Members of MS-13 – also known as Mara Salvatrucha – who were arrested early Wednesday morning faced arraignment in federal court that afternoon. The members include so-called “shot caller” Jose Balmore Romero, or “Porky,” as well as Carlos Alfredo Cardoza Lopez, aka “Little Boy,” who faces a murder charge for a 2015 nightclub slaying on North Western Avenue. Samuel Alexander Paredes Rivas, or “Black,” and Joffri Molina, or “Espia,” also face murder charges for a strip mall killing in Pacoima and a street murder in North Hollywood, respectively.
According to the government, in 2013 and 2014 “Porky” was responsible for collecting extortion payments that entered Mexican Mafia coffers, and punishing gang members who stepped out of line.
The sweep marks the end of a three-year investigation into the gang, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Of the 44 members who currently face charges, 20 were already in custody before Wednesday morning’s roundup. Three remain at large.
Those already captured include a dozen senior leaders who acted as council for the gang in an attempt to evade the scrutiny of law enforcement.
No single member of MS-13 was willing to lead the gang out of fear of FBI and Los Angeles Police Department investigators.
A 41-count indictment alleges violations of the federal Racketeer Influence and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and says that the transnational gang has ties to the powerful Mexican Mafia prison gang, and that it used threats, violence, and intimidation to advance its influence in the illegal drug trade.
Aside from trafficking and violent crimes, the gang extorted street dealers and business owners and operated nightclubs that were dens for gambling and drugs, the U.S. Attorney’s Office says.
Acting United States Attorney Sandra Brown said that the sweep was a “critical blow” for the gang, which reportedly has thousands of members.
“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,” Brown said in a 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.”
“This operation is a powerful example of the significant impact partnerships play in law enforcement,” Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said in a statement. “The successful arrest of these individuals was only possible because a wide range of agencies collaborated with each other, based on information gleaned from countless investigation hours and tips provided by people who could trust our police officers, regardless of their immigration status.”
Prosecutors could seek the death penalty for Lopez, Rivas, and Molina if they are found guilty, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.