In a 2012 statement, the Treasury Department wrote, “MS-13 consists of at least 30,000 members in a range of countries, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico, and is one of the most dangerous and rapidly expanding criminal gangs in the world today. MS-13 is active in the United States, with at least 8,000 members operating in more than 40 states and the District of Colombia. MS-13’s criminal nature can be seen in one of its mottos, ‘Mata, roba, viola, controla’ (Kill, steal, rape, control). Domestically the group is involved in multiple crimes including murder, racketeering, drug trafficking, sex trafficking and human trafficking, including prostitution. The group frequently carries out violent attacks on opposing gang members, often injuring innocent bystanders. MS-13 members have been responsible for numerous killing within the United States.”
With this statement, the Treasury Department designated MS-13 or Mara Salvatrucha, as an international criminal organization and named six leaders of the violent street gang as international criminals. The Obama administration said that makes the gang subject to penalties by the office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) and gives the US an opportunity to hinder MS-13’s ability to funnel money to its leaders in El Salvador or launder criminal proceeds through otherwise legitimate businesses. This move steps up the crackdown on the sprawling US and Central American gang’s finances and allows the US to target their bank accounts individually.
The MS-13 gang leaders the government targeted are Mons Bercian, Joe Cisneros, Marvin Monterrosa-Larios, Moises Rivera-Luna, Saul Turcios and Borromeo Henriquez. The first two are jailed in El Salvador and the whereabouts of Turcios are unknown. Henriquez is believed to be the boss of the gangs operations in El Salvador and, despite being jailed also. The OFAC moved to freeze any assets the men had in the US and to make inroads on any property, illegal proceeds or bank accounts in El Salvador that the men claim. Since 2006, about 4,200 MS-13 members have been arrested in the US.
“MS-13 is a rising public threat,” a law enforcement official said. “We must take them wherever they are. Their international criminal activities continue.” MS-13 has a strong presence in Southern California, the District of Colombia and Northern Virginia, all areas with substantial Salvadoran populations and the gang is also allied with several of Mexico’s warring drug cartels. The gang is active throughout Central America and in parts of Mexico, Authorities have also reported evidence of MS-13’s expansion into Europe.
In 2013, in the Eastern District of New York, Jorge “Diablito” Orellana-Torres, the leaders of the Coronados Clique of Mara Salvatrucha was sentenced to 365 months in federal prison for a murder relating to the racketeering efforts of the gang. Diablito killed a Blood street gang member in cold blood, firing a .38 caliber revolver point blank and striking the victim twice in the back of the head.
“The MS-13 street gang has become infamous for its senseless and depraved acts of violence, but even for the MS-13, these vicious crimes demonstrated depravity,” a US Attorney said. “This sentence should make clear that gang members will pay a heavy price for such cold, calculated acts of violence. We cannot overstate our commitment to investigating MS-13 and other gangs in New York. As this case shows, MS-13 is not about ethnic pride, it is a violent, murderous horde. It is hard to image a more wanton disregard for human life than shooting a person in the back because the color of his skin makes you think he may be a rival gang member.”
Gang members have been linked to many execution style shooting deaths and numerous machete attacks, including its most heinous act the 2003 slaying of a pregnant teenager who was an informant. Brenda Paz, 17, was stabbed to death and her body left along the banks of the Shenandoah River. Her story was chronicled in the book, This is for the Mara Salvatrucha by journalist Samuel Logan.
The gang was founded more than two decades ago by immigrants fleeing El Salvador’s civil war. Taking lessons from the brutal conflict to the streets of Los Angeles, its founder built a reputation as one of the most ruthless and sophisticated street gangs in the US. They began to protect their own against Mexican and black gangs but became subverted by power and quickly grew to spread across the US and throughout Central America. Original MS-13 member, Jose Platero, talked about the beginnings of the gang in Don Diva magazine and in Public Enemy # 1 on this site. His interview shows how MS-13 transformed from a bunch of stoners who listened to heavy metal, wore Ozzy Osborne t-shirts and just wanted respect in the Pico Union area of LA to the most vicious gang in the underworld today.
Along the way the MS became a Sureno gang, part of the Southern California alliance, under the Mexican Mafia or Eme. That was why the number 13 was added to Mara Salvatrucha. The number 13 is the position of the letter M in the alphabet and shows respect for the Mexican Mafia. But that truce eventually broke down and today there is a vicious war between MS-13 and the 18th Street gang, an infamous LA street gang, that has raged from the streets of LA all the way to Central America and the youth culture of El Salvador and Honduras.
Today, members lead a fast and furious life of crime, violence and death. They wear tattoos to denote their loyalty to the gang and to represent their rank. MS-13 gang members follow the no snitching code and those who break it are green lighted and marked for death. The gang is organized and violent and is making inroads into cities and prison systems nationwide. With any army of criminal associates ready and willing to join the cause in the US from Central America at any opportune moment.
In the macho gang world, where real power and street credit are earned by a willingness to kill, the MS-13 are true to life gangsters that live for the cause. The MS-13 shows no mercy and any death for a rival or traitor is slow, committed with a machete and at times even means decapitation. The gangs members hide inside immigrant communities and fly under the radar of state and federal law enforcement, trying to recruit and increase the numbers of the gang.
The leaders known gang life will only take them to three places- prison, the hospital or death, but still they sell the street life dream to youngsters to get them to do their dirty work and take the fall when the hammer comes down as they run back to El Salvador to pull the string from there. But with the US government targeting the leaders back in Central America, it seems there is nowhere else to run to now and they will end up with life in the penitentiary for their gangster exploits.