MS-13 arrests: Dozens of suspected gang members captured in Los Angeles raid

More than 40 suspected members of the notorious MS-13 gang faced federal charges Wednesday in Los Angeles in what law enforcement officials called one of the most significant busts of the transnational gang in its notorious decades-long history.

The 44 alleged members and associates included a former head of the entire gang in Los Angeles and a dozen high-ranking members, the U.S. Attorney's Office of Los Angeles said in a statement.

At least 21 people were arrested without incident Wednesday morning, according to the statement. Some 20 suspects, already in state custody, were transferred to federal custody. Three of those facing charges are considered fugitives.

29 PHOTOS
A look at the MS-13 crime organization
See Gallery
A look at the MS-13 crime organization
Shackled gang members stand in a line upon their arrival at a maximum security prison in Zacatecoluca, 65 km east of San Salvador, on January 25, 2017. Twenty-seven gang members arrested in connection with the murders of policemen and soldiers were transferred on Wednesday to Zacatecoluca maximum security prison. The Salvadorean authorities reported that all of them were members of the violent MS-13 gang. / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Gang members are escorted upon their arrival at a maximum security prison in Zacatecoluca, 65 km east of San Salvador, on January 25, 2017. Twenty-seven gang members arrested in connection with the murders of policemen and soldiers were transferred on Wednesday to Zacatecoluca maximum security prison. The Salvadorean authorities reported that all of them were members of the violent MS-13 gang. / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Gang members are escorted upon their arrival at a maximum security prison in Zacatecoluca, 65 km east of San Salvador, on January 25, 2017. Twenty-seven gang members arrested in connection with the murders of policemen and soldiers were transferred on Wednesday to Zacatecoluca maximum security prison. The Salvadorean authorities reported that all of them were members of the violent MS-13 gang. / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
A former gang member of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang attends a tattoo removal session at the National Youth Institute (Injuve) in San Salvador, on July 1, 2016. The tattoo removal project, promoted by the government of Salvador, is attended daily by dozens of people - mostly young former gang members seeking to put an end to the stigma that associates them with the dreaded gangs. / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Shackled gang members wait upon arrival at the maximum security prison in Zacatecoluca, 65 km east of San Salvador, on December 1, 2016. Twenty gang members arrested in connection with the murders of policemen and soldiers were transferred on December 1 to Zacatecoluca. The Salvadoran authorities reported that all of them were members of the violent MS-13 gang. / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Alleged members of the 18 gang gesture as they walk during their presentation to the press in San Salvador on February 26, 2016. Members of the national civil police and the armed forces captured 240 dangerous gang members accused of homicide and extortion in the last three days in different areas of El Salvador, informed Friday the public prosecutor's office. El Salvador faces an escalation of violence attributed mostly to the war between the MS-13 and 18 ST gangs. AFP PHOTO / Marvin RECINOS / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
An alleged member of a gang gestures as he is transported after being presented to the press in San Salvador on February 26, 2016. Members of the national civil police and the armed forces captured 240 dangerous gang members accused of homicide and extortion in the last three days in different areas of El Salvador, informed Friday the public prosecutor's office. El Salvador faces an escalation of violence attributed mostly to the war between the MS-13 and 18 ST gangs. AFP PHOTO / Marvin RECINOS / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
A bomb squad specialist gets ready to make a controlled explosion after suspicious artifacts were found in Habitat, a colony 25 km south of Tegucigalpa, on May 4, 2016. Security forces participating in Operation Hurricane found several explosive devices in an area controlled by gangs Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13). / AFP / ORLANDO SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang captured by soldiers during an operation to recover neighborhoods controlled by gangs, in Quezaltepeque, a town 15 km from San Salvador, on June 7, 2016. The Salvatrucha (MS-13) and 18th Street gangs are the main cause of the escalation of violence plaguing El Salvador, where an estimated 60,000 people belong to gangs, 15,000 of them in prison. / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members wait to be escorted upon their arrival at the maximum-security jail in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members wait to be escorted upon their arrival at the maximum-security jail in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members wait to be escorted upon their arrival at the maximum-security jail in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members wait to be escorted upon their arrival at the maximum-security jail in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador January 25, 2017. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Members of the MS-13 gang are detained near the crime scene where two men, Jose Wilfredo Navidad and Nestor Alexander Rivera, were killed as they rode a motorcycle on their way to work, in San Salvador, El Salvador January 26, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members wait to be escorted upon their arrival at the maximum security jail in Zacatecoluca, December 1, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
A police officer paints over a graffiti associated with the Mara Salvatrucha gang in the Montreal neighborhood in Mejicanos, El Salvador December 9, 2015. The El Salvadorean police is conducting an operation to erase graffiti associated with gangs as part of a strategy to regain control in gang-controlled areas in this neighborhood, according to the police. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Members of the Mara Salvatrucha gang are guarded by policemen upon their arrival at the Quezaltepeque jail in Quezaltepeque, El Salvador, March 29, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Two women and a child walk near a wall covered in graffiti and showing the letters "MS", which stand for street gang Mara Salvatrucha, in a neighborhood in San Salvador April 22, 2014. Church leaders in El Salvador on Tuesday said they want to revive a fragile truce between the country's powerful street gangs in order to curb a resurgence of violent crime. The 2012 truce between the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and rival gang Barrio 18 helped cut the Central American country's murder rate in mid-2013 to around five per day, a 10-year low, from around 12 a day. REUTERS/Jessica Orellana (EL SALVADOR - Tags: CRIME LAW CIVIL UNREST POLITICS)
