The U.S. government is hoping to make lief much harder for members of the street gang 'MS13', several seen here in 2001 serving jail time at the National Penitentiary in Tamarac, Honduras, thanks to the U.S. Treasury declaring the group Wednesday as an international crime syndicate. (Photo : Reuters)
In an unprecedented move aimed at weakening one of the most notorious gangs in the U.S., federal officials have now identified the Latin American gang known as MS-13 as a transnational criminal organization.
The federal Department of the Treasury announced Wednesday that they had designated MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, under the category of being an international crime syndicate, which federal officials hope will allow the government to deal serious blows to the gang.
Like Us on Facebook
Those blows would include seizing the crime syndicate's assets, which are millions of dollars generated from transnational criminal activities such as drug trafficking, kidnapping, human smuggling, sex trafficking, murder, assassinations, racketeering, blackmail, extortion, and immigration offenses.
As of Wednesday, treasury officials added, any property or property interests in the United States, or in the possession or control of U.S. persons in which MS-13 has an interest, are blocked, and U.S. citizens are prohibited from engaging in transactions with MS-13.
Treasury officials estimate that MS-13 has at 30,000 members in multiple countries-including roughly 8,000 members in the U.S. operating in more than 40 states and the District of Columbia. Other countries featuring MS-13 members include El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, and federal officials call the gang "one of the most dangerous and rapidly expanding criminal gangs in the world today."
Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck told the LA Times that federal action could make a difference.
"As the reach of gangs becomes more international, the seizing and freezing of assets becomes essential to addressing the violence that comes along with it," he told the Times.
"MS-13 is an extremely violent and dangerous gang responsible for a multitude of crimes that directly threaten the welfare and security of U.S. citizens, as well as countries throughout Central America," Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen stated. "This action positions us to target the associates and financial networks supporting MS-13, and gives law enforcement an additional tool in its efforts to disrupt MS-13's activities."
MS-13- whose motto in Spanish is "Mata, roba, viola, controla", or "Kill, steal, rape, control"- has garnered a vicious reputation in the U.S. In one noteworthy July 2003 killing credited to the gang, pregnant teenager Brenda Paz, a former MS-13 member turned informant was found stabbed to death along the Shenandoah River in Virginia, the Washington Post reported in 2003.
By declaring the group a transnational criminal operation, the government has made it harder for MS-13 to use banks and wire transfer services to move their ill-gotten funds. Other international criminal groups that have received sanctions by the Treasury Department include the Yakuza, a Japanese organized crime group, and the Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas, miNBCnews.com reports.
"This designation allows us to strike at the financial heart of MS-13 and is a powerful weapon in our fight to dismantle one of the most violent, transnational criminal organizations operating today," said ICE Director John Morton. "History has proven that we can successfully take down organized crime groups when we combine sophisticated investigative techniques with tough street level enforcement, cutting off cash flows, contraband and collaborators to ensure they no longer find safe haven in our communities."