MS-13 Becomes First American-Born Street Gang to Be Marked A "Transnational Criminal Organization" by the Feds

Categories: Crime
hiding-plain-sight.jpg
Yuko Shimizu
Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department officially labeled MS-13 a transnational criminal organization. No other American-born street gang has earned that distinction, which has previously been given to groups like the Yakuza in Japan and the Zetas in Mexico.

The classification speaks to the gang's sophistication and growth. Over three decades, MS has spread from Los Angeles to more than 30 other states and almost every country in North and Central America. It has 8,000 members in the U.S. and 30,000 more abroad.

The gang's reputation, though, has been built on a combination of its structure and its involvement in high-profile, sometimes vicious crimes, such as the Bologna family murders in San Francisco in 2008.


See alsoHiding in Plain Sight: A Homicide Suspect Spent Four Years on the Lam

Newspaper headlines over the last couple of years also included a machete murder in New Jersey, an attempted hit on a pregnant woman suspected of snitching in Virginia, charges of an underage prostitution ring in Virginia, and a double homicide in North Carolina, among others.

MS-13 does not possess uniform characteristics across its various crews. San Francisco, for instance, houses two MS-13 branches, 20th Street and Pasadena Loco Sureños. 20th Street has been known for smaller crimes like car thefts, while PLS has a harder reputation.

As SF Weekly's Lauren Smiley explained in 2011:

The 20th Street Clique's roots go back to the mid-'90s with tough young Salvadorans who played soccer at Mission Playground, a patch of basketball courts and grass on Valencia between 19th and 20th streets. They claimed the gang's name, its color blue, gothic-script tattoos, and as a faction of Sureño or Southerner gangs, a rivalry with the Mission's majority gang, the Norteños (Northerners), who tend to be Americans of Mexican descent who don red. MS-13 refers to Norteños as "busters" or chavalas -- little girls. Norteños call the Sureños "scraps."

...

In June 2004, the Clique's leader, Luis "Memo" Fuentes, was fatally shot in front of his young son in Norteño territory on 24th Street. Soon after, a handful of members from a Los Angeles MS-13 clique called the Pasadena Locos Sureños arrived, according to court testimony of Abraham Martinez, a 20th Street Clique member who testified in the trial this month. He says PLS members announced they had been sent "to keep an eye on things" for respected leaders in Los Angeles and El Salvador. Prosecutors' court filings say the gang "sought to model the 20th Street clique in their own image," and Abraham Martinez testified that new rules were sent in secret notes from down south.

Edwin Ramos, who was convicted for the Bologna murders, was a member of 20th Street. Wilfredo Reyes, who is facing murder charges for his alleged role in that homicide, was a member of PLS. One reason MS-13 has become, by criminal standards, so successful, is its structure -- with established rules, chain-of-command, and rank-and-file loyalty. Reyes was one of the leaders overseeing operations in S.F., and Ramos was one of the gang members who apparently needed the guidance.

As last month's cover story described:

[Reyes] even got Ramos out of an ass-kicking a couple years back. Thing was, Ramos wasn't the most dutiful gang member. He sometimes wore a red 49ers jacket -- Norteños color. One time, he stepped in when a group of MS-13 guys were about to jump a Norteño who was his friend and neighbor. Ramos' disobedience merited a beating, which Reyes was supposed to lead. Reyes faked it, though, putting on a show that would have made Vince McMahon proud and leaving Ramos bruise-less. Reyes had saved Ramos' life, too. When gang leaders thought Ramos had jumped into the Pasadena Locos Sureños before officially jumping out of 20th Street, a mortal sin deserving the highest level of punishment in the MS handbook, Ramos' death was greenlighted. He would have been killed had Reyes not defused the situation.

By marking MS-13 as a transnational criminal organization, federal authorities are seeking to suffocate the gang's cash flow. The Treasury Department now has the power to freeze any assets tied to the gang.

U.S. financial institutions "are obligated to immediately identify and freeze property or property interests of MS-13 and to report any such blocked assets to the Treasury Department," said department spokesperson Hagar Chemali, according to the L.A. Times.

Some people are probably wondering what took so long.



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4 comments
ANONYMOUSPOSTER
ANONYMOUSPOSTER

THE MS IS THE WORST GANG... WHAT MOST PEOPLE DON'T UNDERSTAND ABOUT THEM IS THEY DON'T ALWAYS ACT IN THEIR BEST INTEREST FINANCIALLY BECAUSE IT IS ALSO ABOUT ETHNIC OR NATIONAL PRIDE.  THEY ARE VERY GREEDY BUT INEFFICIENT I AM SURE COMPARED TO OTHER GANGS OR MAFIA.  ONE THINKS THAT GANG MEMBERS WILL HAVE SOME CASH BECAUSE OF THEIR CRIMES, BUT THAT IS NOT ALWAYS THE CASE.  I KNEW SOME GANG BANGING MS TYPES THAT WERE ALWAYS BROKE, AND WHEN I KNEW THEM I DID NOT REALIZE THEY WERE GANG MEMBERS, BECAUSE IT IS NOT SOMETHING THEY LIKE TO DISCLOSE.  THEY COULD BE LIVING IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD, AND YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY ARE REALLY UP TO...

reddart345
reddart345

I thought this gang started in El Salvador after the 1980 civil war. 

hplovecraft
hplovecraft topcommenter

At one time , they ( MS13 ) held sway in much of our own city government's decisions

concerning juvenlies ( Bologna killings , etc.) and are still , techincally , constituents

of at least two ( 2 ) of our district supervisors. They'd become a 'political force' here in

'progressive' S.F..

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