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Saturday, July 20, 2024

High-Ranking Fugitive MS-13 Gang Member Arrested, Faces Terrorism-Related Crimes

'The defendant will soon face a reckoning in a federal courtroom on Long Island where, acting on his orders, MS-13 has spilled so much blood and turned communities into war zones...'

(Bethany Blankley, The Center Square) – A high-ranking El Salvadoran gang member and fugitive was arrested at one of the busiest airports in Texas on Monday, wanted on a range of terrorism-related charges.

On June 9, Cesar Humberto Lopez-Larios, a high-ranking leader of the El Salvadoran gang, La Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), was arrested by Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security Investigations agents at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston.

Known as “Grenas de Stoners” and “Oso de Stoners,” Lopez-Larios had been on the run as a fugitive for more than three years. He is an original member of MS-13‘s Twelve Apostles of the Devil and one of MS-13’s top enforcers in its Ranfla Nacional command structure, according to the EDNY indictment.

The next day, a federal judge ordered him to be transferred into custody of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York (EDNY) who is prosecuting high-ranking gang members who have “spilled so much blood and turned communities into war zones” thousands of miles from the border.

The high-profile arrest was the result of multiple law enforcement agency efforts in several states dedicated to thwarting cartel-affiliated and transnational criminal activity.

Lopez-Larios was charged with conspiracy to “provide and conceal material support to terrorists, conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries, conspiracy to finance terrorism, and narco-terrorism conspiracy.” If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

“The arrest of Lopez-Larios, who is one of the most senior leaders of MS-13 in the world, is a significant achievement for law enforcement and another crucial step in the dismantling of this international criminal enterprise,” Breon Peace, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, said. “The defendant will soon face a reckoning in a federal courtroom on Long Island where, acting on his orders, MS-13 has spilled so much blood and turned communities into war zones.”

According to the indictment and related court filings, Lopez-Larios and his co-defendants lead MS-13’s command and control structure, consisting of the Ranfla Nacional, Ranfla en Las Calles, and Ranfla en Los Penales. All three extend throughout El Salvador, Mexico, the U.S. and worldwide.

Investigators believe that roughly 22 years ago, Lopez-Larios, his co-defendants and other MS-13 leaders “began establishing a highly organized, hierarchical command and control structure” to enforce their orders, including from inside prison. Through this structure, they allegedly “directed acts of violence and murder in El Salvador, the United States and elsewhere, established military-style training camps for MS-13 members and obtained military weapons such as rifles, handguns, grenades, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and rocket launchers.”

Also in approximately 2012, Lopez-Larios and members of the Ranfla Nacional began “negotiating” with government officials in El Salvador to receive “benefits and concessions from the government” after MS-13 members “engaged in public displays of violence to threaten and intimidate civilian populations, target GOES law enforcement and military officials, and manipulate the electoral process in El Salvador.”

The Ranfla Nacional also allegedly directed MS-13’s expansion worldwide, including in the U.S. and Mexico, “where Lopez-Larios and other high-ranking leaders were sent to organize operations, make connections to obtain narcotics and firearms from Mexican drug cartels such as the Zetas, Gulf Cartel, Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) and Sinaloa Cartel, and engage in human trafficking and smuggling,” according to the indictment.

The Ranfla Nacional also allegedly directed MS-13 members throughout the U.S. “to engage in criminal activities, such as drug trafficking and extortion to raise money to support MS-13’s terrorist activities in El Salvador and elsewhere.”

They have also entrenched themselves in regions nationwide, including in the EDNY, where they “committed murders, attempted murders, assaults, kidnappings, drug trafficking, extortion of individuals and businesses, and obstruction of justice,” according to the indictment.

The dues and proceeds of their criminal activity were then allegedly sent by wire transfer to MS-13 leaders in El Salvador, investigators found. The EDNY’s Long Island Criminal Division has so far prosecuted hundreds of MS-13 leaders, members and associates for carrying out more than 70 murders since 2009, it says.

The EDNY has so far charged 27 of MS-13’s highest-ranking leaders with a range of violent crimes. In a related United States v. Arevalo-Chavezi ndictment, two defendants, Jorge Alexander De La Cruz (“Cruger de Peatonales”) and Francisco Javier Roman-Bardales (“Veterano de Tribus”) remain at large.

Anyone with information about De La Cruz and Roman-Bardales are encouraged to contact the FBI’s toll-free MS-13 tip line, 1-866-STP-MS13 (1-866-787-6713), or HSI’s tip line at (866) 347-2423 or ice.gov/webform/ice-tip-form. The FBI and HSI have offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to their arrest and conviction.

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