When the US Treasury Department imposed sanctions on six Salvadoran leaders of the MS-13, only one of them is described outright as a "narcotics trafficker." Analyst Hector Silva examines the criminal history of one of these men, known as alias "Medio Millon," and his many faces: an alleged businessman who has long faced scrutiny, an alleged member of an MS-13 faction, and a drug supplier.
US agents interviewed for this piece refer to Jose Misael Cisneros, alias "Medio Millon," (Spanish for "Half a Million") as a special case. Cisneros does not belong to a traditional faction (or "clique") of the MS-13, but he does provide them with weapons, and acts as a link to drug trafficking organizations.
Of the six MS-13 members sanctioned by the US Department of the Treasury on June 5 -- subjecting them to a range of legal actions, including the freezing of their US assets -- Medio Millon stands out for one thing. He is the only one that the federal agency describes as a "narcotics trafficker."
Asides from Medio Millon, the Treasury applied Executive Order 13581 -- meant to "pursue" transnational criminal organizations and their collaborators -- to Saul Angel Turcios, Borromeo Henriquez, Marvin Geovanny Monterrosa, and Moises Humberto Rivera. The four were accused, investigated, and prosecuted in the United States for crimes such as unlawful association and homicide. In the case of Turcios, a grand jury in Maryland sentenced him in 2005 for the murder of two other gang members in a Baltimore bar.
Moris Alexander Bercian Machon, alias "El Barney," is the sixth person on the list. Investigators from US Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) say that he participated in drug transactions, but they do not classify him as a trafficker. "Barney, from what we know, moved from seven to 10 kilos of cocaine, perhaps a bit more, but does not fall under the classification of drug trafficker," said a federal investigator, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, as he was not authorized to publically discuss these files.
Regarding Medio Millon, the federal investigator said: "He appears to be more of a connection, a link, between the gang and larger drug trafficking organizations that operate in the zone of influence of the [MS-13] clique that he works with. He is not an average member of the gang's hierarchy, from what we know."
The US Treasury Department's list of six people is the most recent measure taken by US federal authorities against the MS-13. Its immediate antecedent was the declaration, under Order 13581, of the MS-13 as a transnational criminal organization. The description of Medio Millon as a "narcotics trafficker" on the list makes him the first Salvadoran gang member officially recognized as an international drug trafficker, according to an analyst from the federal government.
A gang member under scrutiny
What police intelligence and the Salvadoran Attorney General's Office know about Medio Millon gives the US investigative body reason to profile him as a link with drug traffickers and for the US Treasury to describe him as a "narcotics trafficker." In an investigation opened by the Prosecutor General's Office in 2011 into six murders attributed to the Fulton Locos Salvatrucha (FLS) clique in Nueva Concepcion municipality, a protected witness described the clique's hierarchy. Medio Millon was not mentioned. Where Medio Millon, his photo, his personal ID number, his telephone numbers, and his antecedents do appear in detail is in at least seven reports written by Salvadoran national police between 2008 and 2010.
Salvadoran authorities have been investigating Medio Millon and his family since at least 2002, according to reports from the Salvadoran Treasury, the Attorney General's Office, and police and military intelligence accessed by this correspondent. Between 2007 and 2008, a police anti-drug trafficking special task force, with assistance from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), looked into the movement of arms and drugs in Nueva Concepcion, Chalatenango department, where the FLS clique of the MS-13 operates. Medio Millon's name appeared constantly.
A national police document, dated from November 2011, that compiles information from initial investigations, said: "The alliance between gangs and organized crime groups has extended into territories like Santa Ana, Sonsonate, and the eastern coastal region of Nueva Concepcion... In these structures, [Medio Millon's] activity involves controlling movement in the northern region and working with the [FLS] ... It is known that [Medio Millon] has key contacts in the police, who warn him of any operation."
