 8,000 to 10,000 of whom reside in the United States. Since the first decade of the twenty-first century the gang has expanded into the Washington, D.C. area, in particular the areas of Langley Park and Takoma Park, Maryland.
In Central America, the gang is strongest in the Northern Triangle countries: El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. In early 2018 it was reported that a New York District Attorney, Madeline Singas, after a lengthy investigation, claimed MS-13 had made a significant presence in countries including "Colombia, South Korea, France, Australia, Peru, Egypt, Ecuador and Cuba." It is estimated that MS-13 and the Eighteenth Street Gang employ some 60,000 Salvadorans between them, making them the largest employers in the country.
By the late 2010s the gang has a growing presence in the Queens borough of New York.
The Mara Salvatrucha gang originated in Los Angeles, set up in the 1970s and 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants in the city's Pico-Union neighborhood who immigrated to the United States after the Central American civil wars of the 1980s. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Salvadoran asylum seekers were refused asylum in the U.S. and instead classified as undocumented immigrants. As such, Salvadorans began to immigrate without documents in increasing numbers. They mostly settled in cities with large undocumented populations, like Los Angeles. Salvadoran asylum claims were neglected until the 1991 case American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh. The case's settlement agreement required Guatemalan and Salvadoran asylum claims to be reevaluated, as long as they had entered the U:S. by 1990. By this point, the Civil War was already drawing to a close after more than a decade of fighting. Before ABC v. Thornburg and even after, Salvadoran immigrants were left highly vulnerable to exploitation. In the very beginning, MS-13 was a group of young, delinquent, heavy metal fans who lived in Los Angeles. However, the undocumented community in Los Angeles was subject to severe racial prejudices and persecution. Under these conditions, MS-13 began to mutate into a gang. Originally, the gang's main purpose was to protect Salvadoran immigrants from the other, more established gangs of Los Angeles, who were predominantly composed of Mexicans, Asians, and African-Americans. The gang became a more traditional criminal organization under the auspices of Ernesto Deras. Deras was a former member of Salvadoran special forces, trained in Panama by United States Green Berets. On gaining leadership of an MS-13 clique in 1990, he used his military training to discipline the gang and improve its logistical operations. It was after this point that the gang began to grow in power, influence, and relevancy. MS-13's rivalry with the 18th Street Gang also began in this period. MS-13 and 18th Street were initially friendly, since they were some of the only gangs to allow Salvadorans to join. What exactly caused their alliance to fall apart is uncertain. Most versions point to a fight over a girl in 1989. In the incident, an MS-13 gangster was killed, which led to a cycle of vengeance that has escalated into an intense and generalized animosity between the two gangs.
Many Mara Salvatrucha gang members from the Los Angeles area have been deported after being arrested. For example, Jose Abrego, a high-ranking member, was deported four times. As a result of these deportations, members of MS-13 have recruited more members in their home countries. The Los Angeles Times contends that deportation policies have contributed to the size and influence of the gang both in the United States and in Central America. There was no significant gang activity in El Salvador until after MS-13 gangsters were deported there from Los Angeles. Large-scale deportations began shortly after the close of the Salvadoran Civil War in 1992. As a part of the Chapultepec Peace Accords, the post-war Salvadoran government was required to stop using the standing army as a police force and form a new national police service. However, the ruling political party, ARENA, was a descendant of the wartime military government. To favor military allies, it delayed the formation of the Policía Nacional Civil. When the PNC was finally organized 1993, parts of the police force were created by integrating the armed forces. Some of the members of the nascent police force were known war criminals. The lack of a proper police force meant that deported gangsters faced little opposition when establishing MS-13 in El Salvador. To compound the issue, the post-war period was marked by a large number of uncontrolled arms left over from the conflict, which allowed MS-13 to become a significant arms trafficker. This remains one of its primary revenue sources today, alongside other crimes like extortion and assassination. In addition, the economic struggles of the post-war period, alongside neoliberal trade reforms likely contributed to the growth of MS-13.
Gang violence in El Salvador peaked in the 1990s, then declined in the early 2000s. Even so, they became a key part of political discourse. ARENA presidencies implemented the Mano Dura and Super Mano Dura policies to combat gangs. External observers and gangsters themselves believe these policies increased the power of gangs in El Salvador.
