Twenty-one accused members of the violent MS-13 gang were arrested before dawn Wednesday as federal and local investigators forced their way into homes across Los Angeles County in a sweep that came as a result of a two-year racketeering investigation. Three people accused of murder could face the death penalty, Brown said.
"It's one of the largest and most entrenched gangs in Los Angeles", Brown said.
The pre-dawn raids are part of the government's wider effort to "cripple" and "dismantle" the violent gang by making them "void of the manpower needed to oversee and direct the gang's activities", said Eric Harden, Special Agent in Charge of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives in Los Angeles, at a press conference. "Today's charges and arrests, however, will deal a critical blow to the top leadership of this criminal organization and will significantly improve safety in neighborhoods across this region". Romero has been in local custody since February of 2015, he was arrested on suspicion of ordering a gang-related murder.
Agents and officers served warrants at 41 locations.
A racketeering indictment charges three MS-13 members for murders they committed in connection with the gang's activities.
More than half of those charged are illegal immigrants, according to Deirdre Fike, assistant director in charge of the FBI's Los Angeles field office.
The operation is the latest step in a multi-agency anti-racketeering case.
The group is believed to have more than 10,000 members operating in at least 10 U.S. states.
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Despite the long history Los Angeles authorities have with MS-13, the gang has found a recent spotlight under the Trump administration as part of its border security and immigration enforcement efforts, though the administration has been unable to provide reporters any data on how many MS-13 members are believed to be in the United States illegally.
In addition to the RICO indictment, prosecutors have filed a drug- trafficking indictment against five other gang members who were associated with the Mexican Mafia. Gang members believed to have shown disloyalty, members of rival gangs or anyone who is perceived to have slighted the gang are potential targets for killings. The gang's true rise began after members were deported from the USA back to El Salvador in the 1990s.
MS-13 began in Los Angeles in the 1980s during a flood of El Salvadorians fleeing to the United States.
As previously reported by FOX Business, MS-13 relies heavily on violence and extortion as a primary source of income. The gang is headquartered in El Salvador but operates internationally with about 10,000 members in the USA and 30,000 overseas, according to the Justice Department.
"The weak illegal immigration policies of the Obama Admin. allowed bad MS-13 gangs to form in cities across U.S. We are removing them fast!" the president tweeted. The gang's tentacles reach into Central America and across the United States. The gang has plagued immigrant communities in and around Washington D.C., on New York's Long Island, Newark, N.J., in Boston, Charlotte, Houston and other areas.
MS-13 is said to make money from extortions, kidnappings, drug and weapons trafficking and human trafficking, the ATF said.
MS-13 leaders in El Salvador were targeted for financial sanctions by the Obama administration in 2012 as part of an earlier executive order targeting such groups.
Lopez is accused of fatally shooting an innocent bystander who was confronted on August 15, 2015, inside the gang-controlled Little San Salvador Nightclub and Restaurant on North Western Avenue in Los Angeles.