A newly-unveiled criminal case against several alleged MS13 members suggests the gang is attempting to improve its communication practices and step up its involvement in drug trafficking.
On January 11, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the District Attorney's Office of Nassau County on New York's Long Island announced an indictment that charged 17 alleged members and associates of the MS13 gang with murder, conspiracy to commit murder and drug trafficking.
Prosecutors say members of the MS13’s Hollywood and Sailors cliques carried out these crimes on Long Island, as well as in New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia and Texas. Long Island, where the MS13 has been linked to 17 murders in the last two years, has become a focal point of operations against the gang on the US East Coast.
SEE ALSO: MS13 News and Profile
The indictment alleges that on several occasions, members of the two cliques arranged for associates to pick up “in excess of four ounces” of heroin in Texas intended for distribution in Baltimore, Maryland. The alleged gang members are also accused of receiving multiple pounds of cocaine and marijuana from a Mexican supplier for distribution on Long Island.
According to DEA official James Hunt, the indictment includes charges against the “highest-level Mara Salvatrucha leader in the Northeast who reports to MS13 in El Salvador.”
Authorities have not identified that individual, and the indictment provided to InSight Crime by the Nassau County District Attorney's Office redacts the names of this defendant and others.
A spokesperson said that this was because not all of the defendants had been “produced and arraigned,” suggesting the redactions are intended to avoid tipping off suspects who have yet to be arrested. However, the redactions may also signify that some of those indicted are minors or have reached plea agreements with authorities that require their identities to be withheld.
The DEA said that the arrests and the charges laid out in the indictment were the result of an international investigation that included the participation of numerous federal and local law enforcement bodies in New York, Maryland, Viriginia and Texas, as well as the Homeland Security Investigations branch of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the DEA's El Salvador office.
InSight Crime Analysis
The allegations contained in the recent indictment suggest that communication among MS13 cells is becoming more active as the gang seeks to deepen its involvement in the drug trade.
As InSight Crime has noted, MS13 leaders in El Salvador appear to be increasing communication with clique leaders on the East Coast, with the goal of consolidating the activities of the various gang cells operating there. However, the degree to which the MS13 leadership has been able to realize this goal is the subject of much debate.
The apparent move to deepen involvement in drug trafficking and to develop enhanced coordination among the various cliques could be related to the pressure the gang is facing from the Salvadoran and US governments, which have both made disrupting the MS13's activities a top priority.
The MS13 has long been engaged in petty drug dealing, but its relatively loose leadership structure has complicated attempts to establish sophisticated trafficking operations. Although the size of the drug shipments identified in the recent indictment are relatively small, the allegations of interstate trafficking and international connections suggest the gang is seeking to lay the foundation for larger-scale activities.