The name they use sounds like they could be a secret government agency or espionage unit but in reality MS-13 is a ferocious, violent street gang with its roots established in Los Angeles via Central America which has been infiltrating many U.S. cities over the past three decades.
It was just a few months ago, in early September when one of their members, Adalberto Ariel Guzman, a/k/a Gringo was convicted for the 2010 murder of Vanessa Argueta, a 19-year-old mother along with her 2-year-old son Diego Torres in Central Islip, New York. Guzman, 21, bolted to El Salvador after the shooting but was arrested when he reentered the United States later that same year. A total of twenty-five members and acquaintances of the gang were charged in a 70-count indictment in March 2011 that led to his conviction. According to prosecutors, Guzman shot the woman for the sole reason that he believed she had shown disrespect toward the gang. The child was killed simply for being with his mother at the wrong place at the wrong time. Guzman was the last of three defendants in this particular case, the others being Heriberto Martinez, and Rene Mendez Mejia who were previously convicted for their role in the mob-style murders.
Last week, Carlos Ortega, a/k/a Silencio, a leader of the Sitios Locos Salvatruchas faction of MS-13 received a life sentence plus sixty years for all counts listed in an indictment against him including murder, conspiracy relating to racketeering, as well as assault with dangerous weapons, and related firearms and conspiracy charges. The sentence was handed down in the Central Islip federal courthouse following a six-week trial concluding with Ortega’s conviction, this past March 21.
MS-13, the known pseudonym for Mara Salvatrucha or MS for short, was founded in Los Angeles’s Pico-Union neighborhood in 1980 by immigrants from the Central American country of El Salvador. The word “Mara” refers to the Spanish word for gang and “Salvatrucha” is a term noted in Spanish slang as a Salvadoran army ant. Another rendition of the word Salvatrucha translates to Salvadoran peasant guerrilla which was a good part of who the gang’s early manpower consisted of.
The reference to the number 13 in MS-13 is credited to the gang “Los Emes” shortened in English to “The M’s” which is the thirteenth letter of the alphabet. The M’s were a similar gang that also originated in Los Angeles.
Besides operating in numerous cities in the United States, the gang has offshoots’ mostly in Central America but has also been known to operate in South America and Canada as well. They were originally fashioned to safeguard Salvadoran immigrants from rival Mexican gangs that were victimizing them and were made up of Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Nicaraguans. They have been branded the most dangerous and violent gang in the United States, as well as one of the most organized. Over the years they have been considered to be the only street gang of their type that can be mirrored to a true organized crime enterprise.
The gang’s strongholds have generally been on the West Coast and in Southwest cities but over the past decade their influence has widened on the East Coast to New York including its suburb of Long Island, Washington DC, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia and Florida. Midway through the first decade of the twenty-first century it was believed that their membership had grown in excess of 50,000 members.
After catching the attention of federal law enforcement agencies, an initiative named Operation Community Shield was set up as a joint effort by the FBI and ICE. In 2005 during the first year of operation OCS was responsible for more than 600 arrests against suspected gang member throughout the United States including many from MS-13 and in 2005 began a campaign of cracking down on the growing street gang. Since then, thousands of gang members, many of them members of MS-13, have been rounded up, arrested and convicted of crimes relating to diverse varieties of street violence and murder.
But in the case against “Gringo” and “Silencio” it was investigations led by the FBI Long Island Gang Task Force, which was comprised of officers and agents of the Nassau County Police Department and Sheriff’s Department, along with the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department and Department of Probation as well as the Rockville Centre Police Department that led to the downfall of Adalberto Ariel Guzman who awaits sentencing in January for his conviction, for the two murders that was powerfully described as “brutal, cold-blooded executions.” by United States District Judge Joseph F. Bianco, and Carlos Ortega who’s conviction resulted in the life sentence plus 60 years for the “heinous acts of violence in the name of MS-13, cutting a swath of murder from Brentwood to Far Rockaway, all within the span of a few weeks,” as stated by U.S. Attorney Lynch.