An alleged member of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang is presented to the press in San Salvador on July 28, 2016. (Marvin Recinos/AFP via Getty Images)
A federal grand jury has indicted 23 members and associates of the transnational street gang Mara Salvatrucha-13 (MS-13), charging them with drug trafficking and firearms violations, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles announced Nov. 14.
Federal and local law enforcement arrested 17 MS-13 gang members and associates Tuesday following the indictments. Those arrested were part of the gang’s local leadership and some of the most violent members, according to the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD).
The defendants were expected to be arraigned on the 36-count indictment later on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court of Los Angeles.
Four defendants were already in state custody.
During Tuesday’s operation to arrest the gang members, law enforcement seized several pounds of suspected methamphetamine, fentanyl, and cocaine. They also seized nine firearms and about $94,000 in cash. Of that, about $50,000 was found at one residence, the U.S. Attorney’s office said in a press release
“MS-13, one of the largest and most violent gangs in North America, perpetuates a cycle of violence and destruction, the victims of which are most often immigrants from Central America and Mexico and other Latinos,” said U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada. “The widespread methamphetamine trafficking conspiracy we have charged reveals that drug-trafficking is the primary method MS-13 uses to finance its modus operandi of murder and mayhem.”
The operation focused on MS-13 in Los Angeles and its methamphetamine trafficking operation. The federal indictment was returned on Nov. 8 and unsealed Tuesday. It alleges than an imprisoned MS-13 member, who is also a member of the Mexican Mafia, controlled MS-13 in Los Angeles by requiring all gangs in the area to buy methamphetamine from Herlyn Barrientos, 46, also known as “Doctorazo,” of Huntington Park, and others, according to federal authorities. Some of the profits from the meth sales were sent to the imprisoned MS-13 member, authorities said.
Federal authorities say the imprisoned MS-13 member designated Pavel Hurtado, 36, also known as “Temper,” of Oxnard, and Eli Grijalva, 34, also known as “Skinny,” of South Los Angeles, to call the shots for the gang in Los Angeles.
Both were indicted in the operation. Authorities allege the two defendants oversaw the gang’s drug trafficking activities and coordinated drug trafficking activities with the MS-13 inmate, according to authorities.
Augustin Aquino-Martinez, 46, known as “Chino,” of Lancaster allegedly acted as treasurer for the Los Angeles gang, coordinated the collection of drug proceeds, and forwarded profits to the inmate, authorities claim.
This is the latest joint operation targeting the notoriously violent gang and its transnational criminal enterprise, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office Donald Alway said in a statement Tuesday.
LAPD and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department also participated in the operation. LAPD Chief Michel Moore said the arrests would have a “meaningful and lasting impact” on crime in Los Angeles.
The indictment charges all 23 defendants with one count of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute methamphetamine. Thirty-four of the indictments charge individual gang members and associates—including Mr. Hurtado, Mr. Grijalva, and Mr. Barrientos—with distribution of methamphetamine.
One of the counts accuses an individual gang member of being a felon in possession of ammunition inside a “ghost gun,” which is an untraceable firearm.
If convicted, each defendant charged with conspiracy to distribute meth would face a statutory maximum sentence of life in federal prison. The distribution of meth count is punishable by a maximum of life in federal prison. Illegal possession of ammunition carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison.
The Mara Salvatrucha gang originated in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, and is now made up of tens of thousands of people in at least 10 states and several Central American countries, including most notably in El Salvador, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In the mid-1990s, the gang became associated with the Mexican Mafia and added the number 13 to its name, which stands for “M,” the 13th letter in the Spanish and English alphabets.
File photo of then acting ICE Deputy Director Tom Homan in front of MS-13 gang-related photos during a press briefing at the White House, on July 27, 2017. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)