U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will make combatting the violent street gang MS-13 a priority for federal law enforcement officials.
Speaking Monday at a police conference in Philadelphia, Sessions said he would urge federal prosecutors to use whatever laws they can think of to “dismantle” the transnational criminal organization with an estimated 40,000 members worldwide.
“Just like we took Al Capone off the streets with our tax laws,” he said, “we will use whatever laws we have to get MS-13 off of our streets.”
Sessions will reorient the sprawling interagency task forces that have been focusing on taking down major drug traffickers. Those groups will now target MS-13 as well.
The move is part of a wider strategy by the Trump administration to crack down on what has become one of the largest street gangs in the United States. MS-13, short for La Mara Salvatrucha, was founded in Los Angeles in the 1980s by immigrants from El Salvador.
Since Trump took office in January, his administration has arrested more than 300 alleged MS-13 members, according to a report from the Washington Post.
Violence linked to the gang recently flared up in Long Island, New York, where two reputed members allegedly hacked a 19-year-old man to death to boost their status in the gang.
Although MS-13 does not have a major presence in Philadelphia, according to a police spokesman, the gang is active in New Jersey.
In August, federal authorities captured Walter Yovany-Gomez, nicknamed “Cholo,” who had been hiding out in Virginia after allegedly beating and stabbing a man to death in the North Jersey city of Plainfield. Officials alleged Yovany-Gomez, hoping to join MS-13, committed the murder as part of his initiation process.
Perhaps the highest-profile crime related to the gang’s activities in New Jersey occurred on a Newark schoolyard in 2007. Six men and boys surrounded a group of four young adults, shooting three dead and then sexually assaulting, stabbing and shooting a fourth victim, who survived.
Prosecutors said all six attackers had ties to MS-13.
“Guided by their motto — ‘kill, rape, and control’ — they leave misery, devastation and death in their wake,” Sessions said. “But at the Department of Justice, we have a motto, too: ‘justice for victims, consequences for criminals.’ ”
In addition to the refocused fight against MS-13, Sessions announced, before the audience of hundreds of police officers, the DOJ’s intention to award $100 million in grants for state and local law enforcement agencies to hire more cops.
Reiterating his and President Trump’s support for the police, Sessions also noted that he has directed prosecutors to charge the most serious offenses possible (a break from the Obama administration’s policy) and expanded the federal civil asset forfeiture program.