THE DEPARTMENT OF Justice on Friday announced charges against 96 people accused of being members or associates of the notorious and violent MS-13 street gang in New York.
Law enforcement called it the largest takedown of the criminal group in state history. The charges include 77 counts of murder and assault, as well as gang assault, firearm sales and possession and drug trafficking on Long Island.
The mass arrests in New York's Suffolk County issued "a major blow to the gang's leadership, operations and recruitment in our region," Suffolk County District Attorney Tim Sini said in a press conference. The takedown is the result of a two-year multi-agency investigation that faced multiple alleged murder plots.
Sini said the 23-month investigation resulted in the arrests of more than 230 MS-13 members in the U.S. and in El Salvador. Among those indicted in New York were the leaders of nine cliques that operated throughout the county.
The arrests put a stop to the gang's "New York program," which was orchestrated by leaders in El Salvador to develop a greater presence on Long Island. The investigation, Sini added, "prevented countless acts of violence," including seven murder plots in the area.
MS-13 was originally founded in Southern California by gang members from El Salvador. The group has been accused of violent murders and assaults on eastern Long Island in recent years, and authorities blame gang members for the killings of a 15- and 16-year-old in 2016.
The crimes drew the attention of President Donald Trump, who visited the area in the summer of 2017. In a press release last year titled "What You Need to Know About the Violent Animals of MS-13," the White House accused the gang of "heinous, violent attacks in communities across America."
The president often invokes the activity of the gang when discussing immigration, stating earlier this year that a border wall would cut down on crime, including that committed by the group. Trump also called MS-13 the "biggest opponents of ICE in America today" and blamed the Obama administration for allowing "bad MS-13 gangs to form in cities across the U.S."
Among the president's guests at his 2018 State of the Union address were the parents of the slain Long Island teens. According to the White House press release, almost 40% of all murders in Suffolk County between January 2016 and June 2017 were associated with MS-13.