More than 40 suspected members of the notorious MS-13 gang faced federal charges Wednesday in Los Angeles in what law enforcement officials called one of the most significant busts of the transnational gang in its notorious decades-long history. The Mexican Mafia is also charged in the case, as it is believed the two gangs established a partnership for drug trafficking.
The three people facing murder charges could face the death penalty if convicted, authorities said.
"We believe the most impact is made by targeting the mid- to upper-level hierarchy of the gang and removing them", said Eric Harden, special agent in charge of the ATF's Los Angeles field division. "The case has targeted the leadership and the most violent actors of the MS-13 street gang in Los Angeles", said Deidre Fike, the assistant director in charge of the FBI's L.A. office, at a Wednesday mor, ing press conference.
"This gang is responsible for murders - both of rival gangsters and innocent bystanders - as well as drug dealing and extortion in many communities in the Los Angeles area", said Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown in a statement. Romero has been in local custody since February of 2015, he was arrested on suspicion of ordering a gang-related murder.
Twenty-one people named in the indictment were arrested in pre-dawn raids across Los Angeles and Brown said warrants were served at more than 50 locations. "Today's actions will deal a critical blow to the top leadership". Jail officials around the region also conducted cell searches, as some of those indicted were already in custody on unrelated charges.
Shortly after 4 a.m. PDT Wednesday, heavily armed ATF agents - wearing helmets and bulletproof gear and carrying rifles - forced their way into a storefront and a back building near Exposition Boulevard and Western Avenue in Exposition Park.
Wednesday's sweep was part of a multi-agency investigation that began in 2014.
A racketeering indictment charges three MS-13 members for murders they committed in connection with the gang's activities.More news: Putin offers to give Congress notes of Trump's meeting
The suspects arrested overnight made up almost half of the 44 defendants named in the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations indictment, with others already in custody, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
For MS-13, violence is "a way of life" - a way to maintain order and discipline within their ranks, Federal Bureau of Investigation supervisory special agent Julian Igualada told CBS News' Crimesider last month.
Once inside, federal agents and police detectives found what they described as gang members involved in human trafficking, as well as possible victims.
Trump says the U.S.is imposing immigration control like "never seen before".
MS-13 began in the 1980s in Los Angeles when El Salvadorians come into the United States. Authorities claim the gang as among the largest criminal organizations in the US. The gang is headquartered in El Salvador but operates internationally with about 10,000 members in the US and 30,000 overseas, according to the Justice Department. Its offshoot in Central America took hold when numerous members were deported.
Last month, Trump tweeted that MS-13 was allowed to thrive under the immigration policies of the Obama administration, even though the gang has been in the United States for decades. The gang has plagued immigrant communities in and around Washington D.C., on New York's Long Island, Newark, N.J., in Boston, Charlotte, Houston and other areas.
Some of the MS-13 gang members have been deported from the U.S.in the past several years, which is likely the reason for expansion of this group in other nations.
A Los Angeles Times investigation in 2007 found that the push to send gang members back to El Salvador had unintended consequences.