U.S. Dept. of Justice announces takedown of key criminal leadership in MS-13 gang; 13 members arrested in Nevada

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A U.S. Department of Justice seal is displayed on a podium during a news conference. (Photo by Ramin Talaie/Getty Images)

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — President Donald J. Trump and Attorney General William P. Barr announced Wednesday significant cases related to Joint Task Force Vulcan (JTFV), which is an initiative that was launched in August 2019 aimed at disrupting, dismantling, and ultimately, destroying MS-13.

US President Donald Trump listens to Attorney General Bill Barr(L) in the Oval Office at the White House after receiving a briefing from top law enforcement officials on operations against the MS-13 gang in Washington, DC, on July 15, 2020. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

In a news conference Wednesday, Trump and Barr announced a number of significant cases associated with JTFV, including the first time an MS-13 member has been charged with terrorism-related offenses, a coordinated multi-district takedown of the leadership of the Hollywood clique of MS-13, and the Attorney General’s decision to 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,” said Attorney General Barr. “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.”

US Attorney General Bill Barr describes operations against the MS-13 gang during a briefing with President Donald Trump and top law enforcement officials in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, DC, on July 15, 2020. (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP) (Photo by NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty Images)

In a 21-count indictment unsealed Tuesday 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.

In August 2019, 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, which 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 dismantling 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.

According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) — Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) was also greatly assisted by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) in the capture of the MS-13 members.

A press release from ICE says the indictment was returned under seal July 8, by a federal grand jury sitting in Las Vegas. Tuesday morning, 11 of the 13 defendants were taken into criminal custody. Five defendants were arrested in the Los Angeles area, and five defendants were arrested in Las Vegas, and one transferred from ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) custody to criminal custody in Tacoma, Washington.

“Gangs threaten the safety of our communities, not just in major metropolitan areas but in our suburbs and rural areas, too,” said Francisco Burrola, special agent in charge for the HSI Las Vegas office. “Gang-related violence and criminal activity present an ongoing challenge for law enforcement everywhere. Our efforts to dismantle gangs are much more effective in areas where partnership with local law enforcement is strongest.”

The indictment charges three defendants who were “Homeboys” in the MS-13 Hollywood Locos and Fulton cliques:

  • Adali Arnulfo Escalante-Trujillo, also known as “Buchaca,” 43, of Las Vegas, is charged with one count of engaging in a continuing criminal enterprise (commonly referred to as the “Kingpin” statute), one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, 16 counts of distribution of a controlled substance, and one count of conspiracy to deal in firearms without a license.

    As alleged, Escalante-Trujillo was the Las Vegas-based “shot caller” of the Hollywood Locos clique, leading the Las Vegas sector of the gang, which was involved in narcotics and firearms distribution. He bragged about the violent acts committed by MS-13, boasted of connections between MS-13 and the Mexican Mafia, and bragged that MS-13 had come to work with nearly all Mexican Cartels. Reflecting his senior position within MS-13’s hierarchy, Escalante-Trujillo was in direct contact with an MS-13 founding member living in El Salvador.

    Escalante-Trujillo brokered nearly every narcotics and gun trafficking charge alleged in the indictment. Among other things, Escalante-Trujillo hosted MS-13 members from Los Angeles at his Las Vegas home, to enable their transportation of bulk methamphetamine from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

In early 2020, Jose Alfredo Ayala-Flores, one of the other MS-13 members arrested, and Escalante-Trujillo arranged numerous bulk methamphetamine deals in Las Vegas. Additionally, Ayala-Flores sent bulk pills, laced with fentanyl, through the mail. Ayala-Flores also possessed three rifles (bearing no serial numbers) illegally, due to his prior conviction for attempted murder.

Ayala-Flores, also known as “Blackie,” 39, of Inglewood, California, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, six counts of distribution of a controlled substance, and one count of being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm.

Alvaro Ernesto Perez Carias, also known as “Toro,” 50, of Los Angeles, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and one count of distribution of a controlled substance.

As alleged, Perez Carias is a “shot caller” and a founding member of the Hollywood Locos clique. Due to supply issues as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Perez Carias personally delivered large quantities of methamphetamine from Los Angeles to Las Vegas this year.

Other defendants from Las Vegas charged with illegally possessing and selling silencers, semiautomatic rifles, and semiautomatic handguns is as followed:

  • Sebastian Ocadiz-Castro, 20, of Las Vegas, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance, three counts of distribution of a controlled substance, and one count of conspiracy to deal in firearms without a license.
  • Juan Luis-Rico, also known as “Pelon,” 46, of Las Vegas, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and one count of distribution of a controlled substance.
  • Juan Angel Reyes, also known as “Angel” and “Mysterio,” 21, of Van Nuys, California, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and one count of distribution of a controlled substance.
  • Miguel Angel Nieto-Romero, also known as “Flaco,” 26, of Los Angeles, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and three counts of distribution of a controlled substance.
  • Rosalio Andres Siguenza-Romero, also known as “Tweety,” 40, of Las Vegas, is charged with one count of conspiracy to deal in firearms without a license, one count of dealing in firearms without a license, and one count of possession of an unregistered firearm.
  • Daniel Enrique Perez-Torres, also known as “Maliente,” 30, of Las Vegas, is charged with one count of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance and two counts of conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance.

The U.S. Department of Justice says the JTFV has successfully implemented the 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.

Federal prosecutors from the Department of Justice’s National Security Division and the Criminal Division, as well as 10 U.S. Attorney’s Offices have been assigned to serve JTFV in full-time capacities: the Eastern District of New York; the Eastern District of Virginia; the District of Nevada; the Southern District of California; the District of Massachusetts; the Northern District of Ohio; the District of New Jersey; the Eastern District of Texas; the District of Utah, and; the District of Columbia. 

In addition, all Department of Justice law enforcement agencies are involved in the effort – the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives; the U.S. Marshals Service, and; the Bureau of Prisons. The Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations has also played a critical role in JTFV.

For more information on other states who had MS-13 members arrested during this joint operation, go here.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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