The Mano Dura policies were followed by a truce between MS-13 and their perpetual rivals, the 18th Street Gang. Under the direction of the president Mauricio Funes, the first Salvadoran President representing the FMLN party, government and gang representatives negotiated unofficially.The terms required gangs to lower the homicide rate in exchange for transfers to lower security prisons. In addition, gangs would receive benefits from the government for every firearm they surrendered. While homicides fell during the truce, gangs no longer had to worry as much about turf wars. Instead, they focused on recruitment, organization, and extortion. The truce did not protect most Salvadorans from extortion. This, along with reports of government leniency towards imprisoned gangsters, led to the truce being highly unpopular and controversial.
Funes's successor as the FMLN presidential candidate, Salvador Sánchez Cerén, campaigned on returning to a tough approach on gangs. After Sánchez Cerén took the Presidency in 2014, the truce was understood to be over. Since the gang truce ended, the number of extrajudicial killings by police forces has grown dramatically.Throughout the truce, Salvadoran gangs were able to focus on expansion and internal regulation instead of inter-gang conflict. When the truce ended, the gangs had built up their forces significantly. As such, the truce breakdown saw a return to record levels of violence, with the gangs being much stronger and better organized than before. In 2015, El Salvador had the highest national homicide rate per capita in the world, largely due to escalating violence between MS-13 and the 18th Street Gang. Participants in the original truce negotiations have since been prosecuted. The trials revealed significant corruption, such as government negotiators encouraging gangs to increase the homicide rate to keep everyone at the negotiating table.
Opposition to MS-13 in the U.S. has taken varied forms. In 2004, the FBI created the MS-13 National Gang Task Force. The FBI also began cooperating with law enforcement in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico. The following year, the FBI helped create a National Gang Information Center (NGIC), and outlined a National Gang Strategy for Congress. In addition, the Office of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement initiated Operation Community Shield. In 2008, the MS-13 Task Force coordinated a series of arrests and crackdowns in the U.S. and Central America that involved more than 6,000 police officers in five countries. Seventy-three suspects were arrested in the U.S.; in all, more than 650 were taken into custody.By 2011, this operation had made over 20,000 arrests, including more than 3,000 arrests of alleged MS-13 members. In October 2012, the U.S. Treasury Department announced a freeze on American-owned assets controlled by the organization and listed MS-13 as a transnational criminal organization. While the three leaders (José Luís Mendoza Figueroa, Eduardo Erazo Nolasco, and Élmer Canales Rivera) were imprisoned in El Salvador, they continued to give orders. As a result, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed further sanctions in 2015, allowing the government to seize all assets controlled by these men; any business with these leaders would no longer be allowed. In January 2016, over 400 Boston police officers were involved in the arrests of 37 MS-13 members; 56 were charged altogether. Guns, knives, and money were also seized at the homes of the gang members. Massachusetts State Police Lt. Col. Frank Hughes commented in a public conference, "In my 30 years of law enforcement, I've never seen a more violent gang out there. These are very very violent individuals. The violence is unspeakable." The charges included immigration violations, racketeering, and firearm and drug trafficking. On November 16, 2017, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials announced that they arrested a total of 267 alleged MS-13 gang members and associates in Operation Raging Bull, which was carried out in two phases. The first phase was in September 2017, and resulted in 53 arrests in El Salvador. The second phase was between October 8 and November 11, 2017, and resulted in 214 arrests in the U.S. Charges included drug trafficking, child prostitution, human smuggling, racketing, and conspiracy to commit murder.
On July 27, 2017, 113 suspected MS-13 gang members were arrested by Salvadoran authorities.
On June 4, 2008, in Toronto, Ontario, police executed search warrants, made 21 arrests, and laid dozens of charges following a five-month investigation.
False Al-Qaeda connection
In 2005, Honduran Security Minister Oscar Álvarez and the President of El Salvador, Antonio Saca, raised alarm by claiming that terrorist organization Al-Qaeda was meeting with Mara Salvatrucha and other Central American gangs to help them infiltrate the United States. FBI agents said that the U.S. intelligence community and governments of several Central American countries found that there was no basis to believe that MS-13 was connected to Al-Qaeda or other Islamic radicals, although the head of the FBI task force on MS-13 did visit Central America to discuss the issue.
