11/16/2007

FBI, LAPD arrest 32 in crackdown on MS-13

By Ari B. Bloomekatz
The Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES Hundreds of FBI agents and Los Angeles police fanned out across the city early Thursday in what authorities described as one of the largest crackdowns to date on the notorious El Salvadoran street gang MS-13.

At least 32 alleged gang members had been arrested by Thursday afternoon in the sweep, the latest in a series of law enforcement actions taken nationwide to counter a gang linked to dozens of murders and other violent crimes.

Authorities hailed the sweep as groundbreaking because it targeted so many members warrants were issued for about 60 alleged gang members.

Officials said large street gangs such as MS-13 seemed to be the emerging profile in crime operations.

"They are the new organized crime. These are gangsters and they're not on TV. They're real," City Atty. Rocky Delgadillo said at a news conference announcing the arrests. "You have to attack it like an enterprise."

Delgadillo called the crackdown "nothing short of historic" because the sweep resulted in the arrest of Oscar Chacon, an alleged top "shot-caller" for the gang in Los Angeles.

Chacon, whose real name is Paul Cortez but who was indicted under the name Chacon, was arrested on drug conspiracy charges.

Chacon is no John Gotti, the notorious Gambino family crime boss, and officials were hesitant to draw any direct comparisons to the flashy figures of the mob. But Delgadillo and other officials did say Chacon's arrest marks deep inroads into the gang known for its secrecy and tightly-knit members.

"We got the main guy in one of the most difficult gangs to penetrate in the nation," said Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton.

Those arrested Thursday were suspects in a variety of crimes, including drug trafficking, parole violations, immigration issues.

MS-13, like most gangs, is organized into smaller subgroups, each with its own leaders. Officials said Thursday that they were able to arrest members of more than eight MS-13 cliques, including five members of the Normandie Locos clique, nine from the Hollywood Locos clique, and four from the Francis Locos clique. Chacon belongs to the Parkview Locos clique and was the only member of that group arrested. Among the areas targeted in the crackdown were Lawndale, Burbank, Huntington Park and neighborhoods around MacArthur Park.

The sweep marks the latest in coordinated efforts to crack down on violent gang members. Last month, federal authorities announced the arrests of more than 1,300 alleged violent gang members and their associates during a three-month crackdown beginning June 1 in 23 cities. There were 37 arrests made in Los Angeles and 128 in San Diego.

The largest number of individuals arrested in the nationwide sweep were alleged reputed members or associates of the Mara Salvatrucha organization, commonly referred to as MS-13. Mara Salvatrucha, which roughly translates to "Gang of Salvadoran Guys," began in the 1980s. Officials estimate the gang could have as many as 50,000 members in the U.S. and Latin America.

Delgadillo and Bratton called the sweep in Los Angeles a "short-term solution" and said the real problem with gangs is their ability to intimidate local communities.

Law enforcement officials blame gangs as the primary reason why many crimes, especially in gang hot spots, go unreported.

"We have to build that trust with the community," Delgadillo said.

Copyright 2007 Los Angeles Times

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