Almost 100 arrested in MS-13 gang crackdown on Long Island

A mother's pain, a police commissioner's pledge, and a district attorney's vow. CNN's Ana Cabrera goes to Long Island to see how MS-13 is impacting their communities.

Posted: Dec 22, 2019 4:30 PM
Updated: Dec 22, 2019 4:30 PM

Authorities in New York have announced a wide-ranging investigation that resulted in criminal charges against 96 MS-13 gang members on Long Island.

The two-year investigation resulted in what Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini called the biggest takedown of a street gang in New York state. The charges include murder, murder conspiracy, drug trafficking, weapons possession and gang violence.

"MS-13 is a ruthless, savage gang which commits acts of violence to recruit, retain and control its members and exact revenge on its rivals, as well as to extort innocent members of our community," Sini said in a news release. "They send portions of that money back to the leadership in their home base of El Salvador. Leaders in El Salvador run the gang by issuing orders to the local cliques here in Suffolk County."

Worldwide, 230 gang members were arrested and at least seven murder plots were interrupted, Sini said.

Nine leaders of Suffolk County cliques, or factions of the gang, were arrested, Sini said. Seized were more than 10 kilograms of cocaine, more than 1,000 fentanyl pills, unspecified amounts of heroin and marijuana, nine handguns, two long guns, numerous machetes and more than $200,000 cash.

"The goal of this investigation was to deliver a major blow to the gang's leadership, operations and recruitment in our region," Sini said at a Friday news conference. "This operation helped end the New York program, which was orchestrated by the leadership of MS-13 in El Salvador to develop a greater presence here on Long Island."

More than 200 wiretaps

MS-13, known as Mara Salvatrucha, originated decades ago among Salvadoran immigrants in Los Angeles and has since built a criminal network that extends across the US, with thriving pockets in the Washington, DC, suburbs and on Long Island.

The gang is known for extreme violence and sometimes uses machetes in killings and assaults, Sini said. Holding up a machete at the news conference, he said, "This depicts how brutal and savage this group is."

Ray Donovan, the special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration's New York office, said MS-13 had 8,000-10,000 members in the US and Europe and 50,000 members in Central America.

The use of more than 200 wiretaps authorized by Suffolk County courts helped locate suspects around the world, he said.

"For over two years, a wiretap investigation provided critical insight into MS-13's goals of recruitment, expansion, brutality, violence and rule," Donovan said in a news release. "This tool resulted in hundreds of MS-13 related arrests in New York, El Salvador and Baltimore; thwarted murders, robberies, beatings; and helped locate three murder victims' remains."

The investigation was conducted by a multi-agency collaboration, according to the Sini. It included members from the DEA, Homeland Security Investigations, FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the New York State Police, the Suffolk County Police Department, and several others.

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