More than two dozens suspected members and affiliates of the criminal gang MS-13 were arrested on Friday in a small California city, following a months-long investigation into drug- and murder-related crimes.
The multi-agency probe culminated this week, resulting in the arrest of 25 suspected members of the transnational criminal gang in Mendota, west of Fresno in the Central Valley area, the Los Angeles Times reported. The suspects were charged in connection with a myriad of crimes, including murder, assault, kidnapping, and drug trafficking, according the publication’s report, citing federal authorities and court documents unsealed Thursday.
Mendota, with a population of roughly 11,000 people, has seen an uprise in crime as its police force struggles with understaffing, Fox News noted, citing Sacramento U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott. More than 14 homicides since 2015 are believed to be related to MS-13 in Mendota, The Times‘ report adds. The Mendota gang members and their associates also traffic in marijuana, methamphetamine, and prescription drugs.
In California, the gang most commonly clashes with rival Nortenos gang members, but also targets its own members for violating gang rules, KFSN-TV reported.
Law enforcement investigators seized seven guns, 56 knives, and 10 machetes, as well as cellphones and drugs from inside 11 prisons in the course of their investigation. In addition, the investigation also unearthed a wiretap that linked MS-13 gang members to slayings and assaults in Houston, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and New York, leading to charges in those cities, Scott said, as cited by Fox News.
“If you want to commit crime in California, we will find you,” said state Attorney General Xavier Becerra, The Times quoted. “If you want to terrorize our families and our communities, we will get you. If you traffic human beings or drugs, you’re in our sights,” he said. “If you illegally possess firearms, you’re in our sights, and if you terrorize families through criminal gang activities, you are in our sights.”
The gang, then known as Mara Salvatrucha, was started in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s by El Salvadoran immigrants who were fleeing the civil war in their country. The organization grew into a transnational gang in the following years and now operates across the country, with consolidated presence in at least 10 states and Washington, D.C., counting with more than 10,000 members, according to the Los Angeles Times.
“The nationwide tentacles of this going out from this little town in Fresno County is dramatic,” Scott said, as quoted by Fox News.