Thursday, June 16, 2005

More than a dozen suspected members of the violent street gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, were arrested yesterday in New Jersey by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and local law-enforcement authorities in a pre-dawn raid.

ICE Special Agent Kyle Hutchins, who heads the agency’s Newark field office, said the suspected gang members — including the gang’s reputed New Jersey boss — were named on criminal complaints filed in U.S. District Court in Newark. They were charged with conspiring to distribute cocaine and crack cocaine, the attempted transfer of false identification documents, and immigration violations.

The gang had operated out of the Elizabeth, N.J., area.

“Taking these individuals off the streets will make the neighborhoods of Elizabeth a safer place for everyone,” Mr. Hutchins said.

The arrests were the latest enforcement actions in ICE’s national anti-gang initiative known as “Operation Community Shield,” which has resulted in the arrest of more than 300 suspected MS-13 gang members nationwide since February.

In March, more than 100 suspected MS-13 members were arrested as part of the operation, including 25 in the Washington area and 10 in Baltimore. MS-13 members have been tied to killings, robberies, rapes, extortion and drug smuggling, including at least seven killings in Virginia and Maryland.

With as many as 20,000 gang members active nationally, MS-13 gangs have targeted civilians, rival gang members and those perceived as traitors. They also have issued directives to kill police officers.

Former Homeland Security Deputy Secretary James Loy told a Senate committee in February that MS-13 was an emerging national security threat, suggesting that terrorists may use the gang’s illegal-alien smuggling operations to enter the country.

Meanwhile, ICE agents in Miami yesterday arrested three suspected MS-13 members in southern Florida. Miguel Pedro Gaspar, 22, a Guatemala native, and Mexican nationals Efer Jonathan Roblero Aguilar, 24, and Carlos Hernan Roblero Aguilar, 21, were ordered detained on immigration charges.

The New Jersey arrests began at about 4 a.m. and involved more than 100 federal, state and local law-enforcement officers. The investigation utilized court-authorized wire intercepts on cellular phones.

Mr. Hutchins said the wire intercepts helped investigators develop critical evidence against Melvin Murillo, a 27-year-old native of El Salvador suspected of being the leader of the Elizabeth MS-13 street gang.

Law-enforcement officers seized two handguns, suspected cocaine, as well as fraudulent Social Security and immigration documents.

U.S. Attorney Christopher J. Christie, whose office will prosecute the case, said MS-13 has a reputation in the United States and overseas as being “among the most vicious and remorseless street gangs.”

Those arrested included seven from El Salvador, three from Honduras, two from Colombia and two U.S. citizens.

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