Authorities in Los Angeles Wednesday arrested 21 suspects in connection with a federal racketeering crackdown on Mara Salvatrucha, a violent street gang also known as MS-13.
The suspects arrested in pre-dawn raids made up nearly half of the 44 defendants named in the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations indictment, with others already in custody and three fugitives outstanding, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
The arrests capped a nearly three-year investigation that involved federal, state and local law enforcement authorities.
Those arrested by members of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Task Force on Violent Gangs are among defendants who face federal charges, including the former head of the entire gang in Los Angeles and a dozen who make up the leadership of a majority of the gang’s cliques in the region.
Those 12 high-ranking gang members had formed a de facto leadership council for the gang — a committee that was needed because no one person was willing to take on the top role in light of ongoing scrutiny by law enforcement, authorities said.
A racketeering indictment charges three MS-13 members for murders they allegedly committed in connection with the gang’s activities. The murders were solved as a result of the Task Force investigation and its partnership with Los Angeles police homicide detectives.
Carlos Alfredo Cardoza Lopez, 23, also known as “Little Boy,” faces a violent crime in aid of racketeering — or VICAR — murder charge for allegedly gunning down an innocent bystander who was confronted on Aug. 15, 2015, inside the gang-controlled Little San Salvador Nightclub and Restaurant on North Western Avenue. A friend of the murder victim was also stabbed during the attack.
Two other MS-13 members — Samuel Alexander Paredes Rivas, 39, also known as “Blacky,” and Joffri Molina, 24, also known as “Espia” — are also charged with VICAR murder.
Rivas is accused of killing a man on Aug. 30, 2015, at a strip mall in Pacoima. Molina is accused of a Sept. 27, 2015, homicide in North Hollywood.
“This gang is responsible for murders — both of rival gangsters and innocent bystanders — as well as drug dealing and extortion in many communities in the Los Angeles area,” said acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown.
“With thousands of members here in the Southland, the gang’s power is widespread — power which it maintains with severe acts of violence,” she said. “Today’s charges and arrests, however, will deal a critical blow to the top leadership of this criminal organization and will significantly improve safety in neighborhoods across this region.”
Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck added: “This operation is a powerful example of the significant impact partnerships play in law enforcement.”
At the center of the takedown is a 41-count racketeering indictment that charges 34 members and associates of MS-13. The indictment, which alleges violations of the federal RICO Act, outlines the gang’s organizational structure, its affiliation with the Mexican Mafia prison gang, and its strict set of rules and punishment.
The lead defendant in the indictment is Jose Balmore Romero, 43, also known as “Porky,” who in 2013 and 2014 was the overall shot-caller for MS-13 in Los Angeles, according to authorities. Romero has been in local custody since February 2015, when he was arrested on suspicion of ordering a murder.
An official with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said MS-13 “uses coercion and intimidation while inflicting horrific violence in the neighborhoods where they operate.”
“Today is a great win for justice and a heavy message to the community,” said ATF Los Angeles Field Division Special Agent in Charge Eric Harden. “Law enforcement will combine their resources and all our areas of expertise to cripple these organizations. We will win, they will lose.”
Authorities are searching for three fugitives — Irwin Garcia, Jesse Perez and Jorge Ram — who are considered armed and dangerous and should not be confronted, according to the FBI.
“If anyone has information about the whereabouts of these individuals, they are urged to contact the FBI, members of the task force, or call 911,” the agency said in a statement.
In addition to the RICO charges, prosecutors have filed a drug- trafficking indictment against five other gang members who were associated with the Mexican Mafia.
Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander, chair of the council’s Public Safety Committee, applauded the multi-agency task force for the takedown.
Englander said “ensuring the pursuit and apprehension of those who prey on the public is my priority. Make no mistake, Los Angeles will not allow criminal organizations to terrorize our communities with violence and fear.”
— City News Service
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