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Last week, I posted two lengthy articles on MS-13: one looking at the present day and another at the gang’s history.

Two other articles about them intrigued me, summarised below. Emphases mine.

Ingenious Honduran structure

I mentioned on Friday that MS-13 became established in Honduras when illegals who were part of the gang in the United States were deported during the 1990s — the Clinton years.

The Honduran MS-13 structure has become highly sophisticated since then. In May 2016, InSight Crime published an article, ‘Is Honduras’ MS13 a Drug Trafficking Organization? An Obscure Fugitive May Have the Answer’.

The ‘obscure fugitive’ is one David Elías Campbell, who is also known as ‘Viejo’ or ‘Viejo Dan,’ and, by a leader of MS-13 in San Pedro Sula, as ‘Tío Sam’.

San Pedro Sula is the second largest city in Honduras. The MS-13 operation there is quickly integrating itself into society.

In 2013, using gang money from extortion, drug dealing and hired assassinations, Campbell started a trucking company, Delca, which has a fleet of heavy goods vehicles equipped to haul fertiliser, large shipments of which could hide drugs.

Campbell has made trips to the United States, Panama and Colombia. When Honduran police arrested him as part of their Project Avalanche, he managed to escape:

Their allies included former and current high-level members of the policeCampbell escaped, reportedly with the help of a police commander, who goes by the alias “Monga.”

MS-13 also bankrolls local politicians with the hope of seeing them get elected at national level:

The MS13 also sought political cover and a means to assert influence over the national government. The group allegedly financed the campaign of Jorge Neftalí Romero Mejía, the mayor of Talanga, a municipality near the capital, La Tribuna reported. Investigators told InSight Crime the gang’s long-term plan was to see their mayor take a seat in congress.

MS-13 donates to the city:

The relationship continued after the elections. Authorities played for InSight Crime telephone intercepts of conversations between Porky [Alexander Mendoza, a top MS13 leader in San Pedro Sula] and the mayor discussing, among other things, a tractor the MS13 was giving to the municipality.

MS-13 also owns a hospital!

They have become financially sophisticated at money laundering and diversion:

the MS13 created a more sophisticated financial wing, Honduras authorities say, included a gang member with a Master’s in finance. They managed a large list of employees, and even paid out Christmas bonuses to members and collaborators such as the police. They bought properties, moved into new residences and became leaders in the transport industry, paying more money to their drivers than rival companies, the Honduras investigators said.

“They had the best drivers,” one investigator told InSight Crime.

The Honduran MS-13 works closely with the one in El Salvador, including with any leaders currently in jail.

Gang leaders have made it tricky for investigators to unravel who is in charge of the Honduran operation. Alexander ‘Porky’ Mendoza directed authorities to Campbell, but other investigators say there is no proof Campbell is an MS-13 member. (He became involved with them during his youth as a small time drug dealer.) Furthermore, telephone intercepts reveal that Porky is the real leader.

It is possible that MS-13 operates a type of honorary membership system, because the gang in El Salvador designated three new members in 2015 who are clearly too old to go through the rigours of what the normal MS-13 members have to in order to be initiated: murder and the 13-second beatdown, which I mentioned on Friday.

Whatever the story is with Campbell, he is well placed to take the Honduran MS-13 into:

the world of transnational criminal organizations … His movements, supposed efforts to contact large-scale wholesalers in Colombia, and his trucking company suggest that he has the infrastructure and wherewithal that has been missing in the gangs to make this leap.

Imagine. MS-13 could be transporting drugs and other items all over North and South America.

MS-13 in North Dakota

In 2015, the Los Angeles Times published an article — ‘Drug explosion follows oil boom on North Dakota Indian reservation’ — concerning the tribes that comprise MHA Nation: the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara.

MHA Nation is a huge reservation that is three times the size of Los Angeles. Because it has traditionally been a low crime area, it had only 20 law enforcement officials and a handful of investigators. There are approximately 4,000 Native Americans living there, but with the oil boom, thousands of outsiders, too.

The Bakken Oil Fields have brought prosperity not only to North Dakota but especially to MHA Nation. Individuals and families receive royalty cheques that oil companies pay them for use of the land they have inherited. The royalty amounts vary, but can be as much as tens of thousands of dollars a month, the LA Times says. Unfortunately, enough younger tribal members are using the money to buy meth and other drugs, making narcotics a lucrative operation.

Authorities found heroin on the reservation for the first time in 2012. In 2013, MHA Nation flew in Guatemalan gang experts who taught them how to identify members of MS-13! This is incredible not only for the reservation but also the quiet, rural, truly Midwestern state of North Dakota:

One of the experts, Francisco Foppa, said he noticed MS-13 tattoos on people in a Wal-Mart in Minot and the 4 Bears Casino and Lodge at the MHA Nation’s capital in New Town. “It was alarming to see people with those tattoos on the reservation,” he said.

Authorities have not arrested any MS-13 kingpins, but the gang’s presence is palpable and many speak about it in whispers.

