On Thursday, October 11, 2012, the U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) with the assistance of the Department of Homeland Security/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) designated the Latin American gang Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) as a transnational criminal organization (TCO). This group is being designated by Treasury pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13581, which targets significant TCOs and their supporters. E.O. 13581 is a key part of the National Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime.
Using the authority provided in E.O. 13581, Treasury is targeting the economic power of MS-13 as a transnational criminal network – and those individuals and entities who work with them, enable them and support them – by freezing any assets those persons may have within U.S. jurisdiction. Any property or property interests in the U.S., or in the possession or control of U.S. persons in which these targets have an interest are blocked, and U.S. persons are prohibited from engaging in transactions with them.
“This designation allows us to strike at the financial heart of MS-13 and is a powerful weapon in our fight to dismantle one of the most violent, transnational criminal organizations operating today,” said ICE Director John Morton. “History has proven that we can successfully take down organized crime groups when we combine sophisticated investigative techniques with tough street level enforcement, cutting off cash flows, contraband and collaborators to ensure they no longer find safe haven in our communities.”
“MS-13 is an extremely violent and dangerous gang responsible for a multitude of crimes that directly threaten the welfare and security of U.S. citizens, as well as countries throughout Central America,” Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David S. Cohen stated. “This action positions us to target the associates and financial networks supporting MS-13, and gives law enforcement an additional tool in its efforts to disrupt MS-13’s activities.”
MS-13 is being designated for its involvement in serious criminal activities, including drug trafficking, human smuggling and sex trafficking, murder and violence, racketeering, and immigration offenses. MS-13, consisting of at least 30,000 members and present in at least five countries, including the United States, is one of the most dangerous criminal gangs in the world today. MS-13 violently protects its illicit interests through murder, murder for hire, kidnapping, blackmail, extortion and assassination. MS-13’s creed is exemplified by one of its mottos, “mata, roba, viola, controla,” which translates in sum and substance to “kill, steal, rape, control.” In addition, MS-13 members have been responsible for numerous killings within the United States.
The HSI National Gang Unit will take the law enforcement lead, under this MS-13 enforcement effort dubbed, “Operation Barbed Wire.” The National Gang Unit removes gang members from our neighborhoods and, when appropriate, from the United States. In 2005, HSI initiated Operation Community Shield, an international law enforcement initiative to enhance U.S. public safety. Operation Community Shield partners with existing federal, state and local anti-gang efforts to identify violent street gangs and develop intelligence on gang members and associates, gang criminal activities and international movements, to arrest, prosecute, imprison and/or deport transnational gang members as well as to suppress violence and prosecute criminal enterprises. The National Gang Unit’s goal is to deter, disrupt and dismantle gang operations by tracing and seizing cash, weapons and other assets derived from criminal activities. Since 2006, HSI has arrested 4,078 MS-13 gang members and, partnering with the U.S. Department of Justice, has successfully brought to indictment numerous MS-13 racketeering investigations in Washington, D.C., Virginia, New York, San Francisco, Houston, and Atlanta.
MS-13 is the first transnational criminal street gang designated as a TCO. Others TCOs include the The Brothers’ Circle, Camorra, Yakuza, and Los Zetas in the United States.