Republican Party discourse
The Republican Party, and in particular President Donald Trump, has focused considerably on MS-13 during political campaigns and in debates on immigration. Republicans have accused Democrats of being responsible for violence by MS-13 gangs and have called for stricter immigration policies to deal with MS-13. Republican politicians have argued that sanctuary cities (jurisdictions which do not prioritize enforcement of immigration law) contribute to MS-13 activity. There is no evidence that sanctuary cities increase crime or gang activity.
During the Trump administration, MS-13 became a top priority for the Department of Justice. Trump has falsely claimed that towns have "liberated" from MS-13 rule during his presidency. In 2018, Trump falsely claimed on multiple occasions that his administration had deported "thousands and thousands" of MS-13 gang members. In justifying the Trump administration's implementation of a family separation policy of migrants accused of crossing the border illegally, Kirstjen Nielsen, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, said that child migrants were being used by MS-13 to cross the US-Mexico border; there is no evidence that MS-13 members have falsely claimed custodianship of children crossing the U.S. border.
In the United States, there were an estimated 10,000 MS-13 gang members in 2018. This figure had been stable for more than a decade. The gang accounts for less than 1 percent of total gang members in the United States (1.4 million according to FBI data), and a similar share of gang murders. The Trump administration has asserted that there is a "surge in MS-13 gang members" and that weak immigration enforcement contributes to greater MS-13 crime activity; there is no evidence for either of those assertions.
Robert Morales, a prosecutor for Guatemala, indicated in 2008 to The Globe and Mail that some Central American gang members were seeking refugee status in Canada. "We know that there are members of Mara 18 and MS-13 who are in Canada and are seeking to stay there," and added, "I came across a gang member who was working in a call centre here. He'd just returned from a long stint in Ontario. We're hearing about Canada more and more often in connection with gang members here." Superintendent of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police integrated gang task force, John Robin, was quoted in the same article as saying "I think [gang members] have a feeling that police here won't treat them in the harsh manner they get down there." Robin noted that Canadian authorities "want to avoid ending up like the U.S., which is dealing with the problem of Central American gangsters on a much bigger scale".
An MS-13 member, René Pacheco, boasted in Canada of being a member. In 2018 he faced a deportation order. In another case, gang members were arrested threatening a Toronto, Ontario justice official. In May 2018 Canadian federal authorities warned Canadian police services of gangs members attempting to flee the United States into Canada.
As of 2007, the gang was being violent to migrants on the southern border of Mexico.
On July 13, 2003, Brenda Paz, a 17-year-old former MS-13 member turned informant was found stabbed to death on the banks of the Shenandoah River in Virginia. She was killed for informing the FBI about Mara Salvatrucha's criminal activities; two of her former friends were later convicted of the murder.
On December 23, 2004, one of the most widely publicized MS-13 crimes in Central America occurred in Chamelecón, Honduras, when an intercity bus was intercepted and sprayed with automatic gunfire from assault rifles, killing 28 and wounding 14 civilian passengers, most of whom were women and children. MS-13 organized the massacre as a protest against the Honduran government for proposing a restoration of the death penalty in Honduras. Six gunmen raked the bus with gunfire. As passengers screamed and ducked, another gunman climbed aboard and methodically executed passengers. In February 2007, Juan Carlos Miranda Bueso and Darwin Alexis Ramírez were found guilty of several crimes, including murder and attempted murder. Ebert Anibal Rivera was arrested over the attack after fleeing to Texas. Juan Bautista Jimenez, accused of masterminding the massacre, was killed in prison; according to the authorities, fellow MS-13 inmates hanged him. There was insufficient evidence to convict Óscar Fernando Mendoza and Wilson Geovany Gómez.
On May 13, 2006, Ernesto "Smokey" Miranda, a former high-ranking soldier and one of the founders of Mara Salvatrucha, was murdered at his home in El Salvador a few hours after declining to attend a party for a gang member who had just been released from prison. He had begun studying law and working to keep children out of gangs.
On June 6, 2006, a teenage MS-13 gang member named Gabriel Granillo was stabbed to death at Ervan Chew Park in the Neartown district in Houston, Texas. Chris Vogel of the Houston Press wrote that the trial of the girl who stabbed Granillo, Ashley Paige Benton, gave attention to MS-13.
