Federal authorities Thursday designated the notorious Mara Salvatrucha MS-13 as a “transnational criminal organization,” giving federal authorities more tools to fight the street gang that has its roots in Los Angeles.
Under the designation, federal officials said they can now seize assets of gang members found within the United States jurisdiction.
The designation is the first for a U.S. street gang. Among the organizations similarly designated are Japan’s Yakuza and Mexico’s Zetas, whose leader, Heriberto Lazcano, was killed by Mexican Marines on Sunday. An armed gang later stole his body from a funeral parlor.
The administration is targeting the economic core of MS-13 and the individuals who work with, enable or support it by freezing any assets that those individuals may have under U.S. jurisdiction.
Hagar Chemali, a spokeswoman for the Treasury Department said Thursday, “It is our hope that this action will generate caution within the formal financial sector to the operations of this group.”
“Financial institutions across the U.S. and foreign branches of U.S. financial institutions are obligated to immediately identify and freeze property or property interests of MS-13 and to report any such blocked assets to the Treasury Department.”
Money generated by local MS-13 groups in the United States is funneled back to the group’s leadership in El Salvador, but the official designation will make it more difficult for members of the gang to use banks and wire transfers to move their profits.
MS-13 began among El Salvadoran refugees -—many of them young ex-soldiers—- who came to Los Angeles to escape civil war in their home country in the 1980s. Salvadorans congregated in large numbers in the Pico-Union neighborhood and the area near MacArthur Park, which is where the gang started.
Since then, MS-13 has spread into Central America and east as far as Washington, D.C., which has a large Salvadoran population.