Thank you. And thank you to Jose Luis Tobar Prieto, Deputy Director General of El Salvador’s National Civilian Police, known as PNC; and to Ken Kaiser, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Criminal Investigation Division, for joining me here today.
As U.S. Attorney Shappert just told you, early this morning, federal, state, and local law enforcement officials here in North Carolina began executing arrest warrants against 26 alleged members of the gang La Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13. Those arrested were named in a 55-count indictment unsealed earlier today.
MS-13 is an extremely violent gang originating in El Salvador and operating in that country, as well as in Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico, and throughout the United States. Today’s indictment is merely the latest sign of the gang’s reach, and it shows the breadth and seriousness of the crimes that MS-13 members are alleged to have committed.
As U.S. Attorney Shappert explained, the indictment alleges that the 26 charged defendants preserved and protected the power, territory, reputation, and profits of the gang, through the use of numerous federal crimes, including threats and intimidation of witnesses, extortion, assaults, robberies, drug trafficking, and murder. These activities are alleged to have occurred in three states and several federal districts, as well as in the country of El Salvador.
This case highlights the importance of international cooperation in the disruption and dismantling of violent international criminal organizations, including gangs such as MS-13, and the successes that can be achieved with cooperation. Criminal gangs increasingly recognize no border, which means that international collaboration is more important today than it ever was before.
Thankfully, that collaboration is on full display in our relationship with the Government of El Salvador. This indictment results, in part, from a series of comprehensive anti-gang initiatives undertaken jointly by the Justice Department and El Salvador.
For example, last year we created a joint FBI and PNC Transnational Anti-Gang center – the so-called "TAG" center – posting experienced anti-gang FBI agents in El Salvador side-by-side with PNC officers, analysts and prosecutors to combat transnational gang activity. The TAG center was instrumental in the investigation that led to today’s operation here in Charlotte. It is also assisting in several other significant, ongoing, gang investigations around the country.
Supplementing the TAG center, the FBI’s Central American Fingerprint Exchange initiative, operates to assist El Salvador and other Central American countries in identifying, tracking, and apprehending gang members. And through the International Law Enforcement Academy in El Salvador, we have provided crucial anti-gang training to law enforcement officers and prosecutors from El Salvador and from other countries throughout the region.
This high level international commitment to fighting back against transnational gangs was also evident in the meeting I convened two months ago in Washington, D.C., of the justice ministers of Central America and Mexico. Combating gangs was a significant focus of that meeting. And following on that meeting, we are looking for ways to expand further our partnerships and efforts throughout the region.
Thanks in part to last week’s vote by the U.S. House of Representatives to fund the President’s Merida Initiative, we may soon be in a better position to expand those efforts. With that funding, we hope to launch new TAG centers in other hard-hit Latin American countries such as Honduras and Guatemala. Expansion of these centers and the fingerprint initiative I mentioned a moment ago will help apprehend criminals and save lives here in the United States – and throughout the region.
These international initiatives benefit from the efforts of our Criminal Division’s Gang Squad, federal prosecutors in our U.S. Attorneys' offices, and the FBI’s MS-13 National Gang Task Force. They also benefit from the pair of anti-gang centers that I helped launch at their new joint headquarters in November: the National Gang Intelligence Center and the National Gang Targeting, Enforcement & Coordination Center, the task force known as "GangTECC."
Charlotte is hardly alone in facing MS-13, let alone the scourge of gang violence we see throughout much of the United States. In fact just a year ago, the Department announced a similar indictment, in the District of Maryland, in which other MS-13 gang leaders were also alleged to have directed gang activities here in the United States, from inside their prison cells in El Salvador.
As a national problem, MS-13 is exactly the type of dangerous, international criminal organization that the Department is focused on in our strategy to fight the most violent gangs operating within our borders. This requires a strong and systematic effort by law enforcement at all levels. Today's action against MS-13 should be seen as a manifestation of that effort, and of the dedication of the Department of Justice and all our partners.
I'd like to thank all of our state, local, and federal law enforcement agencies for their excellent work in this action. I also want to acknowledge and thank Deputy Director General Tobar Prieto and others in the government of El Salvador, who have shown their commitment to fighting MS-13 and other violent gangs. Their cooperation is crucial in making our communities, and the entire region, safer places.
I would now like to turn the microphone over to FBI Assistant Director Ken Kaiser.