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13 members of MS-13 gang arrested in Ohio

The men were members of the gang’s Columbus chapter, which includes members from Dayton and Indianapolis and is part of MS-13’s East Coast “program”


Thomas D. Homan, acting Director for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, pauses while speaking during a press briefing at the White House, Thursday, July 27, 2017, in Washington.

AP Photo/Alex Brandon

By Earl Rinehart
The Columbus Dispatch

COLUMBUS, Ohio — For more than a decade one of the most notorious and murderous gangs in the United States has operated in central Ohio unbeknownst to most people outside of law enforcement.

That was until Tuesday, when local, state and federal officers arrested 13 alleged members of MS-13, a “transnational” gang that favors executions by machete.

“That’s the bad news, that MS-13 has been in Columbus, Ohio,” said Benjamin Glassman, the U.S. attorney for the southern district of Ohio. “The good news is what we’re doing today, taking the first steps ... to dismantling this group in the Columbus area.

Ten defendants were indicted as gang members on charges of extorting protection money from businesses and individuals and laundering it back to the organization’s headquarters in El Salvador. The other five are alleged “associates” of the gang who were named in criminal complaints with being in the country illegally.

The indictment and complaints were issued in July and kept sealed until Tuesday.

Two defendants remained at large Tuesday afternoon.

Glassman emphasized that the five alleged associates are facing deportation because of their criminal connection, not because they are in the country illegally.

The 13 in custody appeared in U.S. District Court in Columbus Tuesday to hear the charges against them. All were being held without bond until a detention hearing is held Friday.

Asked if any homicide has been linked to the local group, Glassman said the case was still being investigated.

Some of the defendants were arrested in a Northeast Side mobile home park off Innis Road near Innis Park, where the skeletal remains of a Latino man and a juvenile were found buried in March 2016. The two victims were stabbed.

Thirteen of the men charged are from El Salvador, two are from Honduras. Only one is a naturalized U.S. citizen; he is from El Salvador.

The men were members of the gang’s Columbus chapter, or “clique,” which includes members from Dayton and Indianapolis and is part of MS-13’s East Coast “program,” according to court documents.

MS-13 traces its origins to Salvadoran immigrants fleeing civil war in the 1980s who settled in Southern California and formed the gang to protect themselves from rival gangs. After many were deported back to El Salvador, the gang established its headquarters in that Central American country.

MS is shorthand for Mara Salvatrucha. Mara is the Salvadoran word for “gang.” Salvatrucha is a combination of “Salva” for Salvadoran and trucha for “fear us, look out, or heads up.”

Glassman called MS-13 “an incredibly violent gang” whose motto is “mata, viola, controla,” translated as “kill, rape, control.”

Last year, more than a dozen gang members met in a wooded area of Long Island, New York, surrounded four young men suspected of belonging to a rival gang, then beat, stabbed and hacked them to death.

Authorities said MS-13 has become one of the largest and most violent criminal organizations in the United States, with more than 10,000 members and associates operating in at least 40 states.

In Ohio, the clique used intimidation and guns to demand protection money from mom-and-pop shops, other businesses and individuals, Glassman said.

Unlike some local gangs who go by the Bloods and the Crips but have no real connection with those Los Angeles gangs, the 15 defendants are genuine members of MS-13, Glassman said.

The Columbus clique funnels extortion proceeds back to the leadership in El Salvador and to members around the world, he said.

The money is used to buy cellphones, narcotics and weapons; to financially support MS-13 members, including those deported or incarcerated in El Salvador and the United States; and aid families of deceased MS-13 members, according to the indictment.

Tuesday’s arrest is part of an ongoing effort to shut down the gang, officials said.

In Cambridge, Ohio, Isaiah A. “AJ” Groves, 25, of Zanesville, who claims to be affiliated with the MS-13 gang, is facing one count each of corrupting another with drugs, a third-degree felony, and disrupting public services, a fourth-degree felony. Cambridge police said he and Shannon Hupp, 23, a Byesville woman identified as Groves’ girlfriend, are facing potential manslaughter and drug trafficking charges in connection with the death of a 35-year-old Cambridge resident who died at the Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center in Columbus after being hospitalized for several days following an alleged overdose.

In 2012, the federal government designated MS-13 as a “transnational criminal organization” operating in several countries. It is the first and only street gang to receive that designation.

The crackdown began under President Barack Obama, and President Donald Trump vowed in June to eradicate the gang, whose members he called “animals.” Glassman said his boss, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has made that a top priority.

Angela L. Byers, FBI special agent in charge of southern Ohio, urged victims of MS-13, or anyone with information about the gang, to call the bureau at 614-849-1765.

“We can help you,” Byers said.

The FBI also put its offer to victims in Spanish: Se busca información de victimas de la MS-13. Linea anónima del FBI: 614-849-1765.


©2017 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)