LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A federal grand jury has indicted 23 members of the notorious MS-13 gang for alleged widespread trafficking of methamphetamine.
Officials seized multiple pounds of meth, fentanyl and cocaine, cash and guns, and also arrested 17 people in L.A. County on Tuesday as part of a law enforcement takedown targeting the top MS-13 gang members, the U.S. Attorney's Office said. Approximately $94,000 in cash was seized.
Officials say that during a 2-year period an MS-13 leader who was in prison actually directed gangs to distribute drugs in local neighborhoods. Officials claim that by doing this the gang was able to make money on the street to finance their operations. They say MS-13 members used violence and intimidation to control the sale of narcotics in the neighborhoods that they occupied.
"During the period of July 2021 to August 2023, the MS-13 inmate allegedly first designated Pavel Hurtado, 36, a.k.a. 'Temper,' of Oxnard, and, later, Eli Grijalva, 34, a.k.a. 'Skinny,' of South Los Angeles, to be the overall shot caller for MS-13 Los Angeles. In this role, Hurtado and Grijalva - the indictment's top two defendants - allegedly oversaw MS-13's drug trafficking activities and communicated with the MS-13 inmate to coordinate drug trafficking activities for the gang," said the U.S. Attorney's Office in a press release.
Authorities say that by carrying out these takedowns, they're trying to take out the leadership of the gang to combat violence on the streets.
"What this investigation has revealed, is that MS-13 uses drug trafficking as its lifeblood. It uses drug funds to finance its operations, including murder and assaults. In selling these drugs, MS-13 poisons others and disenfranchises communities. In selling these drugs, MS-13 funds its modus operandi of murder and mayhem. And in selling these drugs, MS-13 perpetuates a cycle of violence and destruction," said U.S. State Attorney Martin Estrada.
"Agustín Aquino-Martínez, 46, a.k.a. 'Chino,' of Lancaster, allegedly acted as treasurer for MS-13 Los Angeles, coordinated the collection of the drug proceeds and 'taxes' from each MS-13 Los Angeles clique and was responsible for forwarding those profits and taxes to the MS-13 inmate," the Attorney's Office said.
Due to the seriousness of some of these violent crimes, all of the suspects could face life in prison.
The arrested MS-13 gang members and associates are expected to be arraigned on the 36-count indictment Tuesday afternoon at a U.S. District Court in downtown Los Angeles.
Mara Salvatrucha was formed in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s, and the street gang is now comprised of tens of thousands of individuals in at least 10 states and several Central American countries, notably El Salvador. In the mid-1990s, Mara Salvatrucha became associated with the Mexican Mafia and added the number 13 to its name.