DOJ Releases MS-13 Report

74 percent of gang defendants charged were unlawfully present in the United States

By Andrew R. Arthur on October 23, 2020

On Wednesday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) released "Full-Scale Response: A Report on the Department of Justice's Efforts to Combat MS-13 from 2016-2020". It is well worth the read, detailing the department's efforts to eradicate Mara Salvatrucha-13 (MS-13), which was designated as a significant transnational criminal organization (TCO) during the Obama administration in 2012, worldwide. The most interesting — but not shocking — takeaway is that some 74 percent of the MS-13 defendants prosecuted by DOJ during the past four years are in the United States illegally.

MS-13 is not a new topic on these pages, but it is, oddly enough, one that does not draw much attention — even in communities in which the organization operates. For example, on September 4, I wrote "Five MS-13 'Affiliates' Held in Rural Baltimore County Killing of 16-Year-Old Girl". The victim, Gabriela Alejandra Gonzalez Ardon, was slaughtered in the woods beside a walking trail near an upscale Maryland neighborhood.

It turns out that three of those indicted in that case were unlawfully present in the United States, having entered as minors, as my colleague Marguerite Telford reported. The five were easy for the police to apprehend, as they were already in custody for assault and attempted murder on a 17-year-old male who had reportedly been targeted by the gang for recruitment (he was abducted from the local public library, no less). That assault allegedly occurred eight days after Ardon's murder.

It was briefly a local story in Baltimore, and then — nothing. So, I wrote a second article, "If a Girl Dies in the Forest, Does Anyone Other than Me Care? Gabriela Alejandra Gonzalez Ardon, MS-13, and the odd lack of coverage — and outrage". I received one radio interview in response, but I cannot find anything in the local paper of record (the Baltimore Sun) about MS-13 since they reported on the charges in her case on August 31.

Worse, you can watch the pusillanimous response of Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski when asked about the gang in September 2019. Why was the county executive asked about the gang more than a year ago? Because a few days before, ICE identified six of the seven individuals involved in the stabbing death of a 21-year-old man in Towson as illegal aliens and MS-13 gang members. Note that Towson is the county seat — that is, where Olszewski works, and runs the government.

In any event, back to the DOJ report. It explains:

MS-13 operates in the United States, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and other countries. Each year, MS-13 is responsible for violent crimes in the United States, including murders, extortion, arms and drug trafficking, assaults, rapes, human trafficking, robberies, and kidnappings. For decades, MS-13 has exploited weaknesses in U.S. immigration enforcement policies to move its members in and out of the United States and to recruit new members who have arrived in the United States illegally.

Astoundingly, that report estimates that there are 10,000 MS-13 members in this country, and tens of thousands more abroad.

The genesis of that report was a February 9, 2017, Executive Order (EO 13773), "Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking". In that EO, President Trump called on the executive branch to strengthen and prioritize the federal response to TCOs and other criminal organizations, including MS-13.

As I reported in April 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions thereafter announced "zero tolerance" for criminal gangs, with a special emphasis on MS-13. Subsequently, in October 2018, Sessions announced the formation of a Transnational Organized Crime (TOC) Task Force made up of experienced federal prosecutors to coordinate the government's efforts against the identified groups, including not just MS-13, but also narcotraffickers like the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG), the Sinaloa Cartel, and the Gulf Cartel, as well as Lebanese Hezbollah.

As the DOJ report explains, in August 2019, Attorney General William Barr created Joint Task Force Vulcan ("JTFV"). JTFV was charged with coordinating and leading the efforts of DOJ and other U.S. law enforcement agencies to eradicate MS-13. DOJ explains that JTFV has increased coordination and collaboration between law-enforcement in the United States and international law enforcement partners, including El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala.

This international cooperation is crucial, because MS-13 is essentially a large foreign criminal pyramid scheme with illicit franchisees, as the 2012 designation of the group as a TCO made clear:

Local MS-13 cliques take direction from the group's foreign leadership for strategic decisions involving moves into new territories and efforts to recruit new members. Money generated by local MS-13 cliques in the U.S. is consolidated and funneled to the group's leadership in El Salvador.

The money that is funneled back to Central America funds the group's criminal activities in the region (as I will discuss below), fueling violence that is a major push factor driving migrants to enter the United States illegally.

As an immigration judge, I heard dozens, if not hundreds, of asylum claims based on MS-13 extortion, coercion, and recruitment efforts. Eradicating MS-13 in the United States and abroad thus improves security in the countries from which the majority of migrants entering the United States illegally hail — reducing that push factor.

JTFV has also "designated priority targeting of prosecutions against MS-13 cliques and leaders who have the most impact on the U.S." and "coordinated significant MS-13 indictments in United States Attorneys' Offices across the country."

DOJ reports that, since FY 2016, it has charged 749 MS-13 defendants, and obtained (to date) at least 504 convictions. Some 37 of those defendants have been sentenced to life. In addition, the department is seeking the death penalty in two MS-13 cases, one out of the Eastern District of New York, and one out of the Eastern District of Virginia.

The indictment in the New York case charges the defendant, Alexi Saenz, with seven murders. Four of the victims were high school students, and six were killed with a machete and/or baseball bat.

The indictment in the Virginia case names one Elmer Zelaya Martinez, who is alleged to be "a high-ranking member of the Park View Locos Salvatrucha clique". Martinez is charged with coordinating the "stabbing and hacking deaths" of a 14-year-old and a 17-year-old.

DOJ has gone after MS-13 members on a laundry list of charges, ranging from RICO, murder, robbery and extortion, kidnapping, and human trafficking to "Conspiracy to Provide and Conceal Material Support to Terrorists" and "Conspiracy to Commit Acts of Terrorism Transcending National Boundaries".

The latter two charges (among others) have been lodged against Armando Eliu Melgar Diaz, a twice-deported Salvadoran national currently living in that country. Since his second deportation, according to DOJ, he has become the leader of the "MS-13 East Coast Program", overseeing the activities of 20 of the gang's cliques in this country (including in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, Ohio, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and the District of Columbia), as well as MS-13 undertakings in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

DOJ notes: "The money Melgar Diaz received from members in the United States was used to support MS-13's violent activities in El Salvador, including by purchasing weapons." Proving my point, above.

Also detailed in that report is a case that I discussed in August, in a post captioned "Honduran Minor Brutally Exploited by MS-13 Gang: Fairfax County's sanctuary policies turns a blind eye (at a minimum) to such offenses". The facts are so heinous, I will not repeat them again, but suffice it to say that it involved the serial beating and sex trafficking (in both Virginia and Maryland) of a 13-year-old girl.

How has MS-13 managed to wreak such carnage? The report explains that MS-13 was able to exploit "weak immigration enforcement policies" in this country for decades, recruiting and using aliens here to carry out its criminal activities.

Specifically, of the MS-13 related individuals charged by DOJ in the past five years, 74 percent were in the United States illegally, 3 percent are aliens legally present in the United States, and 8 percent are U.S. citizens (the status of an additional 15 percent are "unknown", for reasons that are unclear).

There are three key points in that report: (1) MS-13 is an exceptionally brutal, but well-organized, criminal organization operating both in the United States and abroad. (2) DOJ and a slew of other federal agencies are focusing significant resources on bringing MS-13 members, including key organizers and leaders, to justice. (3) Lax enforcement of U.S. immigration law has allowed that gang to flourish, to the detriment of not only communities across this country, but also to the citizens of and civil society in countries across the region.

Sanctuary communities nationwide should pay heed to this report. As should clueless local politicos and the media.

Topics: Gangs