Prosecutors in Honduras say they will ask Nicaragua to extradite an alleged MS13 leader who has been on the lam for five years since being charged with money laundering – a charge not always typical for street gang bosses.
Nicaraguan police arrested Honduran national David Elías Campbell, alias “Viejo” or “Viejo Dan,” and five other people during a raid of properties in Nicaragua's western Masaya department and the capital city of Managua. During the June 19 operation, police also seized more than $400,000 in cash, eight vehicles, two motorcycles and a pistol, according to an official press release.
Police Commissioner Victoriano Ruiz said in a June 21 press conference that investigators detected traces of cocaine on the seized money and in some of the confiscated vehicles.
SEE ALSO: MS13 News and Profile
Campbell fled Honduras in September 2016, reportedly with the help of corrupt police officers, after authorities launched a nationwide operation against the MS13. Though Campbell escaped capture, his son was arrested on arms and drug trafficking charges as part of that operation in February 2016.
The Attorney General's Office in Honduras said it will request that Campbell be returned from Nicaragua to face illicit association and money laundering charges.
InSight Crime Analysis
Prosecutors allege that Campbell is a bona fide leader of the MS13 and its money laundering operations in Honduras, but a closer look suggests that he is more of a loosely connected collaborator, with business dealings that have brought him into contact with the gang.
Campbell may have started out as a petty drug dealer in San Pedro Sula before connecting with local MS13 cliques, but he made other opportunities for himself by forming a transport company called Inversiones Delca. Honduran authorities seized the company as part of Operation Avalanche on suspicions that Campbell used trucks outfitted with hidden compartments to move drugs into neighboring countries and transport illicit cash. No drugs have ever been found in his trucks, however, and he has never been charged with drug trafficking.
Gang members later invested in property and other businesses connected to Campbell, according to local media reports. But this type of operation is atypical for the MS13, indicating that Campbell was likely someone who moved in different criminal circles.
While the street gang has managed to work with drug traffickers in Honduras, it is not an international drug trafficking organization. Extortion and petty drug dealing at the local level form the base of its criminal operations. The gang has in the past tried to establish itself in the regional drug trade, but it has never been able to do so, due in large part to its own “incompetence, inexperience and lack of connections,” as InSight Crime noted in a multi-year investigation into the MS13.
Another indication of Campbell's reach is that he reportedly traveled to Colombia - the world's top cocaine producer - to possibly meet with other drug traffickers.
Campbell did have connections to some top MS13 leaders in San Pedro Sula, specifically Alexander Mendoza, alias “El Porky.” But that relationship likely had more to do with the fact that Mendoza is alleged to have controlled the MS13’s drug trafficking operations in Honduras before he was arrested in 2015. Mendoza's involvement in the drug trade meant his criminal reach extended beyond just the MS13, which is likely what interested Campbell, according to Carlos García, a researcher and expert on the MS13.
Still, Campbell’s ties to the MS13 through Mendoza are important. After several years in jail, Mendoza escaped custody when 20 heavily armed gang members stormed a courthouse in northern Honduras and killed four security officials. Mendoza has not been re-captured, and authorities may now be looking at Campbell's prior connections to him to locate and re-arrest him.