Opinion | How to Leave MS-13 Alive - The New York Times

 

https://www.insightcrime.org/news/analysis/ms13-leaders-terrorism/

 

The US government’s terrorism case against the MS13 opens a new frontier in fighting international street gangs.

On January 14, the Eastern District of New York made public a December 2020 indictment of 14 leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13), 11 of whom are in El Salvador prisons. Specifically, the indictment charges them with four counts: 1) conspiracy to provide material support and resources to terrorists; 2) conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism; 3) conspiracy to finance terrorism; 4) narco-terrorism.

This is the second indictment with a terrorism charge against an MS13 gang member. The first against Armando Eliu Melgar Días, alias “Blue,” became public in July 2020. But this one is much more ambitious since it targets the hierarchy of the gang.

The wide-ranging indictment says these acts began in 2002, when the leaders created the organizational chart of the MS13 while they were incarcerated in a Salvadoran prison. The gang had long been organized by cliques, by then spread mostly throughout El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and the United States.

But in 2002, the leaders created what they called the “ranfla nacional” (national board of directors) and “programs,” which grouped together numerous cliques under a single umbrella and “corredor” (leader). Eventually, there were programs across that geographic expanse, including the East Coast Program, the New York Program and the Los Angeles Program.

The new system gave these leaders command and control over many parts of the gang, according to the indictment, thus allowing them to allegedly engage in the above-mentioned terrorist acts from mostly El Salvador but also in places like Mexico, where leaders had made connections with criminal organizations such as the Zetas and Gulf Cartel.

Specifically, the indictment says they used violence to “obtain concessions from the government of El Salvador, achieve political goals, and retaliate for government actions against MS13’s members and leaders.”

The indictment claims the group organized special training, collected money to purchase a wide array of weapons including “rocket launchers,” developed improvised explosive devices (IEDs), as well as “engaged in public relations efforts; controlled neighborhoods; and directed acts of violence and murder in El Salvador, the United States and elsewhere.”

Further, the indictment says, the MS13 leaders used their power to “retaliate against the United States for actions, or perceived actions, taken against MS13 and its leaders.”

In this regard, the indictment mentions “the truce,” a temporary and partial ceasefire between El Salvador’s main gangs brokered by the government in early 2012. The truce led to lower levels of violence but resulted in concessions for gang leaders, including those in the ranfla, such as being transferred out of a maximum-security prison, conjugal visits, wild parties and possibly cash payments.

The truce began to unravel in 2013 and came apart completely in the months that followed. The indictments say it ended in 2015, and says “the Ranfla Nacional blamed the end of ‘the truce’ on the United States,” which the leaders believed “had pressured the government of El Salvador to end … as a condition of receiving funds from the United States.”

While the indictment is long on accusations, it is short on details with few aspects of the actual criminal acts described in the 30-page document. However, it does describe the efforts to create a special forces unit to attack authorities, as well as the gang’s interactions with the country’s main political parties to help them secure votes.

InSight Crime Analysis

For many reasons, terrorism charges open a new door for US prosecutors to pursue international street gangs.

First, there is no statute of limitations on terrorism charges, “if the commission of such offense resulted in, or created a foreseeable risk of, death or serious bodily injury to another person.” This is exactly what the United States is alleging (and in this case, it dates the commission of these crimes back to 2002).

Second, terrorism cases have stiffer penalties. Depending on the underlying crimes in question, the sentencing guidelines call for an “upward departure,” which could equate to many more years in jail. What’s more, there is a question of where the suspects or those sentenced might be held. Accused and convicted terrorists have been held in extraordinary conditions, including on airplanes, in ships and in a prison in Cuba. Extracting the ranfla from the Salvadoran prison system would be a message in and of itself; extracting the ranfla and placing them in extraordinary prisons might drive home an even stronger message.

Third, the charge might facilitate extradition in part because El Salvador’s own Supreme Court declared the MS13 a terrorist group in 2015. To be sure, the designation played a role in the US decision to try this new legal strategy, which was first hatched while then-US Attorney General William Barr visited El Salvador in May 2019, not long after he was named to his position. El Salvador is known to be more reluctant — or at least less agile — in extradition cases. To wit, a recent US Justice Department report said that between 2016 and 2020, El Salvador extradited 13 members of the MS13. By comparison, Guatemala extradited 35 MS13 suspects during that same time period.

