Mara Salvatrucha, the Salvadoran American group that got its start in the heart of L.A.'s Koreatown, has been designated by federal authorities as an international criminal organization, a first for a street gang.
MS-13, as it's also known, “is being targeted for its involvement in serious transnational criminal activities, including drug trafficking, kidnapping, human smuggling, sex trafficking, murder, assassinations, racketeering, blackmail, extortion, and immigration offenses,” states the U.S. Department of the Treasury this week. That means …
… the federal government can use “economic sanctions” against the gang, which has established a foothold in El Salvador.
The group, which Treasury officials now call a “transnational criminal organization,” got its start at Seoul International Park in Koreatown in the 1980s as refugees of Salvadoran civil war came to L.A.
As lore has it, some of the gang's founders, who played sports and hung out at the park, were former guerillas who brought a tolerance for violence that was previously unseen on L.A.'s streets.
The gang's continued presence along Eighth Street in Koreatown and on a street known for its drug trade, Leeward Avenue, has put it right next to the world's other mega-gang, 18th Street, which calls Pico-Union, MacArthur Park and the Westlake district home.
In recent years violence between the two armies has been mellow, with some speculating that a truce in the name of expedient drug sales had been a factor.
In spring and summer, however, an outbreak of shootings has plagued M.S. turf in K-Town.
Police told us that patrols had been beefed up in the area as a result. But as recently as the Tuesday gunfire has been reported in the area.
Feds say the gang has 8,000 members across the U.S. and 30,000 in Mexico and Central America.
The FBI says the gang participates in …
… drug distribution, murder, rape, prostitution, robbery, home invasions, immigration offenses, kidnapping, carjackings/auto thefts, and vandalism.
Treasury officials say the new designation puts MS under the trigger finger of the National Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime, a campaign endorsed by President Obama last year. Treasury Under Secretary David S. Cohen :
MS-13 is an extremely violent and dangerous gang responsible for a multitude of crimes that directly threaten the welfare and security of U.S. citizens, as well as countries throughout Central America. This action positions us to target the associates and financial networks supporting MS-13, and gives law enforcement an additional tool in its efforts to disrupt MS-13's activities.