On June 22, 2008, in San Francisco, California, a 21-year-old MS-13 gang member, Edwin Ramos, shot and killed a father, Anthony Bologna, 48, and his two sons Michael, 20, and Matthew, 16, as they were returning home from a family barbecue. Their car had briefly blocked Ramos from completing a left turn down a narrow street. Authorities believe the killing was in retaliation for the shooting of an MS-13 member earlier that day, and that the Bolognas were mistaken for gang members.
In February 2009, authorities in Colorado and California arrested 20 members of MS-13 and seized 10 pounds of methamphetamine, 2.3 kilograms (5 pounds) of cocaine, a small amount of heroin, 12 firearms, and $3,300 in cash.
In June 2009, Edwin Ortiz, Jose Gomez Amaya, and Alexander Aguilar, MS-13 gang members from Long Island who had mistaken bystanders for rival gang members, shot two innocent civilians. Edgar Villalobos, a laborer, was killed.
On November 4, 2009, El Salvadoran leaders of the MS-13 gang allegedly put out a contract on the federal agent responsible for a crackdown on its New York factions, the Daily News learned. The plot to assassinate the unidentified Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent was revealed in an arrest warrant for reputed gang member Walter "Duke" Torres. Torres tipped authorities to the plan after he and four MS-13 members were stopped by NYPD detectives for hassling passersby on Northern Boulevard in Queens, New York. He told police he had information to pass on; he was debriefed on October 22 at Rikers Island, where he was being held on a warrant issued in Virginia, according to court papers. Torres said "the order for the murder came from gang leadership in El Salvador", ICE agent Sean Sweeney wrote in an affidavit for a new warrant charging Torres with conspiracy. Torres, who belonged to an MS-13 "clique" in Virginia, said he was put in charge, and traveled to New York in August "for the specific purpose of participating in the planning and execution of the murder plot", Sweeney wrote. Gang members were trying to obtain a high-powered rifle to penetrate the agent's bulletproof vest. Another MS-13 informant told authorities the agent was marked for death because the gang was "exceedingly angry" at him for arresting many members in the past three years, the affidavit states. The murder was supposed to be carried out by the Flushing clique, according to the informant. Federal prosecutors have indicted numerous MS-13 gang members on racketeering, extortion, prostitution, kidnapping, illegal immigration, money laundering, murder, people smuggling, arms trafficking, human trafficking and drug trafficking charges; the targeted special agent was the lead federal investigator on many of the federal cases.
In August 2011, six San Francisco MS-13 members were convicted of racketeering and conspiracy, including three murders, in what was the city's largest-scope gang trial in many years. Another 18 defendants reported to have ties to the gang pleaded guilty before trial. Two of the men murdered had been mistaken for rival gang members because of their red clothing, and another was described by prosecution witnesses as a seller of fake documents who refused to pay ‘taxes’ to MS-13 in its territory
In February 2012, a federal judge convicted three MS-13 gang members of murder. Their victim, Moises Frias Jr., was killed, and two of his companions severely wounded, after MS-13 members mistook them for members of the rival Norteños gang because of their red clothing. Danilo Velasquez, the former leader of the San Francisco branch of MS-13, was sentenced to life imprisonment plus 10 years, and is incarcerated at USP Hazelton.
In October 2016, Jordy Mejia was murdered and kidnapped in Maryland. On February 1, 2019 23-year-old Reynaldo “Fuego” Granados-Vasquez, 22-year-old Neris Moreno-Martinez, and 21-year-old Jose “Liar” Melendez-Rivera plead guilty to using a fake Facebook account to lure Mejia from New Jersey. The three MS-13 members, natives of El Salvador, were in the United States illegally.
On March 27, 2017 Raymond Wood was discovered dead on the road in Bedford, Virginia. Six individuals have been charged with his robbery, abduction and murder. They are also charged with being members of MS-13.
On August 13–14, 2017, New Jersey MS-13 faction member Walter Yovany Gomez, who was added to the FBI most wanted list in April 2017, was apprehended and charged with the brutal 2011 murder of his friend, Julio Matute, for associating with another gang. After a night of drinking, Gomez and another MS-13 member smacked Matute on the head with a baseball bat, sliced his throat with a knife, and stabbed him in the back with a screwdriver 17 times. Gomez managed to evade arrest but was later captured in Virginia, where he was hiding out with other MS-13 gang members.