Carlos Tiberio Ramirez, one of the leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang attends the Day of the Virgin of Mercy celebrations at the female prison in San Salvador September 24, 2012. About 2008 female inmates, 40% of them belonging to the MS-13 and 18 Street (Mara 18) gangs, interacted with their families as part of the celebrations for the Day of the Virgin of Mercy, the patron Saint of prisoners, local media reported. During the event, the spokesmen and leaders of the two largest gangs in the country, MS-13 and 18st, gave a news conference to mark the 200-days of an unprecedented truce signed on March 19, that authorities say has cut the homicide rate in half in just four months. REUTERS/Ulises Rodriguez (EL SALVADOR - Tags: CIVIL UNREST CRIME LAW)
A convoy of military lorries transports inmates of the Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatrucha (Ms-13) gangs from the Tamara National Penitentiary to the El Pozo II medium security prison in Moroceli, El Paraiso department, 70 km east of Tegucigalpa, on May 16, 2017. The transfer of some 650 inmates was decided after the evasion of 22 members of the Barrio 18 gang from the penitentiary. / AFP PHOTO / ORLANDO SIERRA (Photo credit should read ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images)
Parolees paint over graffiti associated with the Mara Salvatrucha's gang in San Salvador, during an operation to take back gang-controlled neighborhoods, on August 16, 2016. The Salvatrucha (MS-13) and 18th Street gangs are the main cause of the violence escalation plaguing El Salvador, where an estimated 60,000 people belong to gangs, 15,000 of them in prison. / AFP / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the 'Mara Salvatrucha' gang are kept in restraints in court in Guatemala City on July 28, 2015. At least three mara members were shot by rival gangsters while they were held under custody in a special jail located in the basement of the Supreme Court building. AFP PHOTO JOHAN ORDONEZ (Photo credit should read JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A member of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13), is pictured on Monday, March 4, 2013, in the Criminal Center of Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel, 160 km east of San Salvador, one year after the cessation of the violence between the rivalry of two large gangs in El Salvador, MS13 and 18 st. El Salvador, a small country of six million people, is brimming with an estimated 50,000 street gang members, plus another 10,000 who are behind bars. Since the first truce took effect about a year ago, the average daily death toll from gang-related violence has gone down from 14 to five. AFP PHOTO / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read Marvin RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of Mara Salvatrucha (MS13), held on Monday, March 4, 2013, in the Criminal Center of Ciudad Barrios, San Miguel, 160 km east of San Salvador, after one year of cessation of the violence between the rivalry of two large gangs in El Salvador, MS13 and 18 st. El Salvador, a small country of six million people, is brimming with an estimated 50,000 street gang members, plus another 10,000 who are behind bars. Since the first truce took effect about a year ago, the average daily death toll from gang-related violence has gone down from 14 to five. AFP PHOTO / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read Marvin RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)
A Mara Salvatrucha gang member attends a press conference where leaders of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 declared the city of Quezaltepeque a peace zone or 'Sanctuary City' for gang related violence, on January 31, 2013 at the Quezaltepeque prison, 25 kms west of San Salvador. Gang leaders and members have been involved in a gang truce to reduce crime in El Salvador. AFP PHOTO/ Juan CARLOS (Photo credit should read Juan CARLOS/AFP/Getty Images)
Carlos Tiberio Valladares, a.k.a. sniper, leader of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, attends a press conference at the Female Jail in San Salvador, El Salvador on September 24, 2012. The leaders of the Mara 18 and Salvatrucha offered a press conference during the celebration of the 200 days of truce between them to reduce murder. AFP PHOTO/Jose CABEZAS (Photo credit should read Jose CABEZAS/AFP/GettyImages)
SAN SALVADOR, EL SALVADOR: Picture of a member of the Mara Salvatrucha gang, presented before the press after his arrest in San Salvador, 17 March 2005. Violence from street gangs, known in the region as 'maras,' are considered the most pressing security issues in large cities in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras - countries which will take part in the Anti-Maras Meeting on April 1st, in Tegucigalpa. Many of the Central American gangs have members living in the United States, and during his recent visit to Guatemala, US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced a possible increase in US aid for the fight against terrorism, drug trafficking and gang violence in the region. AFP PHOTO/Yuri CORTEZ (Photo credit should read YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - MAY 12: (U.S. NEWS AND WORLD REPORT AND NEWSWEEK OUT) Photos of gang members and the names of their gangs are shown by U.S. officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at a press conference announcing the results of their efforts after arresting 95 members of Hispanic gangs from an operation that began in January 2005 on May 12, 2005 in New York City. The gang members are illegal residents and will be deported to their countries of origin. Of 33 gang members arrested in the past 72 hours, 11 are members of the most violent gang, Mara Salvatrucha 13 (MS-13). Many of the 95 members arrested since January 2005 are members of Mexican mafia groups living in New York, Yonkers and Long Island. ICE officers are part of the federal government's Department of Homeland Security. (Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

