Members of the notorious MS-13 gang in Los Angeles have been charged in connection with the murders of seven people over the last two years—including the dismemberment of a rival gang member whose heart was cut out, federal authorities allege in a 12-count indictment unsealed Tuesday.
A total of 22 people linked to the Fulton clique, a faction of the gang based in the San Fernando Valley, have been indicted by a grand jury on several charges, including racketeering and murder, for allegedly committing 200 criminal acts in several states over nine years. Of the over two dozen accused gang members, 20 of them have been charged with murder.
While the MS-13 members and associates engaged in common gang behavior—such as narcotics sales, robberies, and extortion schemes—they also used “horrific violence” to control members and intimidate their rivals in Los Angeles, the indictment alleges.
“We have now taken off the streets nearly two dozen people associated with the most violent arm of MS-13 in Los Angeles, where the gang is believed to have killed 24 people over the past two years,” U.S. Attorney Nick Hann said in a press release announcing the charges. “The collaborative law enforcement effort solved several murder cases and dealt a severe blow to members of the gang who engaged in acts of brutality not seen in the region for over 20 years.”
The 12-count indictment, which is the culmination of a two-year, joint investigation with federal and local authorities, details seven killings, including four victims who were “hacked to death with machetes in the Angeles National Forest,” prosecutors said.
Formed in the mid-1980s in Los Angeles, MS-13—or Mara Salvatrucha—has a presence in at least 10 states, including New York, and several countries abroad. The epicenter of the transnational organization, prosecutors allege, is in the San Fernando Valley, where El Salvadoran MS-13 members joined with Fulton members to carry out the slayings detailed in the indictment, the court papers allege.
“MS-13 in Los Angeles was distinct from MS-13 cliques in other parts of the country, because in Los Angeles, MS-13 had to pay extortionate rent payments to the Mexican Mafia, to which MS-13 swore fealty,” the indictment states.
During a March 2017 murder detailed in the indictment, several MS-13 members allegedly targeted a “rival gang member,” only identified as “J.S.,” who “crossed out MS-13 graffiti.” After abducting, choking, and driving J.S. to a remote location in the Angeles National Forest, six members fatally attacked him with a machete, the indictment says.
The victim was then allegedly dismembered before one gang member “carved out J.S.’s heart,” and threw his “body parts into a canyon.”
“The greatest tragedy in these cases is that these young victims likely left their homelands hopeful that in the United States they would find safety and prosperity,” Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey said on Tuesday. “Instead, these victims had the misfortune of crossing paths with violent gang members who preyed on the vulnerabilities of their immigrant experience.”
A month later, another victim identified as “G.B.” was hit “in back of the head with a pistol, before he was “repeatedly” hacked with a machete, the indictment states. Prosecutors allege some of the MS-13 members believed G.B. was an informant.
“Once MS-13 had evidence that someone cooperated with law enforcement, by reputation, word of mouth, or by receiving and reviewing law enforcement reports or videos of interviews, MS-13 would issue a ‘green light’ as to that person, which was an order that if any MS-13 member saw the person who was allegedly or actually cooperating with law enforcement, that person was to be killed on sight,” the indictment states.
To lure G.B. to the Angeles National Forest, one gang member allegedly “created a Facebook page with the photograph of a female juvenile.”
Prosecutors allege MS-13 members also used “baseball bats and knives” to murder at least four of the victims, including a man identified in the indictment as E.H. Non-gang members were also the victims of “extreme violence,” including 34-year-old Bradley Hanaway, a homeless man who was fatally shot by three men in January in Whitsett Sports Park, the indictment states.
“Let’s go take out the trash,” one MS-13 gang member said to two others on Facebook messenger before going to the North Hollywood park, according to the indictment.
Last month, Los Angeles police arrested several MS-13 members as part of a broader investigation into a series of violent events in North Hollywood, including Hanaway’s murder.