Nine additional MS-13 gang members have been charged in a spate of killings in California, including five victims who were hacked to death in the Los Angeles National Forest.
Federal prosecutors unsealed a grand jury indictment on Tuesday bringing the total number of defendants named to 31 after four more arrests were made this week in the case that has focused on the gang’s more extreme “Fulton clique” subset, according to the Department of Justice.
Prosecutors say the group has broken away from the traditional MS-13 — also known as Mara Salvatrucha — in Los Angeles, instead emulating the violent membership requirements of their Central American brothers.
“In 2016, the Fulton clique decided to break from MS-13’s traditional program in Los Angeles in favor of a traditional Salvadoran Mara Salvatrucha program,” the new indictment reads. “The key difference between MS-13’s traditional Los Angeles program and MS-13’s Salvadoran program was that the Salvadoran program required a prospective member to have committed at least one homicide before becoming a [full-fledged member].”
Five of the victims named in the indictment were allegedly killed with machetes or knives, while six others were allegedly shot to death.
According to the indictment, each murder was committed “for the purpose of gaining entry to and maintaining an increasing position in MS-13 Los Angeles.”
Among those charged, 21 are charged with conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which in this case alleges nearly 300 “overt acts” against the individuals including murder, drug trafficking and extortion.
The new indictment charges an additional January 2019 murder of a man who was shot in a remote area near Santa Clarita, whose body was not discovered until the Tick Fire cleared the area 10 months later.
The expanded indictment was unsealed just before scheduled arraignments for three of the new defendants, all of whom were arrested in the LA area. A fourth was detained in Colorado, officials said. The five remaining new defendants were already in state or federal custody.
MS-13 was formed in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s and has grown internationally to tens of thousands of individuals in at least 10 states and several Central American countries, most notably El Salvador, according to the DOJ.
In the mid-1990s, Mara Salvatrucha became associated with the Mexican Mafia and added the number 13 to its name, as “M” is the 13th letter of the alphabet. New membership requires undergoing a 13-second beating by other gang members, the DOJ said.