Federal and Southland law enforcement authorities Tuesday announced indictments of nearly two dozen people allegedly linked to the MS-13 gang, accusing them of taking part in the killings of seven people, including the machete slaying of a gang rival who was dismembered and had his heart removed.
The 12-count indictment, which was unsealed Monday in Los Angeles federal court, accuses alleged gang leaders of authorizing and coordinating the killings, while also naming gang members who allegedly carried out the murders and attempted murders of gang rivals.
Prosecutors said the victims were suspected by the MS-13 members of cooperating with law enforcement, although in one case, the defendants allegedly targeted a homeless man who was temporarily living in a park controlled by the gang.
The indictment alleges a series of murders — some involving machetes, knives and baseball bats — carried out in the Angeles National Forest, the Malibu hills and North Hollywood.
In one of the killings detailed in court papers, several MS-13 members allegedly targeted a rival gang member who they believe defaced MS-13 graffiti.
“The rival gang member was abducted, choked and driven to a remote location in the Angeles National Forest, where six defendants hacked him to death with a machete,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna told reporters at a downtown news conference. “The victim was dismembered, and one of the defendants allegedly cut his heart out before throwing the body parts into a canyon.”
Three people named in the indictment were arrested over the past few days in the Los Angeles area, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. A fourth defendant was arrested over the weekend in Oakland. The other 18 defendants were arrested over the past year, including some who were taken into custody on state and federal charges.
The arrests were the culmination of a two-year investigation by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Task Force on Violent Gangs, which includes the FBI, Los Angeles Police Department and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
“This investigation has been an unqualified success,” Hanna said. “The collaborative law enforcement effort solved several murder cases and dealt a severe blow to members of the gang who engaged in acts of brutality not seen in the region for over 20 years.”
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the indictment specifically targeted a San Fernando Valley-area clique of the gang.
“The allegations in the indictment are disturbing, not only because of the extreme violence in the killings, but also because most of the defendants are young — only three of the 22 named in the indictment are over the age of 24,” Hanna said, adding that two cases were filed against defendants who were juveniles at the time of the murders.
In 2017, the U.S. Attorney’s Office indicted 34 MS-13 members, an action which “obliterated” the leadership of the gang in Los Angeles, Hanna said. The new indictment is a spinoff of the earlier prosecution.
Hanna said 16 of the defendants are eligible for the federal death penalty should the Justice Department opt to seek it.
Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said she has designated two experienced prosecutors to work with an assistant U.S. attorney to prosecute the indictment in federal court.
“This ruthless gang has terrorized Los Angeles County since (the gang’s) inception,” Lacey told reporters.
Hanna said some members of MS-13 believe in “extreme violence,” demanding that prospective members first commit a murder in order to join. The gang often targets recent immigrants, he said.
“They are preying on their own communities,” Hanna said.
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