In 2017, two MS-13 members, Miguel Alvarez-Flores and Diego Hernandez-Rivera, were arrested for kidnapping, raping, torturing, and drugging a 14-year-old girl for over 2 weeks in Houston, Texas. According to the 14-year-old, the members also held another victim, "Genesis", hostage in the same apartment. 
The East Coast kingpin of the MS-13, Miguel Angel Corea Diaz, of Laurel, Maryland (of Prince George's County), was arraigned April 19, 2018 in Nassau County Court in Mineola, New York, on charges including conspiracy to commit murder. He could be sentenced to life in prison if he is convicted. He was one of seventeen defendants in a 21-count indictment in January that charged him with several counts of conspiracy to commit murder and operating as a high-level trafficker of controlled substances. He was extradited the week of April 23, 2018, from Prince George's County, Maryland, where he was held since October. The earlier jailing was in lieu of $125,000 bail. The gang reportedly issued a call to "take out a cop" in retaliation for Diaz's arrest.
Long Island, New York cases, 2010s
In 2010, Rene Mejia allegedly murdered a Long Island 2-year-old baby. According to a confession by a fellow gang member, Adalberto Guzman, MS-13 members decided to "drop," or murder in their slang, the baby's mother because she had "disrespected" the gang by trying to have rival gang members beat up her former MS-13 boyfriend. According to Guzman, after the mother was lured into the woods with an invitation to smoke cannabis, he killed her; and the baby then began screaming and crying and was executed with two shots to the head.
On June 30, 2015, Jonathan Cardona-Hernandez was discovered shot dead on a street in Central Islip, New York. MS-13 member William Castellano was accused of murdering him on the suspicion that Cardona-Hernandez was a member of a rival gang. Castellano was sentenced in the Eastern District of New York federal court to 27 years in prison for the crime on January 24, 2019.
In August 2017, two undisclosed members were charged with the January murder of 19-year-old civilian Julio Cesar Gonzales-Espantzay, who was lured with promises of cannabis and sex to a forest in Long Island, where he was attacked with machetes and stabbed with knives. Nassau County police also said the two members were responsible for 21 murders in New York in just short of 2 years. Authorities said the motive was to gain reputation.
On August 20, 2018, Josue Portillo, a 17-year old member of MS-13 from Long Island, pleaded guilty to racketeering charges. Portillo participated in the murder of four young Latino men assumed to be in a rival gang. Portillo, along with several other of his fellow gang members, lured the four young men into the woods behind a soccer field in Central Islip on April 11, 2017, then proceeded to kill the victims using machetes, knives, and wooden clubs. Although he was 15 years and 11 months old at the time of the murders, he was prosecuted as an adult and now faces life in prison.
On January 9, 2019, three high school students who came to the United States illegally as youths were arrested and charged with the stabbing of another teen after school in Central Islip, New York; they were also charged with being members of MS-13. On January 29, they were arraigned.
On February 2, 2019, an MS-13 member fatally shot a member of the rival 18th Street Gang on the New York City Subway's 90th Street–Elmhurst Avenue station in Queens. On the same day graffiti with the gang's name was scrawled on the wall outside the district office of local city council member Francisco Moya. President Trump mentioned the incident in his 2019 State of the Union Address. Immigration Customs and Enforcement confirmed that the suspected murderer was an undocumented immigrant.
In 2011, Alonso "Casper" Bruno Cornejo Ormeno, an associate of MS-13 from Fairfax, Virginia was sentenced to 292 months in prison for child prostitution. Ormeno recruited juvenile females into a prostitution ring by locating runaway children.
Rances Ulices Amaya, a leader of MS-13, of Springfield, Virginia was convicted in February 2012 for trafficking girls as young as 14 into a prostitution ring. He was sentenced in June 2012 to 50 years in prison for child prostitution. The girls were lured from middle schools, high schools, and public shelters. Once acquired by Amaya, they were required to have sex with as many as ten men per day.
In September 2012, Yimmy Anthony Pineda Penado, also known as "Critico" and "Spike", of Maryland, a former "clique leader" of MS-13, became the eleventh MS-13 gang member to be convicted of child prostitution since 2011.
