The MS13 reportedly financed a mayor’s political campaign in Honduras and planned to back his bid for a congressional seat, an indication the gang is becoming more politically ambitious as its wealth increases.
Jorge Neftalí Romero Mejía, mayor of the town of Talanga in the central department of Francisco Morazán, was arrested in late February on charges of illicit association and money laundering. The MS13 had allegedly given Romero Mejía 12 million lempiras (approximately $531,000), which he used to finance his mayoral campaign.
It appears the money was more of a loan than a gift. A source within the Attorney General’s Office told La Tribuna in February that relations between Romero Mejía and the gang had become strained because the mayor had only paid back four million of the 12 million lempiras.
But a new report by La Prensa, based on access to classified information from the Technical Agency of Criminal Investigation (Agencia Técnica de Investigación Criminal – ATIC), says the MS13 was planning on bankrolling a congressional campaign for the mayor, in the hopes that he would eventually become the president of Honduras’ national congress.
The ATIC has also intercepted phone conversations in which gang members discuss sending the mayor “bricks” and “stuffed piñatas.” Although detectives were unsure what these code words refer to, authorities in Honduras recently told InSight Crime that the gang had sent the mayor a tractor as a gift. What’s more, Neftalí appears on the government’s organizational chart of the MS13. (See below, bottom left)
InSight Crime Analysis
The MS13 appears to be earning significantly greater sums of money than it did in the past. As part of the ongoing offensive known as “Operation Avalanche,” security forces have seized assets worth some 200 million lempiras (close to $9 million) that authorities say the gang had accumulated via extortion. The MS13 in Honduras is heavily involved in drug peddling, and last year authorities told InSight Crime field researchers that the gang is increasingly moving into the wholesale drug trade.
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With deeper pockets come new strategic priorities. The MS13’s attempt to expand their political influence from the local to national level is a natural progression for a gang that is becoming wealthier — and therefore more powerful. While a mayor has control over municipal budgets and security forces, a congressman — especially one sitting on relevant committees — can influence government contracts and gang legislation.
The accumulation of capital has also pushed the MS13 in a more entrepreneurial direction. InSight Crime researchers found gang members have become part or full owners of bus and taxi cooperatives in several parts of the country, while still others have taken to calling themselves “La Empresa,” or The Business.