MS-13 is strong enough and scary enough that I question whether I should speak out at all,” said a former tribal leader who requested anonymity out of fear of reprisal. “They’re vicious. Just like any ripe feeding ground, they have competition, but obviously they are the big bad wolf. They are the ones that are the most terrifying.”

The rot spread to Montana, North Dakota’s neighbour. Residents in Roosevelt County had just passed a bond enabling the increase of jail space.

An FBI initiative, Operation Winter’s End, resulted in arrests and indictments in 2013. It established that the drug dealers had ties to Mexican gangs. Still, the problem persists.

On March 5, 2015, the FBI opened its fifth agency in the state:

Special Agent in Charge Thornton states, “The office in Williston is a welcomed addition to our presence in North Dakota. The opening of this office is in response to the unprecedented growth in population and economic activity associated with the oil exploration and production in the Bakken region and the corresponding increase in criminal activity. The FBI will be in a better position to effectively address these issues in this region of North Dakota through this new office. We look forward to continuing our collaborative efforts with our local law enforcement partners in the region through this permanent presence.”

I knew North Dakota well at one time, and all of this is just unthinkable. I am not alone. The LA Times reports:

Mary Eleanor Fox, a 66-year-old silver-haired matriarch of a large family, said she never thought she’d see the day most of her grandchildren would be addicted to the sort of drugs she’d once only heard about “in the big cities.”

Sadly, some babies are born addicts. Mrs Fox’s family has experienced the tragic phenomenon:

Her daughter, Jackie Powell, a robust 47-year-old with a quick smile, was forced to quit her job and become a full-time mom to her two grandsons — ages 1 and 2 — who were born addicted to methamphetamine.

Their father, Powell’s son Mason Fox, struggles with his meth addiction. Their mothers grapple with the same. Amelia Reed, mother to the youngest, first tried meth nearly five years ago and says she’s addicted to “the devil’s drug.”

“Now my first son was born with it,” Reed said. “I was pregnant and selfish and wouldn’t stop doing it.”

Reed receives oil royalty money from land she inherited on the reservation, and says the monthly checks made it easy for her to drop at least $400 a month for her habit.

An article dated March 25, 2016 from the Montana paper, Havre Daily News, ‘Mexican drug cartels hit north-central Montana’, says:

International crime cartels are selling hard drugs along the Hi-Line and the FBI has confirmed the Mexican border is the most “prevalent route” by which drugs are arriving in the U.S. and, consequently, into Montana.

An agent with the Tri-Agency Safe Trails Task Force, who prefers not to be identified by name, said cartel members have been selling methamphetamine, heroin and opioid pills along the Hi-Line since before the Bakken oil boom started in 2007. But the flood of people and high oil wages opened the floodgates of drugs and outside dealers. The drugs have spilled out of the Bakken, down the Hi-Line and into Hill County.

A local, who has spent time around drug dealers and who asked not be identified, talked about a methamphetamine dealer in Havre.

The Havre dealer met regularly in eastern Montana with a cartel member to buy meth that would be sold along the Hi-Line, the person said. The out-of-town gang member who was selling meth to the local dealer, according to the testimony, was short in stature, spoke “little English” and had a tattoo of the number 13 on his face

One possibility is the gang MS-13

But there are other Sureños gangs that sport the number 13 in homage to the Mexican Mafia, La Eme (The M):

Another possibility for which cartel the out-of-town drug dealer belonged to is the South Side Sureños …

Whichever cartel the drug dealer was from, he wanted to make sure the Havre dealer and their partner was trustworthy. He made a reference to decapitation if they weren’t, the person said.

This is a huge problem for what was a law-abiding region of the United States:

The Montana National Guard Counterdrug Program will receive a 60 percent funding hike, according to a press release issued last week by Sen. Jon Tester’s office.

The increase is partly in response to pressure from Tester to National Guard Bureau Chief General Frank Grass to help fight “organized and transnational drug trafficking and smuggling” in the Bakken region.

By the time Tester had written Grass about allocating money to fight the increased crime in the region — Tester tells Grass that “arrests in all crime categories in Bakken counties increased by 80 percent”— he had long known how dire the situation in Montana is.

Montana authorities have identified the big players there as being from the Sinaloa Cartel. That said, overall:

A local Task Force agent confirmed that cartel members have gone beyond the Bakken and landed in Hill County. He added that they are anything but inconspicuous.

“They come to this area and they’re a big fish in a little pond and they stick out,” he said.

He said cartel members “target” the Indian reservations.

“I don’t know why that is,but it may have something to do with the drug transportation pipeline,” the agent said. “One of our main pipelines here is the Yakima. We just had a big case that we took down and one of those guys was part of the cartel. He was an illegal immigrant” …

The folks who want to do harm to this country will go to the weakest link in the chain, and if the weakest link in the chain is north of Havre or north of Plentywood or north of Bismarck, North Dakota, or wherever, that’s where they will go,” Tester said.