Fourth, terrorism cases open the door for more direct US investigations. Specifically, authorities can use Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) warrants for electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes, which means the United States can work directly on the cases instead of relying on others’ wiretaps and evidence.

Fifth, the United States had not had a lot of success charging MS13 with international drug trafficking. This is because the MS13 is not an international drug trafficking organization. Terrorism exposes the gang’s leaders to US indictments, whereas they have kept more than an arms distance from other prosecutions.

Sixth, US prosecutors appear to be positioning themselves for more prosecutions against transnational gangs using terrorism statutes. These statutes are broad, and while they are parallel to legal tools such as the racketeering statutes (known by their acronym RICO), those using them see them as even more pliable to their needs. “RICO-light” is the way one investigator described it to me. The targets for these investigations would include not just MS13 but also its main rival, the 18th Street, and prison gangs based in the United States and Mexico, like the Mexican Mafia.

USA DOJ ANNOUNCEMENT: MS-13’s Highest-Ranking Leaders Charged with Terrorism Offenses in the United States

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs

Earlier today, an indictment was unsealed in Central Islip, New York charging 14 of the world’s highest-ranking MS-13 leaders who are known today as the Ranfla Nacional, which operated as the Organization’s Board of Directors, and directed MS-13’s violence and criminal activity around the world for almost two decades.

Specifically, the indictment charges the defendants with conspiracy to provide and conceal material support to terrorists, conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries, conspiracy to finance terrorism and narco-terrorism conspiracy in connection with the defendants’ leadership of the transnational criminal organization over the past two decades from El Salvador, the United States, Mexico and elsewhere.

Defendant Borromeo Enrique Henriquez, aka “Diablito de Hollywood,” is widely recognized as the most powerful member of the Ranfla Nacional.  Three of the indicted defendants, Fredy Ivan Jandres-Parada, aka “Lucky de Park View” and “Lacky de Park View,” Cesar Humberto Lopez-Larios, aka “El Grenas de Stoners” and “Oso de Stoners,” and Hugo Armando Quinteros-Mineros, aka “Flaco de Francis,” remain at large and should be considered armed and dangerous.  Members of the public with information concerning their whereabouts are strongly encouraged to contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) toll-free MS-13 tip line, 1-866-STP-MS13 (1-866-787-6713), or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) at (866) 347-2423 or https://www.ice.gov/webform/ice-tip-form.  Together, FBI and HSI have offered $20,000 in rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of each of the three fugitives.  Henriquez and 10 other defendants are in custody in El Salvador.  The United States will explore options for their extradition to the United States with the Government of El Salvador.

Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen, Acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme for the Eastern District of New York (EDNY), Director of Joint Task Force Vulcan (JTFV) John J. Durham, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, and Executive Associate Director Derek Benner of HSI, announced the unsealing of the indictment.

Acting Attorney General Rosen said, “The indictment announced today is the highest-reaching and most sweeping indictment targeting MS-13 and its command and control structure in U.S. history.  When Attorney General Barr announced the creation of JTFV in August 2019, he envisioned a whole-of-government approach that would combine proven prosecution tools from the past with innovative strategies designed specifically to eliminate MS-13 leadership’s ability to operate the gang and direct its terrorist activity.  This indictment reflects an important step toward achieving that goal.  By working side-by-side with our U.S. law enforcement partners and with our partners in El Salvador, we have charged MS-13’s highest-ranking leaders with operating a transnational criminal organization that utilizes terror to impose their will on neighborhoods, businesses and innocent civilians across the United States and Central America.”

“MS-13 is responsible for a wave of death and violence that has terrorized communities, leaving neighborhoods on Long Island and throughout the Eastern District of New York awash in bloodshed,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Seth D. DuCharme.  “Even when incarcerated, the Ranfla Nacional continued to direct MS-13’s global operations, recruit new members, including children, into MS-13, and orchestrate murder and mayhem around the world.  Today’s ground-breaking indictment seeks to demolish MS-13 by targeting its command and control structure and holding MS-13’s Board of Directors accountable for their terroristic actions.”

“The FBI is committed to combatting all forms of terrorism that threaten the American people as well as our international partners,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray. “In collaboration with our federal, state, local and international partners, we took aggressive steps to target and pursue some of the highest levels of leadership of MS-13. This operation is a clear signal to others who engage in this type of transnational criminal activity: the FBI will work tirelessly to bring them to justice wherever they are based.”

