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U.S. Names MS-13 Transnational Criminal Organization

Matt Pressberg |
October 11, 2012 | 4:01 p.m. PDT

Executive Producer

MS-13 members often have many identifying tattoos. (ICE/Wikimedia Commons)
MS-13 members often have many identifying tattoos. (ICE/Wikimedia Commons)
The U.S. Treasury Department named the Mara Salvatrucha street gang, commonly known by its abbreviation MS-13, as a transnational criminal organization Thursday, allowing for severe economic sanctions against the group.

As the Wall Street Journal reports, Treasury added MS-13 to a list of criminal groups that includes the Zeta cartel and Camorra, allowing it to place economic sanctions on the gang under the terms of a 2011 executive order. These sanctions ban Americans from entering into business transactions with MS-13, and blocks any American-based property held by the group.

MS-13 was founded by Salvadoran immigrants to Los Angeles, but now has a presence throughout the United States and in Latin America. The gang is infamous for its brutality, but has gone from a simple street gang to a multinational enterprise engaged in murder, the drug trade and sex trafficking.

Treasury's statement describes the gang's activities as follows:

"MS-13 consists of at least 30,000 members in a range of countries, including El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico, and is one of the most dangerous and rapidly expanding criminal gangs in the world today.  MS-13 is active within the United States, with at least 8,000 members operating in more than 40 states and the District of Columbia.  MS-13’s criminal nature can be seen in one of its mottos, “Mata, roba, viola, controla” (“Kill, steal, rape, control”).  Domestically, the group is involved in multiple crimes including murder, racketeering, drug trafficking, sex trafficking and human trafficking including prostitution.  The group frequently carries out violent attacks on opposing gang members, often injuring innocent bystanders.  MS-13 members have been responsible for numerous killings within the United States. 

Local MS-13 cliques take direction from the group’s foreign leadership for strategic decisions involving moves into new territories and efforts to recruit new members.  Money generated by local MS-13 cliques in the U.S. is consolidated and funneled to the group’s leadership in El Salvador."

El Salvador and its immediate neighbors remain very poor and it is highly likely that the overwhelming majority of MS-13's revenue is earned in the United States. Treasury hopes to weaken the gang by impeding the money flow from the U.S. to MS-13 leaders abroad.


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