The defendants face federal charges for murder, extortion, drugs and weapons-related crimes.

RELATED: MS-13's Roots Are Older Than Trump Says

"This gang is responsible for murders — both of rival gangsters and innocent bystanders — as well as drug dealing and extortion in many communities in the Los Angeles area," Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown said in the statement. "Today's charges and arrests, however, will deal a critical blow to the top leadership of this criminal organization and will significantly improve safety in neighborhoods across this region."

The high-ranking leaders were "shot-callers" and others who made up what law enforcement officials described as a leadership council of MS-13. Thirty-four of the defendants facing charges were named in a racketeering indictment unsealed Wednesday.

In addition to those named in the indictment, authorities filed a drug-trafficking indictment against five other alleged gang members associated with the Mexican mafia and had arrested others on separate charges.

The takedown capped a three-year investigation involving nearly two dozen law enforcement agencies led by the FBI, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Drug Enforcement Agency and the Los Angeles Police Department.

Those arrested on Wednesday were expected to be arraigned on the charges against them later in the day in United States District Court, according to the statement. Those already in custody would be brought into federal court to face their charges at a later date.

Authorities also seized approximately two kilos of methamphetamine as well heroin, according to DEA officials. Nearly two dozen guns were seized as part of the investigation.

MS-13, or Mara Salvatrucha, started three decades ago on the streets of Los Angeles, and was originally made up mainly of immigrants and young people from El Salvador who had fled the country's civil war. The gang's tentacles reach into Central America and across the United States.

