In an unexpected and shocking roundup of El Salvadoran MS-13 gang members in Everett, Chelsea, East Boston, Somerville, Revere, and elsewhere, federal, state and local officials announced Friday morning that they believed they had put a significant dent in the alleged murderous and criminal gang known in Spanish as ‘La Mara Salvatrucha.’
Around 5 a.m. on Friday, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) officials, Homeland Security, State Police and local police began arresting targeted members of the gang – that following an investigation that has been underway since 2012 and the recent indictment of 56 local members on RICO charges ranging from murder to drug trafficking.
More than 400 law enforcement officials made some 37 arrests on Friday, five of those listed as being from Everett, and 10 identified from an Everett faction of the gang on an organizational chart. Some 15 of those indicted were already in custody on federal, state or immigration charges. Authorities also announced the arrest of the gang’s East Coast leader, Jose Martinez-Castro, of Richmond, VA.
“Our goal is to stop the violence and the danger and fear they enact upon these communities,” said U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz at a press conference on Friday.
“Violence and its impact is real and seen in East Boston, Chelsea, Revere, Everett and Somerville,” said Hank Shaw, FBI special agent in charge. “Today’s operation made the kind of impact where approximately one-third of the MS-13 membership in Massachusetts has been or will be taken off the streets.”
He also indicated that key evidence was found as a result of the investigation allowing officials to charge gang members in three Eastie homicides and two Chelsea homicides. One of the Chelsea homicides was detailed to be a single-mother of three who was in a battered woman’s shelter and happened to look out of her window when she heard a commotion. As a result of looking out for a moment, a bullet hit her in the head and killed her instantly. Officials believe it was premeditated.
“In my 30 years of law enforcement, a majority of which has been on the gang unit, I’ve never seen a more violent gang than this,” said State Police Lt. Frank Hughes. “The violence is unimaginable and the brutality they inflict on each other is unspeakable. Anyone who feels they will fill the void left by today’s operation – we’re on you.”
Most shockingly, federal officials detailed the fact that the gang was allegedly recruiting members from inside local high schools and middle schools – including Everett High School, Chelsea High School and East Boston High School.
“During the course of this investigation, it is alleged that MS-13 actively recruited prospective members, known as ‘paros,’ inside local high schools from communities with significant immigrant populations from Central America, including Chelsea High School, East Boston High School and Everett High School,” said Ortiz. “Prospective members were typically 14 or 15 years old. Under the strict rules of MS-13, as communicated to the local ‘cliques’ by the leaders of MS-13 in El Salvador, these prospective members must engage in significant violent criminal activity on behalf of the criminal organization, usually the killing of a rival gang member, in order to become a full-fledged member of MS-13, known as a ‘homeboy.’ The indictment alleges that several of the defendants are responsible for the murders of at least five people since 2014, in Chelsea and East Boston, as well as the attempted murder of at least 14 people.”
Additionally, Homeland Security officials announced that they were holding 10 individuals who weren’t facing charges, but had significant ties to the gang and were not in the country legally.
In particular, the murder of Irvin De Paz, who was only 15, of Chelsea, was tied to the two violent strains of Everett MS-13 cliques.
The Everett-based ‘Eastside Locos Salvatrucha (ESLS)’ and the Everett-based ‘Everett Locos Salvatrucha (ELS) had encouraged Everett’s Joel ‘Animal’ Martinez to murder De Paz in order to be admitted to the gang. The leader of ELS, Noe Salvador Perez-Vasquez, gave the initial encouragement, it was alleged.
The murder took place on Sept. 20, 2015 in Eastie. After the murder, the ELS clique disciplined Martinez by beating him at a meeting and refusing him entrance.
However, after that, on January 8 of this year, the ESLS clique allegedly initiated Martinez in a meeting at an Everett auto body shop. After he was beaten for 13 seconds, he was welcomed into the group – according to the indictment, which was established using wiretaps.
The Everett factions were also alleged to have been involved in some capacity in the murders of Javier Ortiz in Chelsea in 2014, and Wilson Martinez in East Boston in 2015
According to court documents, in 2012, MS-13 became the first, and remains the only, street gang to be designated by the United States government as a “transnational criminal organization.” MS-13 is one of the largest criminal organizations in the United States, and is an international criminal organization with over 6,000 members in the United States, with a presence in at least 46 states and the District of Columbia, as well as over 30,000 members internationally, mostly in El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras, and Guatemala.
In Massachusetts, MS-13 is largely composed of immigrants and descendants of immigrants from El Salvador and has members operating throughout the Commonwealth, with higher concentrations in Chelsea, East Boston, Everett, Lynn, Revere, and Somerville.
Violence is a central tenet of MS-13, Ortiz said, as evidenced by its core motto — “mata, viola, controla,” translated as, “kill, rape, control.”
During the course of this investigation, she said, this violence was directed against rival gangs, particularly the 18th Street gang, and anyone who was perceived to have disrespected MS-13. The 18th Street gang, another criminal organization in Central America with members living in the United States, has been a longstanding rival of MS-13. MS-13 members and associates often commit murders and attempted murders using machetes, knives, and chains in order to intimidate rival gang members – weapons that were confiscated and in full display on a table in front of Ortiz during the press conference.
The indictment further alleges that members of the MS-13 organization in Massachusetts sell cocaine, heroin, and marijuana, and commit robberies, in order to generate income to pay monthly dues to the incarcerated leadership of MS-13 in El Salvador. This money is allegedly used to pay for weapons, cell phones, shoes, food, and other supplies for MS-13 members in and out of jail in El Salvador.