The federal government has declared Mara Salvatrucha MS-13 a â€œtransnational criminal organization,” the first time the label has been used. It gives the U.S. Treasury Department the power to freeze any financial assets from the gang or its members and prohibits banks and other financial institutions from engaging in any transactions with members of the group.
The move is an effort to reduce the flow of gang money into the United States and shut down MS-13’s operations in Los Angeles, Northern Virginia and other areas where it is active in prostitution, drug sales and other criminal activity. The gang’s leadership is based in El Salvador and the feds are hoping the new designation shuts down the flow of money and other assets among the gang’s headquarters and its outposts.
Local police applauded the unprecedented federal action, saying they hope it can significantly dent the gang’s power. Local police forces have been hard-pressed to deal with the fast-growing gang’s activities. In Fairfax, a joint federal-state task force has for the last several years worked to shut down the juvenile prostitution rings the gang has operated throughout Northern Virginia, D.C. and Maryland.
In one of the more recent actions, Yimmy Anthony Pineda Penado pled guilty today to sex trafficking a juvenile. He faces a mandatory minimum penalty of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison when he is sentenced on December 14, 2012. In June, Rances Ulices Amaya, 24, aka â€œMurderâ€ and â€œBlue,â€ was sentenced to 50 years in prison for recruiting girls as young as 14 from middle schools, high schools, and homeless shelters in Northern Virginia and forcing them to engage in commercial sex acts on behalf of MS-13.
The gang is believed to have as many as 30,000 members and is rapidly expanding. More than 8,000 of those members are said to be operating within the United States in more than 40 states.
In Los Angeles, Police Chief Charlie Beck said the federal action could make a difference, the Los Angeles Times reported.
â€œAs the reach of gangs becomes more international, the seizing and freezing of assets becomes essential to addressing the violence that comes along with it,â€ he said.
The gang’s grip on immigrant neighborhoods of L.A. has loosened in recent years amid a crackdown by the Los Angeles Police Department but MS-13 has been steadily spreading into the Fairfax and D.C. area, where there is a large Salvadoran population.