Senator Tester thought that border security was essential to put a stop to this:

Tester said Tuesday during an interview at Fort Belknap Indian Reservation that he knows how important border security is. That’s why he’s against reducing border patrol agents by 300 as President Obama’s 2017 budget would do

“All I know is that if they’re replacing people with technology on homeland security, we need to see that plan. … I’m not opposed to having the best technology on the northern border if it saves money. In fact, I encourage them to do that. But that’s not the story I heard. The story I heard is they are reducing the people and the equipment isn’t anything more than what they would do under normal budget circumstances,” Tester said.

Tester’s office said the senator “would like to see increased security along the southern border,” adding that that is the reason he voted for the bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill that provided for increased border security. The bill made it past the Senate but was never taken up in the House of Representatives, the statement said.

If President Donald Trump had explained his rationale for ‘the wall’ using these types of examples during his 2016 campaign, more people would have got on board with it. That was the one sticking point I had with it.

Having done my reading for these posts, I now think it’s a good idea.

Trump is now explaining it better:

However, ports will also have to be better secured, as a result.

When it comes to gangs: where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Tomorrow: Big Pharma makes big money from illicit drug addiction

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I had never heard of MS-13 until last year.

Since then, I run across a mention of them nearly every week without even trying.

My post yesterday dealt with the latest strategy to fight this alarming and deadly gang.

MS-13 have had an incredible and terrifying expansion in the United States. I recently saw a History Documentary Channel film on them and would like to share it with you along with a bit of California gang history.

For my European readers, this gang might appear to be an American and Central American phenomenon, however, primary school children in North Brabant, The Netherlands, are beginning to copy MS-13’s violent behaviour (see here and here).

California gang organisation

In California, gangs operate on a North-South divide. The boundaries are marked by the towns of Delano and Bakersfield.

Gangs from the North are called Norteños: Northerners. They affiliate with the larger criminal organisation Nuestra Familia, which formed in 1968 in the Soledad Correctional Facility, located in Monterrey County. Their main income comes from drugs: cocaine, heroin, cannabis and methamphetamine. Nuestra Familia’s Wikipedia entry points out:

While members of the Norteños gang is considered to be affiliated with Nuestra Familia, being a member of Nuestra Familia itself does not signify association as a Norteño.

The number of the Norteños is 14. N is the 14th letter of the alphabet and is the first letter in Nuestra Familia. They write the number 14 as XIV or X4. They tattoo themselves with four dots. Their colours are red and black.

Sureños — Southerners, also SUR (Southern United Raza) — are gangs that operate from the southern part of the state, although some have a presence in northern California. They affiliate with the organisation Mexican Mafia, created in 1957 at what was then the Deuel Vocational Institution (now an adult prison) in Tracy. It has no original connection with Mexico, but rather Hispanic youth gangs in Los Angeles. Mexican Mafia has no connection with the New Mexican Mafia.

The number of the Sureños is 13. M is the 13th letter of the alphabet and the first letter in Mexican Mafia, also known as La Eme: The M. They write the number 13 as itself but also as XIII, X3, uno tres, trece. They tattoo themselves with three dots. Their colours are blue and grey.

In addition to drug trafficking, Sureños are also very violent. They kidnap, murder, assault and engage in human trafficking.

MS-13 is a Sureño gang.

The rift between the northern and southern gangs took place in 1968:

While La Eme had initially been created to protect Mexicans in prison, there was a perceived level of abuse by members of La Eme towards the imprisoned Latinos from rural farming areas of Northern California.[10] The spark that led to the ongoing war between Norteños and members of the Mexican Mafia involved a situation in which a La Eme allegedly stole a pair of shoes from a Northerner. This event put into motion the longest-running gang war in the state of California and the founding of Nuestra Familia.[10]

MS-13: from LA street punks to big players

Wikipedia states that the etymology of the name MS is in dispute. The gang’s full name is Mara Salvatrucha:

There is some dispute about the etymology of the name. Some sources state the gang is named for La Mara, a street gang in San Salvador, and the Salvatrucha guerrillas who fought in the Salvadoran Civil War.[8] Additionally, the word mara means gang in Caliche slang (es) 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 “Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front.”[9]

InSight Crime has a good translation of a history of MS-13 which appeared in Spanish on the El Faro site. Insight Crime’s Geoffrey Ramsey explains more before going into Sanz and Martinez’s history from El Faro. Emphases mine below:

While the MS-13 is more commonly associated with menacing tattoos and violent initiation ceremonies, El Faro’s two-part investigation (See Part I and Part II, in their original Spanish) into the gang’s history shows that this was not always the case. When starting out at the bottom of the food chain in Los Angeles’ gang underworld, the Mara found itself attacked from all sides. The authors, Jose Luis Sanz and Carlos Martinez, claim that the gang’s fearsome reputation had to be earned, and was the result of persecution from white and Mexican gangs in the city …

The transition into one of the most ruthless transnational criminal gangs was not an easy one. The Mara Salvatrucha, like other street gangs, emerged from humble beginnings. While most analysts believe that the gang got its start in Los Angeles-area prisons in the 1990s, its roots date back farther than that, to a small group of teenagers in the Salvadoran community in the 1970s:

In the late ‘70s in LA, the Mara Salvatrucha was just a bunch of ragged teenagers, mostly heavy metal fans. They called themselves “stoners” in reference to rock and the influence of the Rolling Stones, as did other youth gangs — like the Mid City Stoners and The Hole Stoners — who listened to rock and smoked marijuana on street corners and parks in their neighborhoods.