“For over a decade, HSI has remained steadfast in our resolve to dismantle transnational gangs like MS-13,” said HSI Executive Associate Director Benner.  “As one of the most violent and dangerous criminal enterprises, MS-13 and Ranfla Nacional were directly responsible for unthinkable violence and criminal activity in communities across the United States and throughout Central America.  As a result of the hard work and substantial resources dedicated to Joint Task Force Vulcan by our domestic and international law enforcement partners, this indictment will have a lasting disruptive effect on the future global illicit activities of this transnational criminal organization.”

As alleged in the indictment, the Ranfla Nacional comprises the highest level of leadership of MS-13.  In approximately 2002, the defendants and other MS-13 leaders began establishing a highly organized, hierarchical command and control structure as a means to effectuate their decisions and enforce their orders, even while in prison.  They directed acts of violence and murder in El Salvador, the United States, and elsewhere, established military-style training camps for its members and obtained military weapons such as rifles, handguns, grenades, improvised explosive devices (IED) and rocket launchers.  As leaders of MS-13, the defendants controlled swaths of territory and engaged in public relations efforts on behalf of the transnational criminal organization.  Further, the defendants used MS-13’s large membership in the United States to engage in criminal activities, such as drug trafficking and extortion to raise money to support MS-13’s terrorist activities in El Salvador and elsewhere, and directed members in the United States to commit acts of violence, including murders, to further its goals.

As further alleged in the indictment, a central theme of the rules implemented by the Ranfla Nacional was the requirement of loyalty to MS-13, or to the “barrio.”  The requirement for loyalty was central to all aspects of life for MS-13 members.  Members who disobeyed the rules, showed disloyalty to the gang or to its leaders, cooperated with law enforcement, or disrespected other members were subject to severe punishment, including death.  The rules put in place by the Ranfla Nacional allowed the gang to flourish in parts of the United States, including within the EDNY where, under the defendants’ command, MS-13 has committed numerous acts of violence—including murders, attempted murders, assaults, kidnappings, drug trafficking, extortion of individuals and businesses, obstructed justice and sent dues and the proceeds of criminal activity by wire transfer to MS-13 leaders in El Salvador.

As further outlined in the indictment, the Ranfla Nacional has exercised its power over the Government of El Salvador by committing acts of violence and intimidation over government officials, law enforcement and the population of El Salvador at large.  In doing so the Ranfla Nacional has ordered the killing of law enforcement and government officials in El Salvador as well as ordering a “green light,” or killing, of a FBI Special Agent detailed to El Salvador investigating MS-13 and its members.  Moreover, by controlling the level of MS-13’s violence, the Ranfla Nacional exercised leverage with the Government of El Salvador.  For example, as alleged in the indictment, from approximately 2012 until approximately 2015, the Ranfla Nacional entered into a “truce” with the then-Government of El Salvador.  As part of this agreement, the Ranfla Nacional directed MS-13 to reduce homicides in El Salvador in exchange for improved prison conditions, benefits and cash payments.  In 2015, when this agreement collapsed, the Ranfla Nacional blamed the United States, believing that the U.S. government pressured the government of El Salvador to end the “truce” as a condition of receiving funds from the United States.  Thereafter, in early 2016, the Ranfla Nacional began planning for a major campaign of coordinated violence in El Salvador in retaliation for the harsher measures imposed on its members after the end of the “truce.”  As alleged in the indictment, the defendants ordered all cliques in El Salvador to create a specialized unit of MS-13 members to target police officers, military members, and government officials in El Salvador.  These members underwent military training at MS-13 military training camps in El Salvador.  The defendants also ordered all cliques, including those in the United States and in the EDNY, to provide profits from their MS-13-related criminal activity to be used to purchase weapons for the planned attacks on police in El Salvador.  In total, the defendants collected over $600,000 U.S. dollars for this fund which was used to purchase weapons, including M-16s and M-60 machine guns, grenades, IEDs, and rocket launchers.  Furthermore, the defendants ordered increased violence, including murders, in the EDNY and other parts of the United States, which saw a dramatic increase in MS-13 violence in 2016 and 2017.

Finally, as alleged in the indictment, the Ranfla Nacional directed the expansion of MS-13 activities around the world, most significantly into Mexico, where several high-ranking leaders were sent to organize operations there.  In Mexico, MS-13 leaders made connections to obtain narcotics and firearms, conducted business with Mexican drug cartels such as the Zetas, Gulf Cartel, Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) and Sinaloa Cartel, and engaged in human trafficking and smuggling.