Charlotte, North Carolina
In the first decade of the 21st century, U.S. authorities investigated MS-13 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The work eventually led to charges against 26 MS-13 members, including 7 trial convictions in January 2010, 18 guilty pleas, and 11 multi-year prison sentences.
Alejandro Enrique Ramirez Umaña
Alejandro Enrique Ramirez Umaña, aka "Wizard" was the first MS-13 member convicted of the federal death penalty. In 2005, in Los Angeles, according to a jury in a later sentencing phase, Umaña murdered Jose Herrera and Gustavo Porras on July 27, and participated in and aided and abetted the killing of Andy Abarca on September 28. He later came to Charlotte, North Carolina, according to witnesses, as a veteran member of MS-13, to reorganize the Charlotte cell of the gang.
According to witnesses at his trial on December 8, 2007, while in the Las Jarochitas, a family-run restaurant in Greensboro, North Carolina, Umaña shot Ruben Garcia Salinas fatally in the chest and Manuel Garcia Salinas in the head. Witnesses testified that the shootings took place after the Garcia Salinas brothers had "disrespected" Umaña's gang signs by calling them "fake". Firing three more shots in the restaurant, according to trial testimony, Umaña injured another person with his gunfire. Trial testimony and evidence showed that Umaña later fled back to Charlotte with MS-13 assistance. Umaña was arrested five days later in possession of the murder weapon. Additional evidence and testimony from the trial revealed that Umaña coordinated attempts to kill witnesses and informants while he was incarcerated awaiting trial.
Umaña was indicted by a federal grand jury on June 23, 2008. During the trial, he attempted to bring a knife with him into the courtroom, which was discovered by U.S. Marshals before he was transported to the courthouse. Thousands of hours were spent on the case over several years. International work was also involved. On April 19, 2010, the jury convicted Umaña of multiple charges of murder, and additionally found him responsible for the 2005 murders during the sentencing phase. On April 28, a 12-person federal jury in Charlotte voted unanimously to impose the death penalty. On July 27, 2010, Chief U.S. District Judge Robert J. Conrad, Jr., of Charlotte, NC, formally imposed the federal death penalty sentence.
- Principal characters of the feature movie Sin Nombre (2009) are members of MS'13 in Chiapas, Mexico, and many of the traditions and practices of MS'13 are depicted accurately (killings, tattoos, initiation, exploitation of migrants, etc.).
- Violence by MS-13 against immigrants at Guatemala–Mexico border is pictured in the feature movie La vida precoz y breve de Sabina Rivas (2012).
- National Geographic created a documentary in 2005 titled World's Most Dangerous Gang, portraying MS-13.
- In the debut season of The History Channel's television series Gangland released two full episodes covering MS-13:
- 2007 season 1 episode 2, titled "You Rat, You Die" – Former gang member turned informant Brenda Paz had been supplying the authorities with first-hand accounts of MS-13's operations; she was later found dead.
- 2008 season 1 episode 13, titled "Root of All Evil" – Reports on the drugs and prostitution rackets run by MS-13.
- "National Gang Threat Assessment". fbi.gov. National Gang Intelligence Center. Retrieved June 19, 2012.
- Ronczkowski, Michael R. (2006). Terrorism and Organized Hate Crime: Intelligence Gathering, Analysis and Investigations, Second Edition. CRC Press. pp. 102–103. ISBN 9780849378508. Retrieved 26 June 2018.
- Bryjak, George J.; Barkan, Steven E. (2011). Fundamentals of criminal justice : a sociological view (2nd. ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning. p. 115. ISBN 9780763754242. Retrieved 26 June 2018.
- "Zetas and MS-13 Join Forces in Guatemala". Fox News Latino. Fox News Network. Associated Press. April 7, 2012. Retrieved October 24, 2012.
- Domash, Shelly Feuer. "America's Most Dangerous Gang". apfn.org.
- "MS-13: Gangs infiltrating the suburbs of Washington, DC". dcspotlight.com. DC Spotlight Newspaper. Archived from the original on June 14, 2018. Retrieved February 5, 2014.
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- Strohm, Chris (August 1, 2005). "DHS touts success of anti-gang operation". GovExec.com. Retrieved March 14, 2006.
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