No member of the Mara Salvatrucha Stoners was over 18 years. Most had come to the United States recently, with his parents fleeing poverty in El Salvador. They were the most recent batch of migrants to arrive and none could say that their “territory” was entirely theirs, with no blacks, Mexicans or Koreans.

Still, speaking within the Mara Salvatrucha of stoners is to invoke the pure, the original, the real thing. In the Mara, which maintains a blurred memory preserved by oral traditions, they say that none of these early pioneers are alive, but gangsters who cooly claim to have joined in those early days are aware of the prestige this gives them. Invoking the blurred past is a hallmark of the constant war for respect being waged in the gang.

The LAPD has records of the Mara Salvatrucha Stoners dating back to 1975. Researchers like Tom Ward, of the University of California, have documented the foundation of small cliques or core stoners of the MS in 1978.

It is uncertain when it first began, but some veteran Salvatruchos from LA in the late ‘70s claim that a dozen stoners began meeting regularly at the Seven Eleven that still exists at the intersection of Westmoreland Avenue and James M. Wood Street. There, at that Seven Eleven, is probably where the first clique of the Mara Salvatrucha began. There are still, in Los Angeles and El Salvador, gang members who belong to it.

The Salvatruchos felt tough. Their tight jeans torn at the knees, black shirts with album covers of ACDC, Led Zeppelin or Kiss, and long hair all shouted defiance. They were involved in fights with similar groups, stole car cassette players and became infamous in schools like Berendo Middle School, four blocks from the intersection of Normandie Avenue and Pico Boulevard. Some even boasted of being satanic while singing Hell Bent for Leather, by Judas Priest. But they hardly had any ambition beyond going to the next concert and feeling powerful by raising their fists into the air and raising two fingers, simulating a pair of horns. For the moment.

Sanz and Martinez explain MS-13’s evolution from petty crime into extreme violence as the gang expanded in Los Angeles. Prison served as an enabler, with members getting acquainted with each other and trading information:

Salvadorans formed their own gang to stand up to pressure from other Latinos, finding themselves looked at in disgust by Mexicans and their descendants. It is not easy being the new kid on the block and expecting others to invite you to play with them. Even if the game consists of waging war …

By 1985 most of the MS cliques had moved past their stoner identity and in the following years took up small-scale drug trafficking, or extorted money from corner drug dealers in their areas.

Controlling the street made no sense if you could not get financial benefit from it. They competed with other gangs in order to win in all categories: presence, control, violence … money. [MS-13 affiliated woman] La Chele remembers how the homies came out of jail talking in new terms about the arts of intimidation and power, learned from long cell conversations. She, herself near the end of a brief stay in a prison, found herself bringing order to her clique, which was losing money because it only taxed local drug dealers once a week.

“The homie who was in charge of extortions asked me, ‘How do you think you can improve our method, coming out of jail?’ And I said, “Simon, you got to charge rent every day, plus the corner dealers can see that red truck of yours from a mile away. When they see it they hide and that’s why you don’t·manage to get anything.”

It took a long time for MS to earn enough street cred so that they could get a powerful ally in the gang world. Sanz and Martinez tell us:

The number 13 is actually a name that indicates homage to a criminal force majeure, the Lords, the Mexican Mafia, which reigns in Southern California. The Mara Salvatrucha would take several years to build that friendship and that number.

MS-13 now an international menace

This brings us to the 45-minute film from History Documentary Channel, MS-13: World’s Most Dangerous Gang. It was made in 2016. Some dates differ to what Sanz and Martinez above documented, e.g. when the gang was founded. A summary of the film follows:

Wally

The documentary features the story of Wally, a student at Hollywood High and an Iranian immigrant, having a snack in a neighbourhood restaurant with a friend. On December 17, 2002, an MS-13 girl approached Wally and asked him where he was from, meaning what gang was he with. A few minutes later, a group of male gang members and the girl surrounded him, brutally beating him up. They fled. Bleeding, Wally got up off the floor. He thought that was the end of the incident. Suddenly, a gang member walked back in with a gun and shot him at point blank range.

The senseless attack occurred because the girl and the male gang members were angry when Wally said he was from Iran. He had no gang connection. But Wally protested his innocence in vain.

Wally survived the beating and the shooting, but was now a quadriplegic, in a wheelchair and on a ventilator 24/7. Fortunately, he was able to testify in court against his attackers. He died four months later.

