Operation Blue Inferno
Beginning in early 2015, law enforcement began seeing many MS-13 members residing in the Mendota, California area. The City of Mendota is a small community approximately 45 minutes west of Fresno, California. Subsequent investigations by HSI Fresno revealed the presence of two active MS-13 cliques; Parkview (PVLS) and Vatos Locos (VLS). During the last two years, 15 homicides are believed to be related to MS-13 in the western portion of Fresno County, many of which were committed in or around Mendota.
Through the course of the operation, the investigative team in Fresno obtained information specific to acts of violence that were being committed by MS-13 cliques operating throughout the United States, including locations in Houston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Baltimore and New York City. The information that was passed by HSI Fresno and the investigative team was credited with preventing 11 acts of violence by notifying victims, making arrests, conducting field contacts and placing law enforcement in strategic places to disrupt these acts (as noted by law enforcement agencies in Houston, Baltimore and Los Angeles). Based on this, at least 15 felony arrests were made during this phase of the investigation, as well as information leading to the arrest and/or clearance of 18 homicides.
On Aug. 30, 2018, HSI Fresno, along with HSI Special Response Teams (SRT) from San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Arizona, Chicago and Detroit, with HSI special agents from throughout SAC San Francisco, and the assistance of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation and numerous other state, local and federal law enforcement agencies, executed 17 federal and four State of California search warrants at residences associated with this investigation. During a search of the residences, law enforcement seized six pistols, one SKS rifle, 270 rounds of ammunition, 65 machete/knives, $4,580 in United States currency, 120 cell phones, small amounts of narcotics and gang-related materials.
Following the operation, law enforcement officers arrested 19 individuals on federal arrest warrants and four individuals on State of California arrest warrants in the cities of Mendota, Kerman, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Oakland, California. All the individuals arrested were known MS-13 members and/or associates of the criminal street gang and the charges against these individuals range from assault with a deadly weapon, conspiracy to commit murder and/or attempted murder, narcotics trafficking, and possession of firearms and ammunition by prohibited persons.
The arrests included the entire MS-13 leadership in Mendota, California, including the clique leader and other senior leaders/shot callers, effectively dismantling MS-13 operations throughout the Central Valley of California.
In March 2018, 24 transnational gang members were arrested under Operation Matador, the intelligence driven, unified effort to combat the proliferation of MS-13 and other transnational criminal gang activity in Long Island, the New York City metropolitan area and Hudson Valley. The arrests brought the total under this initiative to 475.
Operation Matador, operating under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Transnational Organized Crime Initiative (DHS TOCI), was launched by HSI New York along with ERO. This joint initiative comprises HSI special agents, ERO deportation officers and the ICE Office of Principal Legal Advisor (OPLA); U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP); U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and state and local law enforcement partners, including the Suffolk County Police Department (SCPD), Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) and the Hempstead Police Department. DHS TOCI is responsible for identifying, interdicting and investigating a wide variety of transnational border crime with a concentration on MS-13 gang activity.
Since May 2017, the operation has accounted for 274 MS-13 arrests and the 15 arrests associated with the 18th street gang. This operation has yielded 227 criminal arrests and another 248 administrative arrests. Of the gang members arrested during this ongoing enforcement action, 80 had additional criminal histories, including prior convictions for assault and weapons charges. Five are facing serious criminal charges.
Operation Matador is among the strongest examples of ICE’s ongoing efforts, begun in 2005 under Operation Community Shield, to target violent gang members and their associates, eradicate the violence they inflict upon our communities and stop the cash flow to transnational organized crime groups.