- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2006

Federal agents have arrested 375 suspected gang members and associates in 23 states, along with 22 in Washington, Maryland and Virginia, in a sweep of violent street gangs nationwide.

Most of those arrested were identified as Mara Salvatrucha, MS-13 members, including all but three taken into custody locally. MS-13 has been tied to killings, carjackings, extortion and rapes nationwide.

The arrests, part of a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)-led initiative known as Operation Community Shield, also netted suspected gang members in Dallas, San Diego, Miami, Raleigh, N.C., Sioux Falls, S.D., Des Moines, Iowa, and Springfield, Mo.

“The lawlessness that these violent gangs propagate presents a grave threat to public safety,” Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said yesterday.

“We are meeting their victimization of the innocent with hard-hitting enforcement actions that lead to criminal prosecutions and deportations.”

Those arrested included members of Surenos, 18th Street Gang, Latin Kings, Bloods, Crips, Armenian Power, Street Thug Criminals, Brown Pride, Asian Dragon Family, Avenue Assassins, Spanish Gangster Disciples, Big Time Killers and Hermanos Pistoleros Latinos.

The FBI has said 10,000 MS-13 members are in the United States, although other estimates range as high as 30,000. The largest concentrations are in California, Virginia, Maryland and New York. The FBI has put the MS-13 membership in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador at about 50,000.

The yearlong Community Shield operation was part of an effort by ICE to disrupt and dismantle transnational, violent street gangs and is the first time the federal government used immigration and customs authorities in a combined, national campaign against criminal street gangs in the United States. The latest arrests took place over the past week.

“Transnational street gangs pose a growing public safety threat to urban and rural communities throughout the United States,” said Homeland Security Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers, who heads ICE. “Their violence, sophistication and scope have reached intolerable levels.”

Those arrested included Juan Eladio Villareal-Saenza, a convicted murderer and member of the Hermanos Pistoleros Latinos, who was taken into custody in Texas on charges of re-entry after deportation.

ICE agents and U.S. Marshals Service deputies also arrested his son, Leobardo Villareal, wanted on federal charges of shooting ICE agent Maria Ochoa in May 2005, escaping from federal custody and federal drug violations.

Operation Community Shield began in February 2005 after a threat assessment by ICE field offices identified MS-13 as one of the largest and most violent street gangs in the country. The assessment found that most of the targeted gang members were foreign-born, in the United States illegally, had prior criminal convictions, and were involved in crimes that made them subject to ICE’s broad immigration and customs authorities.

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