Marvin ‘Spy’ Guerra was among the defendants in court. He had joined MS-13 in October 2002. Guerra was the guy who went back to the restaurant to shoot Wally. He did that to make a name for himself.

Guerra aimed the gun close to Wally’s face. Wally’s only option in a split second reaction was to put his hand in front of his face. The bullet went through Wally’s hand and into his neck. Guerra had crippled Wally for life.

Guerra received a life sentence. He is eligible for parole in 15 years, therefore, soon.

Honduras

Another senseless attack — a massacre — took place in San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in Honduras. On December 23, 2004, MS-13 members there opened fire on a bus full of families at 6:30 p.m. Women, children and the elderly died in a bloodbath. A Honduran law enforcement official said it was like ‘something out of a Hollywood movie’, so horrific it didn’t seem possible in real life.

The massacre was organised and executed by a Los Angeles MS-13 member.

Two cars blocked the bus, one from the front and the other at the back. MS-13 members first killed the bus driver. They then sprayed the bus with bullets. That wasn’t enough. The gang members then went inside the bus to make sure everyone was dead. The law enforcement official said:

It was like a war zone, because the weapons were war weapons — M16s, AK-47s.

Twenty-eight people died, six of whom were children.

Fortunately, Honduran police were able to capture all but one of the killers — the mastermind behind the attack, from Los Angeles. His name is Eber Anibal Rivera-Paz, known as El Coche, or The Tapeworm. He was part of an MS-13 clique the Normandie Locos, referencing Normandie Avenue in Los Angeles.

The Tapeworm had been deported in the 1990s back to Honduras, where he started an MS-13 clique which he headed. He ordered the bus massacre in order to get back at police who were cracking down on the gang.

He made his way back to the United States but was quickly sent back to Honduras by airport immigration. Somehow, Honduran officials were unable to identify him upon his return. Furthermore, someone should have been waiting for him at the airport. When he saw no one was there, he continued on his way.

The Tapeworm has not been seen since. He could be in Honduras. He could be in the United States. He could be anywhere.

Ex-members’ stories

Since the 1980s, MS-13 has been growing at a ‘phenomenal rate’, with a presence in 41 or 42 states today as well as in Latin America.

In its infancy, MS-13’s original members had not belonged to gangs in El Salvador. They only formed a gang once they met in Los Angeles near Lafayette Park.

By 1979, approximately 700,000 Salvadorians fled the guerilla war in their own country for the safety of the United States. They settled near MacArthur Park in Los Angeles. One law enforcement official interviewed said that more than 95% of these immigrants wanted to work hard and build a new future for themselves. However, some young Salvadorians felt the tension on the streets near the park, which a Mexican gang, 18th Street, controlled. Salvadorians were not welcome.

Julio Cabrera, a former MS-13 member, said that when he joined in 1987 as Flipper, MS-13 and some of the other gangs got along and partied together. That changed in short order once MS-13 got involved in drug dealing and violence. Eventually, MS-13 began infringing on 18th Street’s territory.

In 1990, a fight broke out at a neighbourhood party and an 18th Street member shot an MS-13 member. Some say the shooting started a fierce war between the two gangs. Gunfights took place nightly.

By then, Salvadorians who had fought in their civil war began arriving in Los Angeles. Some joined MS-13. They were tough. They had military training. A law enforcement official says that they had seen and engaged in so much ruthless and extreme violence — e.g. cutting people’s arms off with a machete, setting people alight — that it was routine.

When Charlie ‘Angel’ Vasquez’s family arrived in Los Angeles in 1979, he was eight years old. He joined the Parkview Locos, a clique of MS-13 and got two tattoos, one on each arm. One says Mara 13 and the other 213, the city’s telephone area code. He said he was an ‘adrenaline junkie’ at the time and found the gang violence ‘exciting’.

He met the aforementioned Julio Cabrera, who helped initiate him into MS-13. The initiation rite consists of getting brutally beaten up by other gang members for 13 seconds. Vasquez says that if a member is enjoying watching someone getting beaten up, he’ll count to 13 more slowly.

Such violence and notoriety, Vasquez says, attracted hundreds of new recruits around the city. Not only was MS-13 shooting people without a second thought, they also had a reputation for rape. Vasquez said that he disapproved of rape, but a lot of his fellow ‘homies’ didn’t mind.

MS-13 also had a well known reputation for murder, which Vasquez also participated in. In 1991, he got into a heated argument with a rival black gang member. The black punched him then ran off. Charlie caught up with him. Out of his box on drink and cocaine, Charlie couldn’t stop punching his rival. When he stood back, he saw his clothes were covered in blood. His rival died.

Police arrested Vasquez at the scene. Vasquez felt no remorse for what he had done. In fact, he said that he felt proud, especially because his victim was black:

Hispanic gang members are racist.

