The U.S. government on Wednesday designated six leaders of the violent street gang MS-13 as international criminals, stepping up a crackdown on the sprawling U.S. and Central American gang's finances.
The gang has a strong presence in the District of Columbia, northern Virginia and Southern California, all areas with substantial Salvadoran populations. MS-13 also is allied with several of Mexico's warring drug cartels.
Numerous killings in the U.S. have been attributed to the gang, including the 2003 slaying a pregnant Virginia teenager who had become an informant. Brenda Paz, 17, was stabbed to death and her body was left along the banks of the Shenandoah River.
The Treasury Department in October designated MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, as an international criminal organization.
The Obama administration said that makes the gang subject to penalties by the Office of Foreign Assets Control and gives the U.S. an opportunity to hinder MS-13's ability to funnel money to its leaders in El Salvador or launder criminal proceeds through otherwise legitimate businesses.
Adding the names of six of the gang's purported leaders allows the U.S. to target their bank accounts individually.
The men added to the transnational criminal organization designation are: Moris Alexander Bercian Manchon, 28; Jose Misael Cisneros Rodriguez, 37; Marvin Geovanny Monterrosa-Larios, 39; Moises Humberto Rivera-Luna, 44; Saul Antonio Turcios Angel, 35; and Borromeo Enrique Henriquez Solorzano, 34.
All are from El Salvador. Rivera-Luna and Monterrosa-Larios have been indicted in the United States on criminal charges and are jailed in El Salvador. The six could not immediately be located by The Associated Press for comment.
The gang was founded more than two decades ago by immigrants fleeing El Salvador's civil war. Taking lessons from the brutal conflict to the streets of Los Angeles, its founders built a reputation as one of the most ruthless and sophisticated street gangs, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Special Agent Jason Shatarsky.
Shatarsky has said MS-13 members target residents and business owners for extortion, among other crimes. The gang is active throughout Central America and in parts of Mexico, too. Authorities in Europe have reported evidence of MS-13 expanding operations there.
Gang members have been linked to the 2007 execution style shooting deaths of three friends in a schoolyard in Newark, N.J. One victim was slashed with a machete before being shot. Six people have been charged in the case.