In August 2019, Attorney General William P. Barr created JTFV to carry out the recommendations of the MS-13 Subcommittee formed under the Attorney General’s Transnational Organized Crime Task Force (TOC Task Force).  The Attorney General’s TOC Task Force resulted from President Donald J. Trump’s February 2017 Executive Order directing the Departments of Justice, State, and Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to coordinate a whole-of-government approach to dismantle transnational criminal organizations, such as MS-13, and increase the safety of the American people.

Since its creation, JTFV has successfully implemented a whole-of-government approach to combatting MS-13, including increasing coordination and collaboration with foreign law enforcement partners, including El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala; designating priority MS-13 programs, cliques and leaders, who have the most impact on the United States, for targeted prosecutions; and coordinating significant MS-13 indictments in U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country, including the first use of national security charges against MS-13 leaders.

JTFV has been comprised of members from the Department of Justice’s National Security Division and the Criminal Division, as well as U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country, including the EDNY; the District of New Jersey; the Northern District of Ohio; the District of Utah; the Eastern District of Virginia; the District of Massachusetts; the Eastern District of Texas; the Southern District of New York; the District of Alaska; the Southern District of Florida; the Southern District of California; the District of Nevada; and the District of Columbia.  In addition, all Department of Justice law enforcement agencies are involved in the effort, including the FBI; the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the U.S. Marshals Service; and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons.  In addition, HSI also plays a critical role in JTFV.

Acting Attorney General Rosen expressed his sincere thanks to Attorney General Raul Melara of El Salvador for the assistance of his office, as well as investigators from El Salvador’s Policía Nacional Civil, Centro Antipandilla Transnacional unit for their invaluable cooperation.  Additionally, numerous Department of Justice components contributed to this indictment, including: the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section; the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs; the Criminal Division’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training; and Organized Crime and Gang Section; and the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces Executive Office.  Finally, consistent with President Trump’s Executive Order and the Attorney General’s whole of government approach, the Department of State has provided critical support for JTFV’s mission.

The charges announced today are allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.  If convicted, the defendants face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys James Donnelly, Matthew Shepherd, and Stewart Young from JTFV, and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Paul G. Scotti, Justina L. Geraci, and Megan E. Farrell from the EDNY’s Long Island Criminal Division.

To learn more about the Justice Department’s efforts in combating MS-13 from 2016 to 2020, see report at https://www.justice.gov/ag/page/file/1329776/download.

A copy of the indictment and wanted posters in English and Spanish can be downloaded by clicking on: indictmentFredy Ivan Jandres-Parada Wanted poster in English and SpanishCesar Humberto Lopez-Larios Wanted poster in English and Spanish, and Hugo Armando Quinteros-Mineros Wanted poster in English and Spanish.

The Defendants:

BORROMEO ENRIQUE HENRIQUEZ (“Diablito de Hollywood”)
Age:  42

ELMER CANALES-RIVERA (“Crook de Hollywood”)
Age:  44

EFRAIN CORTEZ (“Tigre de Park View” and “Viejo Tigre de Park View”)
Age:  51

RICARDO ALBERTO DIAZ (“Rata de Leewards” and “Mousey de Leewards”)
Age:  47

EDUARDO ERAZO-NOLASCO (“Colocho de Western” and “Mustage de Western”)
Age:  48

EDSON SACHARY EUFEMIA (“Speedy de Park View”)
Age:  46

JOSE FERNANDEZ FLORES-CUBAS (“Cola de Western”)
Age:  46

FREDY IVAN JANDRES-PARADA (“Lucky de Park View” and “Lacky de Park View”)
Age:  45

LEONEL ALEXANDER LEONARDO (“El Necio de San Cocos”)
Age:  40

CESAR HUMBERTO LOPEZ-LARIOS (“El Grenas de Stoners” and “Oso de Stoners”)
Age:   42

JOSE LUIS MENDOZA-FIGUEROA (“Pavas de 7-11” and “Viejo Pavas de 7-11”)
Age:  56

HUGO ARMANDO QUINTEROS-MINEROS (“Flaco de Francis”)
Age:  48

SAUL ANTONIO TURCIOS (“Trece de Teclas”)
Age:  42

ARISTIDES DIONISIO UMANZOR (“Sirra de Teclas”)
Age:  42