Whilst in Los Angeles County Jail, he contemplated his next victims (‘Chinese? Cops?’) and his next crime:

You can’t help but think of evil things to do.

Meanwhile, the war with 18th Street was escalating. Drive-by shootings were commonplace, and innocent people were getting shot, sometimes fatally.

Enter the Mexican Mafia, which decided to stop the carnage. It was bad for their business. People stopped hanging out on street corners waiting for their drugs.

The truce took place at Elysian Park. The LAPD filmed it. The Mexican Mafia divided the area around MacArthur Park between the two gangs.

That was when Mara Salvatrucha added 13 to its name. That numerical addition increased their prestige. Soon they branched outside of Los Angeles. New territory was easy to find.

Rapid expansion

By the early 1990s, police forces noticed that MS-13 random violence was taking place far away from Los Angeles.

As the LAPD began cracking down on the gang, members moved elsewhere in the US. This gave them the opportunity to lie low from the police as well as operate in a new environment.

A law enforcement official said that it is easy for the gang to blend in to new surroundings. MS-13 members work by day, often in the building trade or menial labour, so appear to be straight arrows to employers. They enjoy working hard and will move anywhere there is job growth and steady employment.

BUTwell meaning parents also move their MS-13 teenage children to other parts of the country in the belief that they will quit the gang. Joker, who was a member of the Parkview Locos (affiliated with MS-13), said that his mother told him they were going to move to Virginia, where she had family. After six months, Joker picked up where he left off when he happened to meet other LA members there. He wasted no time in setting up a new branch of MS-13 in Fairfax County, Virginia. He began recruiting in middle schools and high schools.

Joker was not alone. This happened all over the United States. By the end of the 1990s, there were 10,000 MS-13 members across the nation.

In Dallas in 2001, the body of a young man was found in the woods. He had been shot execution style — and sodomised.

In Virginia in 2003, hikers found the body of a pregnant teenager along the banks of the Shenandoah River. She had been stabbed 16 times, her head nearly severed.

My post from yesterday has more recent cases.

Illegal immigrants

The Clinton administration instituted new laws to crack down on illegal immigration in the 1990s, closely tied to gang violence.

The aforementioned Tapeworm — who ended up in Honduras — was one of the members deported.

Hundreds of other MS-13 members were deported back to their Latin American countries of origin. They quickly established and led MS-13 branches. They were big fish in a little pond.

However, there was a more pragmatic reason. They returned with no money and no job, just the clothes on their back. Many had no family, so crime and violence were the only options they knew and the ones that came easiest.

El Salvador

Around this time, MS-13 took root in El Salvador.

The aforementioned Julio Cabrera was sent back to El Salvador. The kids on the street thought he was a Hollywood movie star. He started several cliques in the MS-13 style. He had no end of recruits. The gang culture grew quickly.

Charlie Vasquez, who was doing time for beating a black gang member to death, was offered a plea bargain and was deported to his native El Salvador. Unlike a number of his fellow members, he took the opportunity to turn his life around south of the border.

Central America became a gangster’s paradise

The teenage recruits that deported MS-13 members cultivated were eager to get the full gang experience.

American culture is a big deal there, and anyone from Los Angeles earns instant respect and adoration.

Police forces in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala were overwhelmed by a sudden crime epidemic, which included families being terrorised, sometimes massacred. Victims were afraid to notify the police, and there were cases where police were afraid to confront the gang members or investigate those crimes.

California law

In 2004, laws began changing in California, making it easier not only for people to speak up but also for police to arrest gang members, even for loitering.

However, MS-13 lives on: where there’s a will, there’s a way.

Law enforcement

Since 2006, the FBI has developed a good working relationship with law enforcement in Central American countries.

Conclusion

Jail and prison have served to further MS-13’s reach.

One prison in San Salvador is comprised of MS-13 members only. The inmates hide their telephones and can easily communicate with MS-13 members in the United States. Heinous crimes have been engineered and committed.

The same thing happens from US prisons to Central American MS-13 cliques.

Human trafficking, drugs and money laundering are highly likely to be international operations.

Fortunately, as some MS-13 members get older, they leave. They find jobs and raise families. Some become willing informants, a great asset to the authorities. They get their tattoos removed. Some help young teens avoid gang life. Others turn towards the Church. One former MS-13 member has become a pastor.

MS-13 is an international scourge. Let us hope that the US Attorney General and law enforcement agencies both in the US and Central America can eradicate it.

Coming up on Monday: MS-13’s surprising new market

President Donald Trump’s supporters are in a quandary these days.

Some — myself included — are bemused by the sudden neo-con foreign forays, wishing he had pursued ‘America First’ policies and left the overseas conflicts alone for the time being.

That said, many Americans approve of Trump’s performance so far, as the Rasmussen Presidential Tracking Poll for Wednesday, April 19, 2017, indicates:

The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Wednesday shows that 48% of Likely U.S. Voters approve of President Trump’s job performance. Fifty-two percent (52%) disapprove.