RELATED: Teens become emergency workers to escape gangs

32 PHOTOS
Teens become emergency workers to escape gangs
See Gallery
Teens become emergency workers to escape gangs
Rescuers eat lunch at the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
A rescue worker sleeps after the night shift at the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador July 2, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Rescuer Brandon Martinez gears up for a practice session at the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador July 2, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Rescuer Irving Altamirano embraces his mother, Claudia, as she visits him at the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador August 17, 2016. Claudia is a former member of the Comandos de Salvamento. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Joel Altamirano skates on a skateboard at the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador August 10, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
Comandos de Salvamento rescuer participates in a car accident rescue practice in San Salvador, El Salvador July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuers Emmanuel Martinez (L), Brandon Martinez (C), and Joel Altamirano rest during a car accident rescue practice in San Salvador, El Salvador July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuers Brandon Martinez (L) and Brayan Hernandez participate in a car accident rescue practice in San Salvador, El Salvador July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuer Brayan Hernandez rests during a car accident rescue practice in San Salvador, El Salvador July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Members of the rescue unit participate in a practice session at the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador July 2, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Volunteer Carlos Rodas (L) prepares for his first jump with rescuer Josue Najarro as they participate in a vertical rescue practice in San Salvador, El Salvador July 13, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuer Emmanuel Martinez stands at the scene of a car accident in San Salvador, El Salvador July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuers rest during a car accident rescue practice in San Salvador, El Salvador July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Blood stains are seen after Comandos de Salvamento rescuers attended to a suspected gang member who was shot near the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Rescuers prepare lunch at the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador August 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Rescuers watch TV as they wait during the night shift at the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador July 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Rescuers Joel Altamirano (L) and Cesar Munoz share a soda at the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador August 10, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuers try to disconnect a car battery to avoid risk of fire after a car accident in San Salvador, El Salvador July 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Rescue worker Josue Najarro and his niece look at a phone during the night shift at the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador July 4, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
A car crash scene is pictured in San Salvador, El Salvador July 7, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuers attend to a suspected gang member after he was shot near the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuer Alcides Altamirano speaks with a policeman outside a hospital where they delivered a suspected gang member after he was shot near the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuers Alcides Altamirano (L) and Irving Altamirano attend to a woman bitten by a dog in San Salvador, El Salvador August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuers Maria Martinez (L) and Brayan Hernandez attend to a wounded homeless man in San Salvador, El Salvador July 16, 2016. The man was attacked with a machete by suspected gang members. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas
A photograph of 14-year-old Comandos de Salvamento volunteer Erick Beltran, who was killed by suspected gang members, is seen during his funeral in Quezaltepeque, El Salvador April 13, 2016. Beltran is the first volunteer to be killed on duty in 56 years of CDS. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuers wash blood off a stretcher after attending to a suspected gang member who was shot near the Comandos de Salvamento base in San Salvador, El Salvador August 15, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas SEARCH 
Rescuers Maria Martinez (L) and Renato Landaverde help a woman who was run over by a bus in San Salvador, El Salvador July 17, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Comandos de Salvamento rescuers Maria Martinez (L) and Ana Chichilla attend to a wounded homeless man in San Salvador, El Salvador July 16, 2016. The man was attacked with a machete by suspected gang members. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Members of Comandos de Salvamento and relatives of the deceased attend the funeral of 14-year-old volunteer Erick Beltran, who was killed by suspected gang members, in Quezaltepeque, El Salvador April 13, 2016. Beltran is the first volunteer to be killed on duty in 56 years of CDS. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Members of Comandos de Salvamento and relatives of the deceased participate in the funeral of 14-year-old volunteer Erick Beltran, who was killed by suspected gang members, in Quezaltepeque, El Salvador April 13, 2016. Beltran is the first volunteer to be killed on duty in 56 years of CDS. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
Helmets hang in the room where 14-year-old volunteer Erick Beltran was killed at the Comandos de Salvamento base in Quezaltepeque, El Salvador June 5, 2016. Beltran was the first volunteer to be killed on duty in 56 years of CDS. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas 
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Five years ago, MS-13 was named a transnational criminal organization, making it the first street gang to join the list. The designation gave the U.S. Treasury Department the power to freeze any financial assets from the gang or its members, and prohibits financial institutions from engaging in any transactions with members of the group.

The gang has continued to surge, and even with the Los Angeles takedown, MS-13 has also been grabbing recent headlines in the East Coast for a series of brutal murders in the New York City area.

Last week, officials said U.S. Immigration and Customs and Enforcement had arrested 1,378 people during a six-week, nationwide sweep targeting gangs — which included 104 people authorities said were affiliated with MS-13.

And last month, President Donald Trump singled out the brutal gang as "one of the gravest threats to American safety."

Trump previously blamed former President Barack Obama's administration's immigration policies for letting the gang make inroads in the U.S., but experts cautioned against laying the blame on Obama, and said decades of unchecked violence in Central America had exacerbated the problem.

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.