A MS-13 gang member arrested in Texas in October 2017. (CBP photo)

MS-13 Leader in El Salvador Charged with RICO and Terrorism Offenses

A federal indictment has been unsealed charging an MS-13 leader in El Salvador with a racketeering conspiracy and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists based on his role as a leader of La Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).

The defendant, Armando Eliu Melgar Diaz, 30, is the first MS-13 leader to face terrorism charges in the United States.

“In 2017, the President directed the Department of Justice to go to war against MS-13, and we did just that,” said Attorney General William Barr. “In coordination with our partners at the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department’s law enforcement components have successfully investigated, charged, and arrested command and control elements of MS-13 responsible for murder. Joint Task Force Vulcan’s operations have significantly degraded MS-13’s capabilities. While there is still work to be done, the Department of Justice remains committed to protecting Americans threatened by MS-13, and we will not rest until we have successfully defeated this transnational criminal organization.”

“MS-13 is a transnational gang of vicious predators that primarily preys on people and businesses in our nation’s vibrant immigrant communities,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Members of those communities should feel confident, as demonstrated today with this announcement, that members and associates of MS-13 that commit violent acts here will be held accountable.”

“Today’s announcements are the result of tremendous teamwork and coordination between prosecutors and law enforcement officers across the United States and Central America,” said John Durham, Director of Joint Task Force Vulcan. “MS-13 is a violent transnational criminal organization, whose criminal activities respect no boundaries. The only way to defeat MS-13 is by targeting the organization as a whole, focusing on the leadership structure, and deploying a whole-of-government approach against a common enemy.”

MS-13 has tens of thousands of members located in the United States, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and elsewhere. The organization is responsible for murders, extortion, violence, drug trafficking, human trafficking, and other crimes, and has been designated as a terrorist organization by the government of El Salvador.

“This enforcement action sends a clear message that the FBI and our law enforcement partners represented on the Violent Gang Safe Streets Task Forces remain aggressive in investigating and dismantling gang activity that brings violence and fear into our communities,” said Timothy R. Slater, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office. “We will use all available tools in our investigative and legal arsenal to disrupt MS-13’s leadership, take these violent offenders off the streets, and ultimately bring justice to the victims of these brutal acts.”

“Homeland Security Investigations is committed to leveraging its unique cross-border authorities to identify and bring to justice members of violent gangs and other transnational criminal organizations,” said Jerry Templet, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Nashville. “These violent transnational criminal networks threaten the safety and security of the law-abiding public, and HSI will continue to work with our federal, state and local partners to identify and seek prosecution of these dangerous individuals.”

According to court documents, Melgar Diaz moved to the United States from El Salvador in 2003, and settled in Virginia. After moving to Virginia, he joined the Gangster Locos Salvatruchas, also known as GLS, a clique of MS-13. In February 2013, Melgar Diaz was deported to El Salvador, but illegally returned to the United States in approximately August of 2013. In November 2016, Melgar Diaz was once again deported to El Salvador. He has resided in El Salvador since 2016.

After his return to El Salvador, Melgar Diaz allegedly continued to be an active member of MS-13. In approximately May 2017, Melgar Diaz allegedly became the Corredor, or leader, of the MS-13 East Coast Program. As Corredor, Melgar Diaz oversaw the activities of approximately 20 MS-13 cliques in the United States, including in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, Ohio, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and the District of Columbia.  Melgar Diaz allegedly also oversaw MS-13 activities internationally in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. Melgar Diaz allegedly coordinated financing for MS-13 by collecting dues and drug trafficking proceeds, aided in trafficking cocaine and marijuana, facilitated communications between MS-13 leaders in El Salvador and cliques in the United States, and  authorized acts of violence in the United States, including murder. The money Melgar Diaz allegedly received from members in the United States was used to support MS-13’s violent activities in El Salvador, including by purchasing weapons.

Melgar Diaz is currently in custody El Salvador, where he is facing drug trafficking and conspiracy to commit murder charges.

Read more at the Justice Department

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