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MS-13 first street gang listed as Transnational Criminal Organization

The Latin American Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) has become the first street gang to be designated as a transnational criminal organization (TCO) by U.S. authorities, joining the likes of the Yakuza and Los Zetas on the government’s list of groups targeted for domestic economic sanctions.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury (Treasury) and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) bestowed the designation on the violent MS-13 on Oct. 11. The designation allows U.S. law enforcement to target and freeze the financial assets of its members within U.S. jurisdictions.

"This designation allows us to strike at the financial heart of MS-13 and is a powerful weapon in our fight to dismantle one of the most violent, transnational criminal organizations operating today," said ICE director John Morton in a statement. "History has proven that we can successfully take down organized crime groups when we combine sophisticated investigative techniques with tough street level enforcement, cutting off cash flows, contraband and collaborators to ensure they no longer find safe haven in our communities."

"MS-13 is an extremely violent and dangerous gang responsible for a multitude of crimes that directly threaten the welfare and security of U.S. citizens, as well as countries throughout Central America," Treasury under secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said. "This action positions us to target the associates and financial networks supporting MS-13, and gives law enforcement an additional tool in its efforts to disrupt MS-13's activities."

Since 2006, ICE said HSI has arrested 4,078 MS-13 gang members and, partnering with the U.S. Department of Justice, has successfully brought to indictment numerous MS-13 racketeering investigations in Washington, D.C., Virginia, New York, San Francisco, Houston and Atlanta.

Morton and Cohen said they’re targeting MS-13 because of the gang’s involvement in drug trafficking, human smuggling and sex trafficking, murder and violence, racketeering, and immigration offenses. MS-13, said ICE and The Treasury Department consists of at least 30,000 members present in at least five countries, including the U.S. They said MS-13 violently protects its criminal interests with murder, murder for hire, kidnapping, blackmail, extortion and assassination. MS-13's creed is exemplified by one of its mottos, "mata, roba, viola, controla," which translates in sum and substance to "kill, steal, rape, control,” said the agencies.

The HSI National Gang Unit will take the law enforcement lead, they said, under the anti-MS-13 enforcement effort called, "Operation Barbed Wire." The National Gang Unit removes gang members from neighborhoods and, when appropriate, from the country, said the agencies.

Since 2006, HSI has arrested 4,078 MS-13 gang members and, partnering with the U.S. Department of Justice, has successfully brought to indictment numerous MS-13 racketeering investigations in Washington, D.C., Virginia, New York, San Francisco, Houston and Atlanta.