At a mid-afternoon press conference on Wednesday from the Oval Office, U.S. President Donald J. Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr announced the culmination of Joint Task Force Vulcan (JTFV), an operation that led to several significant cases aimed at disrupting, dismantling, and ultimately, destroying MS-13, the heavily tattooed Salvadorean gangsters.
During the nearly year long operation that launched in August 2019, arrests were made of an MS-13 member charged with terrorism-related offenses for the first time in history. The JTFV effort also led to the coordinated multi-district take-down of the leadership of the Hollywood clique of MS-1. Barr also stated that he will seek the death penalty against an MS-13 defendant.
“In 2017, the President directed the Department of Justice to go to war against MS-13, and we did just that,” Attorney General Barr said.
“In coordination with our partners at the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department’s law enforcement components have successfully investigated, charged, and arrested command and control elements of MS-13 responsible for murder. Joint Task Force Vulcan’s operations have significantly degraded MS-13 capabilities. While there is still work to be done, the Department of Justice remains committed to protecting Americans threatened by MS-13, and we will not rest until we have successfully defeated this transnational criminal organization.”
AG Barr called MS-13 a “death cult” whose “basic purpose” is “violence and terrorizing people.”
JTFV Director John Durham Jr., son of the U.S. Attorney from Connecticut, said, “Today’s announcements are the result of tremendous teamwork and coordination between prosecutors and law enforcement officers across the United States and Central America.”
“MS-13 is a violent transnational criminal organization, whose criminal activities respect no boundaries. The only way to defeat MS-13 is by targeting the organization as a whole, focusing on the leadership structure, and deploying a whole-of-government approach against a common enemy,” Durham said.
In an indictment unsealed yesterday, Melgar Diaz was charged in the Eastern District of Virginia with conspiring to provide material support to terrorists; conspiring to kill or maim persons overseas; conspiring to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries; conspiring to finance terrorism, and; conspiring to engage in narco-terrorism, in addition to racketeering conspiracy and drug trafficking.
This is the first time that an MS-13 member has been charged with terrorism-related offenses.
Alexi Saenz was indicted in 2017 in the Eastern District of New York. The DoJ alleged that between 2016 and 2017 he committed seven murders: the Jan. 28, 2016, murder of Michael Johnson; the April 29, 2016, murder of Oscar Acosta; the Sept. 13, 2016, murders of Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens; the Oct. 10, 2016, murder of Javier Castillo; the Oct. 13, 2016, murder of Dewann Stacks, and; the Jan. 30, 2017, murder of Esteban Alvarado-Bonilla.
Two of the victims were Brentwood high school students killed with a machete and baseball bat. The Attorney General has filed a Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty for Saenz.
In a 24-count indictment unsealed yesterday, the Eastern District of New York charged eight MS-13 members, including leaders of the East Coast Hollywood Program, with Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) and Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering (VICAR) charges related to six murders, two attempted murders, kidnapping, narcotics, and related firearms offenses.
In a 21-count indictment unsealed yesterday in the District of Nevada, 13 MS-13 members, including leaders of the “Hollywood Locos” clique and “Los Angeles Program,” were charged with various offenses including Continuing Criminal Enterprise (CCE), narcotics distribution and weapons charges.
Attorney General Barr created JTFV to carry out the recommendations of the MS-13 subcommittee formed under the Attorney General’s Transnational Organized Crime Task Force. That was the result of President Trump’s February 2017 Executive Order directing the Departments of Justice, State, and Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, to coordinate a whole-of-government approach to dismantle transnational criminal organizations, such as MS-13, and restore safety for the American people.
The principal purpose of JTFV is to coordinate and lead the efforts of the Justice Department and U.S. law enforcement agencies against MS-13 in order to dismantle the group.
JTFV implemented a whole-of-government approach to law enforcement relating to MS-13; increased coordination and collaboration with foreign law enforcement partners, including El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala; designated priority MS-13 programs, cliques and leaders, who have the most impact on the U.S., for targeted prosecutions, and; coordinated significant MS-13 indictments in U.S. Attorney’s Offices across the country, such as the Eastern District of New York, the Eastern District of Virginia, and the District of Nevada.
The operation was an international effort including the government and Attorney General Raul Melara of El Salvador as well as investigators from El Salvador’s Policia Nacional Civil, Centro Antipandilla Transnacional unit.