A federal grand jury has indicted nine MS-13 gang members on a 60-count indictment with charges including murder, kidnapping and assault -- after a federal investigation led to their arrests, government officials announced this week.
Officials said that the MS-13 sub-unit, the Thompson Place Los Salvatrucha clique, operated in Nashville, Tenn., since at least 2014, using murder and other crimes to protect its power and generate income. Funds generated give support to gang leaders and members, including those in jail in the U.S. and El Salvador.
MS-13, also called Mara Salvatrucha, was set up in Los Angeles by Central American immigrants and has expanded across the continent -- particularly in Northern Triangle countries like El Salvador and Guatemala. It is known for its particularly horrific and gruesome crimes, and its motto is said to be "mata, viola, controla" -- which means "kill, rape, control."
Charges in the indictment include seven murders, a number of kidnappings, assaults, robberies and large-scale drug distribution, according to statements by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Justice.
The Organized Crime & Drug Enforcement Task Force investigation involved a number of agencies, including ICE Homeland Security Investigations’ multi-year investigation -- which has nabbed a number of gang members already as part of its investigation.
"This ongoing investigation has already led to multiple arrests and indictments of confirmed MS-13 gang members, including the nine charged in this most recent indictment," Jerry Templet, Jr, special agent in charge in Nashville, said in a statement. "HSI Nashville is proud to have worked with our local, state and federal law enforcement partners to see the continued results of this multi-year RICO investigation involving the presence and activities of MS-13 gang members in Nashville, Tennessee."
"MS-13 is one of the most violent, ruthless and cold-blooded gangs to ever walk the face of the Earth," Acting U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee Mary Jane Stewart said, according to Fox 17.
In a statement, the Department of Justice said that gang members often target people for violence if they believe the victim to be a rival or a witness to a crime they committed. It notes that "members are required to retaliate quickly and viciously against anyone who disrespects or threatens the gang’s authority, power, reputation or control of a neighborhood."
There has been concern about the potential for MS-13 members to sneak into the U.S. across the southern border, in part due to the ongoing crisis at the border which has left Border Patrol agents overwhelmed. There have so far been 71 apprehensions of MS-13 gang members at the border in FY 2021, compared to 72 in all of FY 2020 -- but much lower than the 464 apprehended in FY 2019.
Border Patrol officials have warned that gang members are trying to sneak in among groups of migrants. Border Patrol picked up an MS-13 gang member with an "extensive" criminal background this week in Laredo, Texas.