Senior law enforcement officials from the United States, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras announced criminal charges in Central America against more than 700 members of transnational criminal organizations, primarily MS-13 and 18th Street gangs, which resulted from a one-week coordinated law enforcement action under Operation Regional Shield (ORS).
ORS began in 2017 and is a Justice Department-led initiative to combat transnational organized crime that brings together gang prosecutors and investigators from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico and the United States. Through quarterly meetings, this group has coordinated multi-country investigations and simultaneous takedowns throughout the region.
Authorities also announced the arrest of 36 individuals in El Salvador and Honduras involved in human smuggling networks that span Central America and the United States. Among those arrested in Honduras, include one police commissioner, one police deputy inspector, and three law enforcement agents. All arrestees were charged with human smuggling, money laundering and illegal association to commit a crime.
The charges were announced by U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr, Attorney General Raul Melara of El Salvador, Attorney General María Consuelo Porras Argueta of Guatemala, and the Attorney General of Honduras, Oscar Fernando Chinchilla, through the Public Ministry’s Press Office.
“The U.S. Department of Justice and our law enforcement partners in Central America are committed to continued collaboration in locating and arresting gang members and associates engaged in transnational crimes,” said U.S. Attorney General Barr. “Our countries are made safer by working together to protect national security and to ensure public safety in our neighborhoods.”
In 2017, the U.S. Attorney General, together with the Attorneys General of the three Central American countries, committed to combatting transnational organized crime and reducing illegal migration to the United States through increased cooperation and capacity building of law enforcement partners. These efforts have led to the following results this week:
Prosecutors in El Salvador filed criminal charges against 1,152 members of organized crime groups in the country, primarily MS-13 and 18th Street Gangs. Within hours, the National Civil Police had captured 572 of the defendants for charges involving terrorism, murder, extortion, kidnapping, vehicle theft, robbery, conspiracy, narcotics trafficking, money laundering, weapons violations, human trafficking and human smuggling. Prosecutors and the Police also seized assets from these organized crime groups for forfeiture purposes.
In Guatemala, the Anti-Extortions Prosecution Office, the Prosecutor’s Office against Transnational Crimes, the Special Unit against Transnational Gangs, and police officers executed 80 search warrants, arrested 40 individuals, and served 29 arrest warrants against individuals already in custody, all of who are members of the 18th Street gang and MS-13. Authorities seized drugs and a firearm, and filed charges for extortion, illicit association, conspiracy to commit murder, and extortive obstruction. This investigation involves four transportation companies as victims of extortion in the amount of $54,523.
In Honduras, ORS joint operation took place in different phases during a one-week period resulted in the arrest of over 75 MS-13 and 18th Street gang members and five police officers and the execution of over 10 search warrants. Illegal firearms, cellular phones, drugs and money were seized. The arrestees were charged with illicit association, murder and conspiracy to commit murder, extortion and drug trafficking.
On February 9, President Donald J. Trump issued an Executive Order on Enforcing Federal Law with Respect to Transnational Criminal Organizations and Preventing International Trafficking to dismantle and eradicate transnational criminal organizations threatening the safety of our communities. Pursuant to that order, the U.S. Department of Justice has made dismantling transnational human smuggling networks and gangs, including MS-13, a top priority.
Regional Shield anti-gang efforts have led to charges against more than 11,000 gang members since 2017, including gang leaders nationwide.
“Since 2017, we have taken a joint and coordinated approach as northern triangle countries with our strategic partner, the United States of America,” said Attorney General Raul Melara of El Salvador. “To give our Salvadoran people a response and ensure that criminals face justice, we have strengthened the work of our Specialized Prosecution Units to be more effective in combating organized crime and terrorist organizations. I am committed as Attorney General to continuing this coordinated effort. We will only eradicate transnational organized crime by combining efforts as a region and by continuing to work together.”
“As Attorney General of the Republic and Chief of the Public Ministry, I reaffirm my commitment to the fight against transnational organized crime, one of the main goals of my administration,” said Attorney General María Consuelo Porras Argueta of Guatemala. “To this end, we have increased efforts to provide an effective response to the population through the creation of the Prosecutor’s Office against Transnational Crimes, the Special Unit against Transnational Gangs, the Special Unit against Crimes in Airports and Airfields, the signing of the statement of the Advisory Group of General Prosecutors of the Northern Triangle, which I have the honor to preside; among other strategic actions to combat transnational organized crime with frontal actions against drug trafficking, gangs, organized crime and smuggling of migrants.”
“I consider that, due to the regional threat posed by these transnational crimes, equal interagency and regional efforts should come into effect,” said Attorney General Oscar Fernando Chinchilla of Honduras. “Only by joining forces, the damaging consequences produced by these criminal organizations could be neutralized.”
The preceding was an edited press release from the DOJ