DOJ announced arrest of three top MS-13 gang leaders, indict others for charges including terrorism

March 1, 2023
Ben Marquis

MS-13 is arguably the most brutal and ruthless street gang that, in fact, has become so widespread and influential in various countries as to now be considered a "transnational criminal organization" that, at times, engages in acts of terrorism.

The Department of Justice announced last week that it had indicted more than a dozen members of MS-13 on a variety of criminal charges, including three high-ranking leaders of the gang that were recently arrested and taken into federal custody, the Conservative Brief reported.

The indicted and arrested individuals now face federal charges related to conspiracy, racketeering, and narco-terrorism, and at least four of those who were indicted face human trafficking charges as well.

MS-13 leaders arrested, others indicted by DOJ

In the DOJ press release on Feb. 23, it was revealed that the three top-ranked MS-13 leaders had been arrested a day earlier by the FBI and Homeland Security when they arrived at the airport in Houston, Texas, after having been apprehended and expelled to the U.S. by Mexican authorities.

Those three individuals, who made their initial court appearances that morning, were identified as Vladimir Antonio Arevalo-Chavez, Walter Yovani Hernandez-Rivera, and Marlon Antonio Menjivar-Portillo.

Of the remaining 10 indicted MS-13 gang members, four were believed to still be at large while the other six were believed to be in the custody of the El Salvadoran government, and arrangements were being explored for them to be extradited to the U.S. to face federal charges.

All 13 were determined to be part of "MS-13’s command and control structure" who played "significant leadership roles in the organization’s operations in El Salvador, Mexico, the United States, and throughout the world."

"Today’s action makes clear that there is no hiding place, anywhere in the world, for the leaders of violent gangs that terrorize American communities," Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. "The Justice Department will continue to use the full force of our law enforcement authorities to disrupt and dismantle MS-13 and other transnational criminal organizations and hold their leaders accountable."

"The FBI will continue to vigorously investigate and hold transnational organized groups like MS-13 and their leaders accountable for the continued violent and terrorist criminal activities they orchestrate," FBI Director Christopher Wray. "Today’s indictment demonstrates the FBI’s reach and commitment to seeking justice against those individuals who jeopardize American lives and liberty. We will never stop working in coordination with our international partners to protect our respective citizens from MS-13 and other gangs wherever they are."

El Salvador engaged in massive crackdown on gangs

Meanwhile, as U.S. authorities work to take down the leadership of MS-13, the government of El Salvador, where the gang is most prevalent, have been engaged in a nearly year-long all-out war against MS-13 and its rival, the 18th Street Gang, in a massive crackdown on gang membership altogether, according to the Washington Examiner.

That effort was marked in January with the opening of what is believed to be the largest prison in the world, the Terrorism Confinement Center, which is estimated to have the capacity to hold as many as 40,000 criminal gang members and terrorists.

Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele declared a nationwide state of emergency in March 2022 to begin the crackdown, which unfortunately suspends some constitutional rights, but announced last week that the effort has proven successful thus far with more than 64,000 arrests of suspected gang members and a substantial drop in the nation's previously sky-high homicide rate.

It is unclear how many of those who have been arrested have actually faced trial and been convicted as of yet, or if any have been acquitted or released.

The Salvadoran government also revealed that it had just transferred its first batch of around 2,000 convicted gang members to the new megaprison, where they will live an incredibly harsh and highly regimented life for years or even decades as punishment for their crimes and gang affiliation.

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