BALTIMORE (AP) — A federal grand jury in Maryland has indicted six alleged members of a violent street gang that’s been a prime Trump administration target.
Six defendants — ranging in age from 19 to 22 — were charged in a nine-count indictment unsealed this week. The alleged members of MS-13, a gang with deep Central American ties, are charged with murder, conspiracy and racketeering.
The men, all living in Annapolis, were detained on federal or state criminal charges and their initial court appearances have not yet taken place, according to prosecutors. Their immigration status was not immediately clear.
The latest indictments come roughly two weeks after a MS-13 member from another Maryland community was convicted in a federal racketeering conspiracy. Raul Ernesto Landaverde Giron of Silver Spring, just outside of Washington D.C., was found guilty of murder in aid of racketeering and faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison.
Following that conviction, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said Maryland has “suffered terribly” because of the “uniquely barbaric” gang’s criminal activities.
In charges announced Thursday, Juan Carlos Sandoval Rodriguez, 20, is accused of luring a victim to a park in Annapolis, where he and other alleged MS-13 members and associates murdered him. Prosecutors believe the March 2016 killing was motivated by a desire to enhance or maintain rank within the gang or gain status as a member.
In October 2016, four defendants allegedly attempted to murder two others in Annapolis, largely by stabbing the victims repeatedly.
Last year, Sessions designated MS-13 as a “priority” for the Department of Justice’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. That designation directs prosecutors to pursue all legal avenues to target the gang and lets local police agencies tap into federal money to help pay for gang-related investigations.
MS-13, or the Mara Salvatrucha, is believed by federal prosecutors to have thousands of members nationwide, primarily immigrants from Central America. It emerged in the 1980s from a stronghold in Los Angeles. But its true rise began after members were deported back to El Salvador in the 1990s.
President Donald Trump blames lax U.S. immigration laws for allowing deported members to return to the U.S.
Federal authorities say the danger posed by the decades-old street gang has been increasing. During a December stop in Baltimore, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen described MS-13 as a “threat to our homeland security.”
Some experts who study gangs believe the overall menace posed by MS-13 has been exaggerated amid the Trump administration’s broader immigration crackdown.
David McFadden on Twitter: https://twitter.com/dmcfadd