Midway through 2009, investigators from the Salvadoran Treasury, at the request of police, wrote financial profiles of 29 people suspected of belonging to drug trafficking groups in El Salvador. Medio Millon and El Barney -- two of the MS-13 members blacklisted by the US Treasury -- were included in this group.
The Salvadoran Treasury investigated Medio Millon, 11 of his family members and a corporation connected with them. Regarding Jose Misael Cisneros Rodriguez, born February 9, 1975, ID number 00312918-8, the report said that he had never filed his taxes despite registering himself as an agricultural and livestock importer on September 5, 2002.
Of Medio Millon's family, the Salvadoran Treasury said that Medio Millon's father and two brothers have 11 properties between them, nine rural and two urban, and that they are partners in a company that sells and washes vehicles, registered in 2006, which failed to declare its income from that year until 2008. In 2007, that company, Sport Time S.A. de C.V., reported sales of $22,175. Even though the Cisneros reported tripling their sales in 2008, the investigator in charge of the case made the following note: "Given the omission of payment on the part of the company it is difficult to perform a complete tax analysis, but it can be said that the profits are minimal."
At that point, Salvadoran authorities had already connected Medio Millon with the drug trafficking organization known as the Texis Cartel, whose area of influence, in the northwestern corner of El Salvador, includes Nueva Concepcion.
SEE MORE: Texis Cartel Profile
Now, Medio Millon is being held in the cells of the customs police, awaiting judicial proceedings in which the Attorney General's Office has accused him of unlawful association with the the FLS. Last week, the key witness in this process disappeared from a police precinct. No authorities have been able to provide an explanation for the disappearance thus far.
Medio Millon's privilege
In an account given by a witness for the Attorney General's Office in 2011 against 47 members of the FLS accused of six homicides, unlawful association and the carrying, possession and use of weapons, Medio Millon does not appear as a direct actor in any of the murders. Instead, he is depicted as a supplier who operates on a different level from the other gang members, someone who travels in an all-terrain vehicle with a bodyguard and two pistols in his belt. Nobody else in the FLS clique moves around like this.
"First Medio Millon got out, and then his bodyguard. Medio Millon was carrying two nine-millimeter firearms and the bodyguard had an AK-47. At that moment, alias 'El Simpson,' one of the clique's spokespeople, came forward and addressed Medio Millon. From the cab of the truck, Medio Millon took out a gun, another AK-47, and gave it to him," said the key witness in the 616-UDV-041 proceedings.
Before leaving, upon handing over the AK, Medio Millon said: "Here, they order you around. I already have an understanding with them."
An FLS supplier
In that same case, put together by the lawyers Jose Marcial Zelaya Terezon and Juan Alfredo Celestino Hernandez Rodriguez, the witness described four levels of the FLS hierarchy. At the top are four "brokers," two who operate from Ciudad Barrios prison and two who operate on the the streets. Next, the "spokespeople," in charge of making sure that all gang membes know what the orders are. At the third level of the hierarchy are the "homeboys," those in charge of carrying out the orders (numbered at 25, according to the witness). Finally, at the bottom are the "tomcats," recruits who are not yet full gang members, charged with watching over weapons, procuring basic supplies like food, and carrying out other kinds of orders. In this account, Cisneros is not depicted as as a full-fledged member of the FLS, but rather as a collaborator who has an understanding with the highest level of the clique's leadership, both the brokers in Barrios and the spokespeople in Nueva Concepcion.
In a chart of the FLS's structure which police began to compose in 2008 -- as well as in hierarchical diagrams of the FLS -- Medio Millon appears as a key player in the drug trafficking organizations that move cocaine between the blind pass of San Fernando Viejo -- on the border with Honduras -- the detour of Amayo, Nueva Concepcion, Santa Rosa Guachipilin, Metapan, and Texistepeque.
* The author is an Associate Researcher at the Center for Latin American Studies at American University in Washington, DC. Read more of his work here. A version of this article was originally published by Prensa Grafica, and was translated and reprinted with permission.