MS-13 gang members charged with brutal murders in Los Angeles

The charges are the culmination of a yearlong investigation by local and federal law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI.

MS-13 gang members charged with brutal murders in Los Angeles

The indictment against the 22 members of the “Fulton Clique,” a unit of MS-13 operating in Los Angeles, lists crimes ranging from vandalism and drug trafficking to racketeering to murder, some dating back to 2017. All 22 defendants are in custody.

The charges are the culmination of a yearlong investigation by local and federal law enforcement agencies, including the Los Angeles Police Department, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI.

“We have now taken off the streets nearly two dozen people associated with the most violent arm of MS-13 in Los Angeles, where the gang is believed to have killed 24 people over the past two years,” Nick Hanna, the U.S. attorney for the Central District of California, said in a statement. The charges issued by the grand jury cover seven of those killings.

The indictment opens a window into how MS-13 operates in the Los Angeles region, through a series of “cliques” that each lay claim to a specific neighborhood. Much of the violence detailed in the indictment was directed against members of rival gangs who were suspected of transgressing against MS-13 in some way. But in at least one instance noted in the indictment, gang members who were trying to kill a member of a rival gang accidentally shot an unaffiliated bystander instead.

MS-13 as a criminal operation typically makes money by selling narcotics and by extorting businesses, both legal and illegal. The indictment notes that, often, the prime targets for MS-13 extortion are immigrants who are in the country illegally and who are fearful of turning to law enforcement for help.

“The greatest tragedy in these cases is that these young victims likely left their homelands hopeful that, in the United States, they would find safety and prosperity,” said Jackie Lacey, the district attorney for Los Angeles County, in a statement.

President Donald Trump has often cited the danger posed by MS-13. He has also asserted that the violence committed by groups like MS-13 is being brought to the United States by immigrants. But the organization was founded in the U.S. and has deep roots in the country. MS-13’s first iteration, Mara Salvatrucha, originated in the Los Angeles region in the 1980s and quickly developed a reputation for excessive and gruesome use of violence.

Over time, the indictment notes, the organization developed a foothold in the California prison system, and it gradually spread across Central America as members were deported from the United States, particularly to El Salvador, where many early members were originally from.

MS-13 has become a transnational criminal gang, with more than 10,000 members regularly operating in the United States, and tens of thousands more in Latin America, according to Justice Department estimates.

Of the 22 defendants, 16 would be eligible for the death penalty if convicted in connection with six of the seven murders in the indictment, which were committed “in an especially heinous, cruel, or depraved manner” involving “torture or serious physical abuse to the victim.”

The gang members listed in the indictment are said to be known by nicknames like “Delito” and “Omisidio” — Spanish for “crime” and “homicide.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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