COLUMBUS, Ohio – Thirteen individuals alleged to be members and associates of MS-13 were arrested in Central Ohio and Indiana Tuesday, following a FBI-led multi-agency investigation that included U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO), the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and Columbus Police Department.
A federal grand jury charged 10 individuals with conspiracy to commit extortion, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and use of a firearm during a crime of violence in an indictment returned July 27. Five other individuals were arrested and charged in criminal complaints with federal immigration-related crimes. Two of the 15 remain fugitives.
MS-13, formally La Mara Salvatrucha, is a multi-national criminal organization composed primarily of immigrants or descendants of immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. The organization’s leadership is based in El Salvador, where many of the gang’s high-ranking members are imprisoned.
In 2012, the United States government designated MS-13 as a “transnational criminal organization.” It is the first and only street gang to receive that designation. MS-13 has become one of the largest and most violent criminal organizations in the United States, with more than 10,000 members and associates operating in at least 40 states, including Ohio. In Ohio and elsewhere in the United States, MS-13 is organized into “cliques,” which are smaller groups of MS-13 members and associates acting under the larger mantle of the organization and operating in a specific region, city or part of a city.
The indictment alleges that 10 defendants – members and associates of the Columbus clique of MS-13 – conspired to commit extortion through the use of threatened or actual force, violence or fear to intimidate their victims into paying money to the defendants and their co-conspirators. Many of the proceeds were sent, usually by wire transfer and often through intermediaries, to MS-13 members and associates in El Salvador and elsewhere. The money was then used to promote and facilitate the criminal activities of MS-13 in El Salvador and the United States.
As part of the alleged conspiracy, the defendants and their co-conspirators unlawfully obtained extortion proceeds to be used to, among other things, buy items that MS-13 uses to engage in criminal activity, such as cellular phones, narcotics and weapons; provide financial support and information to MS-13 members, including those incarcerated in El Salvador and the United States, as well as those who have been deported; and aid families of deceased MS-13 members.
Conspiracy to commit extortion and conspiracy to commit money laundering are each crimes punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Brandishing a firearm in relation to a crime of violence carries a sentence of at least seven years in prison, consecutive to any other sentence imposed in the case.
Illegally re-entering the United States after having been previously deported is a crime punishable by up to two years in prison.
U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman commended the investigation of this case by the FBI, ERO, Columbus, Police and Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, and the assistance of the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) and ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), as well as Assistant United States Attorneys Brian J. Martinez and Jessica H. Kim, who are prosecuting the case.
An indictment or criminal complaint merely contains allegations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless proven guilty in a court of law.