Law enforcement officials say they have crippled a notoriously violent street gang as its members were attempting to expand into Colorado and establish a foothold here for drug trafficking.
Eight members of the MS-13 gang were arrested Tuesday in Colorado and California, and police are searching for another four people. In addition, seven people were already in custody before Tuesday, and one has been deported.
“We wanted to get it at the front end and try and stop it before they got the good foothold,” said Deputy Denver Police Chief Michael Battista. “I think by taking down these individuals in communities in the Denver metro area, we did accomplish that.
“It will have an impact on slowing their growth, if not stopping it in Colorado.”
MS-13 members specifically targeted Denver because they believed law enforcement here was “soft,” said James Davis, special agent in charge of the FBI in Denver.
A multi-agency gang task force began investigating MS-13 in 2006. In addition to obtaining indictments against 20 people, authorities seized 10 pounds of methamphetamine, 2.3 kilograms of cocaine, 124 grams of heroin, 12 firearms and $3,300 in cash.
Those arrested face charges that include conspiracy to distribute illicit drugs and possession with the intent to distribute. Among those arrested were Gerardo Lopez, 31, of Denver, and Jose Garcia-Sanchez, 26, of Aurora, who are believed to be gang leaders.
If convicted on the drug distribution charges, the gang members could face 20 years to life in prison.
“This gang, at least in this particular area, was in its infancy,” Gaouette [David Gaouette, acting United States Attorney for the District of Colorado] said. “If you take out 20 members of a gang that is just getting started here, I think you can certainly say we put a dent in it.
* Who they are: Members of Mara Salvatrucha, MS-13, are mostly Salvadoran nationals and first-generation Salvadoran-Americans. They also include Hondurans, Guatemalans, Mexicans and other Central and South American immigrants.
* What the name means: Mara is gang, Salva refers to El Salvador, and Trucha means, “look out or beware.” The number 13 is homage to the letter M, 13th letter in the alphabet, and signifies the Mexican Mafia.
* Membership: 7,000 to 10,000 members in at least 42 states and the District of Columbia.
* Criminal activity: Drug distribution, murder, rape, prostitution, robbery, home invasions, immigration offenses, kidnapping, carjackings/auto thefts and vandalism. Most of these crimes are exceedingly violent.