A top MS-13 leader was secretly recorded urging the heads of regional MS-13 gangs to work together, cautioning them about snitches and ordering them to send money back to gang leadership in El Salvador, according to an indictment unsealed Thursday as federal officials announced he was one of the thousands of gang members indicted in the past six months.
The leader, Edwin Manica Flores, was in El Salvador when he called in to a meeting held at the Richmond, Virginia home of the leader of the gang’s “East Coast Program” in December 2015. The leaders of MS-13 cliques in Boston, Houston, Ohio, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina were also in attendance, the indictment states. Flores was charged with racketeering and is in custody in El Salvador, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts tells Newsweek.
“Many of the cliques up there [in the U.S.] are very independent and stupidly insist that this is their side, others are somewhere else with their side, and in the meanwhile, the enemy are filling up the turfs around us,” Flores, who also goes by “Sugar,” told the assembled gang leaders. “So what we are asking is total cooperation … Let’s carry out the work of Mara Salvatrucha.”
Flores's indictment came the same day the Department of Justice announced a major operation that over the past six months led to charges against 3,800 gang members across Central America and the U.S. The operation targeted the MS-13 and Barrio 18 gangs and stemmed from a March meeting between U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the attorneys general from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.
MS-13 is the only gang ever designated by the U.S. government as a “transnational criminal organization,” with 10,000 members in the U.S. and 40,000 members in Central America, according to the indictment. Since Sessions was appointed by President Donald Trump and took office in February, he has focused relentlessly on MS-13. Last week in Boston, Sessions said in a speech that the gang is “probably the most violent and ruthless gang on the streets today,” and added that gang members use the unaccompanied minors program to enter the U.S. as “wolves in sheep's clothing.”
Sessions’s focus on the gang has raised concerns from local police leaders and civil rights advocates, who worry his tactics will discourage undocumented immigrants from cooperating with investigators or that his approach amounts to racial profiling.
Flores told the gang leaders not to wear the clothes and colors associated with MS-13 so they could avoid attention from law enforcement—specifically advising them to avoid Nike Cortez shoes. (MS-13 members often wear blue and white Nike Cortez sneakers, MassLive.com reported.) “Dressed like that, the enemy can see you, the police can arrest you, and boom, to El Salvador,” the 35-year-old said, talking on speaker phone to the gang leaders. “To live a great life there, one must be humble, you know, to avoid being detected.”
The gang leader also urged the gang leaders to take part in the “East Coast Program,” an organizational structure established by incarcerated gang leaders in El Salvador meant to facilitate communication and the transfer of money from U.S. cliques to the El Salvador leadership. The gang has other large “programs” based in New York, Los Angeles and Hollywood.
“If you guys work there with the program … you will contribute something to El Salvador and be well recognized over there,” Flores said, according to the indictment. “In the future, you will be able to come and pick up a piece.”
MS-13 leaders in El Salvador use money sent to them by U.S. members to buy weapons and cell phones as well as food, shoes and legal services for incarcerated MS-13 members. The gang leaders would then use the cell phones to order U.S. members to make more money or “green light” the murder of rivals or members cooperating with law enforcement.
“I’m going to say it clearly over here,” Flores told the gang members on the 2015 call, according to the indictment. “The Mara makes him, the Mara removes him.”