Other polling companies and polling aggregator sites consider Rasmussen to be too ‘right wing’. To them, Rasmussen has this message:

The same pollsters who called the presidential election wrong last November show the president with a worse job approval rating than we do. We called it right in November, so you decide who’s got it right now.

Reassuring those of us who thought he had gone soft on the domestic front, Trump tweeted:

Attorney General Jeff Sessions followed up on Tuesday, April 18, with his announcement regarding America’s gangs, especially MS-13:

Sessions said, in part (emphases mine below):

In February, President Trump issued an executive order to us to interdict and dismantle transnational criminal organizations, and today we’ll be proposing concrete ideas to follow through on President Trump’s directive. 
 
So let me state this clearly. Under President Trump, the Justice Department has zero tolerance for gang violence. Transnational criminal organizations like MS-13 represent one of the gravest threats to American safety.  These organizations enrich themselves by pedaling poison in our communities, trafficking children for sexual exploitation and inflicting horrific violence in the communities where they operate.

MS-13 has become a symbol of this plague that has spread across our country and into our communities.  There are over 30,000 members abroad with their headquarters in the El Salvadoran prison system.  According to the National Gang Intelligence Center, MS-13 now has more than 10,000 members in at least 40 states in this countryup significantly from just a few years ago.  

Because of an open border and years of lax immigration enforcement, MS-13 has been sending both recruiters and members to regenerate gangs that previously had been decimated, and smuggling members across the border as unaccompanied minors.  They are not content to simply ruin the lives of adults – MS-13 recruits in our high schools, our middle schools and even our elementary schools.

Just a few days ago, law enforcement believes that members of MS-13 murdered four young men and dumped their bodies in a park on Long Island.  Last month, it was two teenage girls in Los Angeles who were killed with machetes and baseball bats.  A few weeks ago, the FBI added an MS-13 member to their Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List for a suspected brutal murder with a baseball bat and screwdriver – all purportedly to earn his MS-13 tattoo.  Violence is an initiation rite. They’ve killed mothers alongside their children and vice versa.  They have gang raped and trafficked girls as young as 12 years old.  

We cannot allow this to continue.  We will secure our border, expand immigration enforcement and choke-off supply lines.  If you are a gang member: We will find you.  We will devastate your networks. We will starve your revenue sources, deplete your ranks and seize your profits.  We will not concede a single block or street corner to your vicious tactics.

The Daily Mail has another MS-13 report dated March 2, wherein Houston gang members kidnapped two teenage girls and held them hostage for two weeks. The gang members shot and killed one of them. The other they plied with drugs and drink and took turns sexually assaulting her. They also forcibly tattooed her. The Mail has pictures of the young defendants, who are smiling and waving to the camera. The report states that they are illegal aliens from El Salvador with a deep interest in satanism.

Sessions spoke to Tucker Carlson on Fox News later that day:

Sessions explained that until 2009 — first year of the Obama administration — law enforcement authorities had made significant progress in stemming the growth of gangs such as MS-13. Since then, gang numbers have increased. He blamed this, as he said in his statement above, on lax border policies and sanctuary cities. He also cited the Obama administration’s lax attitude to what are known as the Unaccompanied Alien Child (UAC).

A graph from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) shows that the number of UACs more than doubled between 2008 and 2009 alone, from under 10,000 to approximately 20,000. By 2014, that number had risen to 70,000. The administration took action to reduce the number to 40,000 in 2015, but, in 2016, the number soared once more to over 70,000.

The CIS report — from May 2016 — says:

The initial response of the Obama administration to the surge in 2014 was to present these minors as victims of human trafficking, covered by the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (TVPRA) of 2008, signed by President Bush and reauthorized during the Obama administration in 2013. TVPRA requires the screening of unaccompanied children as potential victims of human trafficking. The attempt, however, was quickly dropped and the case for smuggling upheld instead. It is true that the vast majority of UACs who are illegally entering the United States are smuggled and not trafficked. (Cases such as those forced to work on egg farms in and around Marion, Ohio, remain the exception.3) …

In July 2014, President Obama expressed his desire to set up a refugee/parole program in Central America.8 What the president suggested was screening children in their home countries to determine whether or not they qualify as refugee applicants, then flying those who do directly to the United States. These in-country screening programs are not common and were used as exceptional humanitarian recourses by the United States following, for instance, the Vietnam War and the 1990 Haiti earthquake …

As for humanitarian parole, parents in the United States need to prove they are able to financially support their child. The parolees are granted work authorization for two years (renewable).

The reason for this initiative’s lack of success is rather simple, as we are reminded by MPI [Migration Policy Institute]: “The United States is home to an estimated 1.3 million Salvadoran, 902,000 Guatemalan, and 534,000 Honduran immigrants. A majority of these immigrants are unauthorized and unlawfully present and therefore could not meet the program’s lawful presence requirements for parents.” MPI also notes that under existing U.S. laws those parents legally present in the United States can (and probably already did) sponsor their children for immigrant visas instead of going through burdensome processes.

