The Boston branch of La Mara Salvatrucha, better known as MS-13, took a big hit last Friday morning when 56 alleged leaders, members, and associates of the criminal organization were indicted on federal racketeering conspiracy charges, including charges related to murder and drug trafficking.
Over 400 federal, state and local law enforcement officers carried out the arrests of the numerous MS-13 leaders, members, and associates in the Boston area, including in the cities of Chelsea, East Boston, Everett, Lynn, Revere and Somerville. Fifteen of the indicted defendants were already in custody on federal, state or immigration charges.
In 2012, MS-13 became the first, and remains the only, street gang to be designated by the United States government as a “transnational criminal organization.” Today, MS-13 is one of the largest criminal organizations in the country with over 6,000 members in the United States alone. It has a presence in at least forty-six states and the District of Columbia.
Furthermore, authorities claim, it has over 30,000 members internationally, mostly in El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala. In Massachusetts, MS-13 is largely composed of immigrants and descendants of immigrants from El Salvador and has members operating throughout the Commonwealth, with higher concentrations in Chelsea, East Boston, Everett, Lynn, Revere, and Somerville.
Violence is a central tenet of MS-13, as evidenced by its core motto -- “mata, viola, controla,” translated as, “kill, rape, control.” During the course of this investigation, this violence was directed against rival gangs, particularly the 18th Street gang, and anyone who was perceived to have disrespected MS-13. The 18th Street gang, another criminal organization in Central America with members living in the United States, has been a longstanding rival of MS-13. MS-13 members and associates often commit murders and attempted murders using machetes, knives, and chains in order to intimidate rival gang members.
It is alleged that MS-13 actively recruited prospective members, known as “paros,” inside local high schools from communities with significant immigrant populations from Central America, including Chelsea High School, East Boston High School and Everett High School. Prospective members were typically 14 or 15 years old.
Under the strict rules of MS-13, as communicated to the local “cliques” by the leaders of MS-13 in El Salvador, these prospective members must engage in significant violent criminal activity on behalf of the criminal organization, usually the killing of a rival gang member, in order to become a full-fledged member of MS-13, known as a “homeboy.”
The indictment alleges that several of the defendants are responsible for the murders of at least five people since 2014, in Chelsea and East Boston, as well as the attempted murder of at least 14 people.
The indictment further alleges that members of the MS-13 organization in Massachusetts sell cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, and commit robberies, in order to generate income to pay monthly dues to the incarcerated leadership of MS-13 in El Salvador. This money is allegedly used to pay for weapons, cell phones, shoes, food, and other supplies for MS-13 members in and out of jail in El Salvador.
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