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Treasury Dept.: MS-13 gang is international criminal organization

October 11, 2012|By Danielle Ryan
  • A photo provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows an example of a tattoo of the gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).
A photo provided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement shows an example… (Michael Johnson / ICE / Associated…)

WASHINGTON -- The Treasury Department announced Thursday that it has designated the violent Latin American gang MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, as an international criminal organization.

MS-13 has been involved in drug trafficking, human trafficking, kidnapping, murder and extortion, among other serious offenses. The decision by the Obama administration marks the first time this designation has been given to such a group.

MS-13 originated as a street gang in the Los Angeles area, composed mainly of immigrants from El Salvador, and has long been a target of Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators. The gang is believed to have as many as 10,000 members in 46 states and throughout Central America.

The particularly violent nature of the group is evident in one of its mottos: “Mata, roba, viola, controla,” which translates to “Kill, steal, rape and control.”

In 2003, a pregnant Virginia teenager, Brenda Paz, was stabbed to death and left along the Shenandoah River after she left the group and became an informant.

According to the Treasury Department, money generated by local MS-13 cliques in the United States is funneled back to the group’s leadership in El Salvador, but the official designation will make it more difficult for members of the gang to use banks and wire transfers to move their profits.

ICE Director John Morton said Thursday: “This designation allows us to strike at the financial heart of MS-13 and is a powerful weapon in our fight to dismantle one of the most violent, transnational criminal organizations operating today.”

The announcement comes only a day after 11 members of MS-13 were rounded up and arrested in Rhode Island and Massachusetts as the result of a two-year  investigation. Since 2006, ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations division has arrested 4,078 MS-13 gang members. 

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nation@latimes.com

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