In 2016, the Obama administration decided to expand that refugee/parole programme:

Despite the fact that this new addition to the existing (and somewhat unpopular) CAM Refugee/Parole Program was mainly designed in response to the increasing number of unaccompanied children crossing into the United States illegally, this new setting could benefit every person — adults included (“vulnerable families and individuals”) — from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras who seeks asylum. The government’s primary concern, however, is still focused on providing children from Central America with a safe alternative to crossing the border on their own.

However:

Whether Central American children meet the definition of refugees, however, raises serious doubts.

When asked to give his opinion as to why children from Central America were coming to the United States, Thomas Homan, executive associate director of Enforcement and Removal Operations within U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), replied, “Based on my experience, I think there are some that are skipping fear, but I think there are many more that are taking advantage of the system.”20

The Conservative Treehouse has pulled graphics showing where these UACs ended up (first graphic) and the top cities are for ICE arrests. Notice the pattern between the two.

What happens when UACs arrive in the United States? Whilst not wishing to say that all of the 227,149 who have entered between 2009 and 2015 — according to a Fox News report which cited US Border patrol numbers — are criminals or turn into criminals, their vulnerable status presents ripe fruit for the picking by gangs such as MS-13.

That Fox News article, from September 15, 2016, states:

They remain in federal custody until a sponsor can be located, at which time they are often sent to communities where they are ripe for recruitment by Latin gangs such as the infamous MS-13.

“Our safety standards have increased,” Andrea Helling, spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, told FoxNews.com. “In the last few months screening procedures of children and sponsors has increased in their intensity which we hadn’t done previously.”

Even so:

Some observers say that, at the least, the process sends a steady stream of loosely supervised youths lacking in language and coping skills right into the waiting arms of criminal gangs. At worst, the unaccompanied minors were already initiated into the gangs before they arrived at the border.

Indeed. The CIS paper states that this is true in many cases:

a report published last year by the Migration Policy Institute on “In-Country Refugee Processing in Central America” concluded that, despite the fact that many of these Central American children are “threatened by gang violence and have clear protection needs, being forced to join a gang or experiencing violence do not generally qualify as a basis for refugee status or fall readily into one of the refugee definition categories.”24

And MS-13 is rapidly expanding across the United States.

Fox News describes the Los Angeles gang’s growth in New York state and, surprisingly, not in the New York City boroughs:

MS-13 is believed to be among the largest street gangs on New York’s Long Island, and more than 250 members have been convicted on federal felony charges since 2003. Federal prosecutors there have pinned more than 20 murders on the violent gang.

The number of UACs in New York had grown rapidly by 2016:

Long Island has received 2,093 unaccompanied children, and between October 2013 and July 2016, all of New York received 12,478 children from Central America. The overwhelming majority of the kids are not criminals and likely have competent sponsors. But some are.

Just one or two miscreants can cause a lot of crime. Imagine adding to already existing criminal numbers in a particular town or county:

In June 2015, MS-13 members and El Salvadoran immigrants Jose Cornejo, 17, Bryan Larios, 18 and Joel Escobar, 17, all of Brentwood, N.Y. were charged with the brutal rape of a 16 year-old girl on a local golf course.

Earlier this week, Joshua Guzman, 15, was shot and killed in the Long Island city of Hempstead. While not an unaccompanied immigrant, the boy’s father, Raul Guzman, told Newsday his son was under pressure to join a gang. Police believe his murder may be related.

Other American states are similarly affected by an influx of UACs and gang activity:

MS-13 has a foothold in numerous other communities, where unaccompanied minors are being sent. Texas, which has seen a spike in MS-13 crime has received 15,999 over the same period. The 2015 Texas Department of Public Safety Gang Threat Assessment found MS-13 boasts some 800 members, and authorities explicitly blamed the flood of unaccompanied children being placed in the state.

“The influx of illegal alien gang members crossing the border into Texas in 2014, along with reports of extremely violent murders committed by its members in the Houston area, positions the gang as one of the most significant gang threats in the state for this upcoming year,” the report stated.

Other areas that have seen an influx in MS-13 crime are Maryland, Texas, and Virginia. Fairfax County, Va. has seen a 160 percent increase in MS-13 related incidents through April compared to the previous year.

From this, it would appear that some of these sponsors are gang members themselves. Also, it would be relatively easy to see where a UAC coming from a gang in Central America could lie and say he was victimised and would have to escape to the US. It would be a ruse to move up in the gang world, one which already would have been arranged by his home base in Central America and the recipient ‘sponsor’ in the United States.

Being in the US would offer greater prestige and richer pickings than staying south of the border. Consider it a promotion, if you will.

It is not beyond belief that we could find a gang network, particularly MS-13, funneling these boys to the US with sponsorship arrangements having been made in advance.

It will be interesting to see what transpires this year through Attorney General Sessions’s efforts.

Tomorrow: the unlikely, yet true, story of MS-13

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