Justice News

Acting Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Blanco Delivers Remarks Following Regional Ministerial on Joint Efforts to Combat Transnational Organized Crime
Miami, FL
United States
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Friday, September 29, 2017

Good morning, everyone, and thanks for being here. Over the last six months and culminating this morning, prosecutors from the United States, El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala filed charges against over 3,800 MS-13 and 18th Street gang members, including essentially every leader of MS-13 in El Salvador. I’ll let Attorneys General Douglas Melendez, Thelma Aldana, and Oscar Chinchilla discuss their specific results in a moment, but I wanted to share with you the overall impact of our joint efforts to coordinate against the gangs which pose a particular threat to the United States.

Today marks the six-month anniversary of the commitment U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his counterparts made at a Ministerial in Washington, D.C. this past March. Our announcement today concerns Operation Regional Shield, which is the result of that commitment. Operation Regional Shield is a direct response to our government’s goals to dismantle transnational criminal networks and increase international cooperation to prevent the spread of transnational organized crime to the United States. Increasingly, transnational organized crime—and its attendant violence—touches U.S communities, leaving devastation in its wake.  Horrific acts of violence attributable to gangs plague our communities.  As Attorney General Sessions recently stated, gangs like MS-13 represent one of the gravest threats to American safety. The Department of Justice is therefore committed to combatting, disrupting, and dismantling MS-13 through aggressive investigations and prosecutions, in coordination with our interagency and international partners.

As part of that effort, U.S. prosecutors have brought charges in numerous jurisdictions, including traditional MS-13 strongholds such as Los Angeles, Maryland and New York, as well as new areas into which the gang has expanded and presents a growing threat, such as Columbus, Ohio. Every U.S. prosecution has ties to the Northern Triangle, demonstrating the importance of a regional strategy and coordination between the four countries most affected by MS-13.

The Justice Department’s regional strategy to combat transnational organized crime includes an operational component through which the FBI, the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gangs Section, and other Department components work in close coordination with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to investigate and prosecute gang members. To ensure that transnational criminals face justice, the Department routinely collaborates with our foreign counterparts to obtain critical evidence and secure extradition.  Finally, our strategy includes a capacity building component led by our Office of Prosecutorial Development, Assistance, and Training. Through this office, the Department works with our Central American counterparts to increase their ability to investigate and prosecute criminal groups before their criminal activities reach the United States.  All of these components are mutually reinforcing.

The Justice Department currently has five prosecutors deployed in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, who, together with our DHS partners and the FBI, focus on gangs, cartels, financial crimes, public corruption, and other transnational criminal activities.  The work of our personnel in the region has been instrumental in our regional fight against transnational crime, but these successes against gangs would not have been possible without the strong partnerships we have with the Attorneys General with me today. Attorneys General Aldana, Chinchilla, and Melendez are each incredible allies who have demonstrated time and again their commitment to the rule of law in their countries. I wish to publicly thank them here today for their tireless dedication to the security of their countries and our region as a whole, and I want to reiterate to them, and to you, that they have in the Department of Justice a strong, willing, and committed partner in the fight against crime.

Updated September 29, 2017