MS-13 Gang: 96 Charged in Sweeping Crackdown on Long Island, N.Y.
The accusations included seven murder conspiracies, as well as gun running and drug trafficking. Over the course of 150 pages, the indictment described a remarkably vast criminal enterprise. There were seven murder plots with guns, machetes and Molotov cocktails. There were assaults in bars, meetings in local bakeries and gang initiations with 13-second beatings. Men with nicknames like Droop and Broccoli were said to have dealt in crack cocaine, fentanyl and oxycodone. Gang members had to adhere to a 20-point list of rules and regulations, including one that stated that to move up in the ranks, members had to commit at least four murders.
MS-13 Gang: 96 Charged in Sweeping Crackdown on Long Island
The accusations included seven murder conspiracies, as well as gun running and drug trafficking.
by Alan Feuer, New York Times, December 21, 2019
Over the course of 150 pages, the indictment described a remarkably vast criminal enterprise. There were seven murder plots with guns, machetes and Molotov cocktails. There were assaults in bars, meetings in local bakeries and gang initiations with 13-second beatings.
Men with nicknames like Droop and Broccoli were said to have dealt in crack cocaine, fentanyl and oxycodone. Gang members had to adhere to a 20-point list of rules and regulations, including one that stated that to move up in the ranks, members had to commit at least four murders.
All of this was laid out in voluminous detail as the Suffolk County district attorney’s office announced on Friday that it had brought a series of sweeping charges against 96 members and associates of the notorious transnational street gang known as MS-13, capping a two-year investigation with a team of local, state and federal partners.
Originally founded in Los Angeles by refugees from El Salvador, MS-13 has long had a base of operations in Suffolk County, on the East End of Long Island, which has been plagued by gang violence in recent years.
But officials said that the case revealed on Friday was the biggest crackdown ever on the group in New York, and had dealt its local cells, or cliques, a significant blow.
“The goal of this investigation was to deliver a major blow to the gang’s leadership, operations and recruitment in the our region,” Timothy D. Sini, the Suffolk County district attorney, told reporters at a news conference on Friday.
“As we know, MS-13 is a ruthless, savage gang,’’ he added, “which commits acts of violence to recruit, retain, and control its members and exact revenge on its rivals, as well as to extort innocent members of our community.”
The gang’s notoriety and bloody tactics have caught the attention of President Trump, who has often invoked its name and reputation as a way to justify his immigration policy. He has referred to the group as an “infestation” and to its members as “animals.” In 2018, he invited the mother of one MS-13 murder victim to be his guest at the State of the Union address.
And on Friday, the president went on Twitter to use the arrests as an argument for his immigration policy, saying that the gang takedown was an example of how “we are getting MS-13 gang members, and many other people that shouldn’t be here, out of our country.”
According to the federal authorities, no less than 28 murders have been attributed to MS-13 on Long Island since 2016, some of them leading to enormous public outcry.
In 2017, several members of a Long Island clique were charged with using knives and machetes to execute four young men in the woods behind a soccer field in Central Islip, N.Y. The victims were killed because their attackers believed they were members of a rival gang, but relatives said that was not the case.
That same year, another group of MS-13 members was arrested in connection with the brutal murders in 2016 of Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, two teenage girls from Brentwood, N.Y.
Ms. Cuevas had been engaged in a feud with gang members in school and over social media, while Ms. Mickens was simply a friend of Ms. Cuevas’s, who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when they were set upon.
The two-year investigation was based on a sprawling wiretap that monitored as many as 215 separate phones, officials said, and has now led to the arrests of a total of roughly 200 members of the group.
Among those charged on Friday were nine top leaders of the gang who were part of what was known as the New York Program, a strategic initiative that MS-13 launched from its home base in El Salvador to strengthen its foothold in the New York area and to spread the group’s operations along the Eastern Seaboard, law enforcement officials said.
The officials said that the New York Program was likely responsible for an uptick in violence by the group in recent years. One central function of the New York Program, the officials said, was to collect money in the New York area and send it back to MS-13 leaders in El Salvador.
The arrests included MS-13 members from nine separate cliques in Suffolk County, ranging in age from 16 to 59. They came from more than 20 cities in New York as well as from Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maryland, even Holland.
Officials identified Noe Fuentes, also known as Ghost, as the leader of the HCLS clique, one of Long Island’s largest cells, and as the head of the New York Program. Mr. Sini said that the HCLS clique, or Huntington Criminales Los Salvatrucha, and other cells on Long Island had been “decimated” by law enforcement efforts, but that the group not been entirely dismantled.
“MS-13 is an international gang,” he said. “They will attempt to recalibrate, and send individuals to take up leadership roles in Suffolk County, and that’s why we need to stay vigilant.”
In connection with the investigation, the authorities seized more than 10 kilograms of cocaine, about 1,000 pills of fentanyl, large quantities of heroin and marijuana, nine handguns, two rifles, at least 500 rounds of ammunition and numerous machetes.
Ray Donovan, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s New York office, which took part in the case, said that investigators had determined that MS-13 was attempting to establish what amounted to a stronghold in New York.
As part of the investigation, Mr. Donovan explained, the authorities used more than just their wiretaps. They also physically surveilled gang members and monitored their social media accounts.
MS-13 has over 50,000 members in Central America, Mr. Donovan said, adding that another 8,000 to 10,000 members are spread throughout the United States and Europe.
Working with the authorities in Suffolk County and other law enforcement agencies, Mr. Donovan said that several murders had been prevented and that investigators were able to solve three previously unsolved killings in New York and three more in Virginia, though he did not provide any details about the killings.
“This investigation, when it’s all said and done, sends a very clear message to the leadership of MS-13,” Mr. Donovan said. “New York is not your home, and it never will be your home.”
Arielle Dollinger and William K. Rashbaum contributed reporting.
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