Federal authorities in San Francisco announced charges against 17 alleged members and associates of the international MS-13 gang in connection with a number of crimes in San Francisco including racketeering, drug dealing and a “brutal beating and stabbing”, carried out in the heart of the city’s Latino district.
The individuals were taken into federal custody Thursday and appeared before a federal judge Friday, said U.S. Attorney David Anderson. Their alleged crimes range in punishment from 10 years to life in prison, he said.
“Violence is at the core of the organization,”Anderson told reporters at his office at a morning press conference.
Anderson launched an initiative last year to clean up open-air drug dealing in the city’s notoriously rundown Tenderloin neighborhood, he was appalled by the violence carried out by gang members in family-friendly parts of the city, including Dolores Park in the Mission district.
“Mission Playground lies at the center of this territory,” the indictment claims, noting that the gang also controls Dolores Park and Bryant Square Park.
“San Francisco is suffering from gang violence and gang claims on our public spaces,” Anderson said. “Our parks and playgrounds and other public spaces do not belong to transnational criminal organizations. Our public spaces belong to all of us.”
Separate from the grand jury indictments, San Francisco Police Department Chief Bill Scott told reporters, police started looking into MS-13 related crimes in 2017 and found the 20th Street clique was responsible for two Mission District homicides: 44-year-old Jorge Martinez and 23-year-old youth counselor Abel Esquivel. The police reached out to the federal government when they realized they needed more resources.
President Donald Trump has been particularly critical of MS-13, also called La Mara Salvatrucha, and used their criminal activity as a reason to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. The gang originated in Los Angeles decades ago. Many members hail from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala and operate in at least 20 states, according to ABC News.
The complaint alleges 10 criminal acts that took place between 2016 and 2019. Three of the defendants went after a family with two minors in January 2019, punching and kicking near a playground, according to the complaint.
Anderson said he did not know the citizenship status of the 17 defendants, who range in age from 19 to 30. Eleven of them were already in custody in local jails.
“There are certainly some folks who have … lawful status and those who have no lawful status and no right to be here,” he said.
Friday’s briefing was live-streamed and the press conference limited to a handful of reporters, in keeping with new social spacing guidelines issued to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Since Anderson launched the crackdown on drug dealing in August 2019, the effort has resulted in charges against more than 150 people.
Scott told reporters that the “arrests provide a sense of comfort and relief to the residents of the Mission District and the residents of the City and County of San Francisco.”