What to Know
- Dozens of suspected MS-13 gang members were indicted Thursday in connection with violent incidents on Long Island over the past few years
- Gang violence has plagued Long Island, with high school students being hacked to death with machetes, authorities say
- MS-13 has been responsible for 20 killings on Long Island in the past year and a half
Dozens of members of the violent MS-13 gang have been indicted following a sweep of arrests on Long Island, the Nassau County district attorney announced Thursday.
Authorities said the 41 alleged gang members have been charged in connection with dozens of acts of violence committed in Nassau County over the past four years.
Nassau County District Attorney Madeline Singas said the defendants were charged with a number of serious crimes in the 85-count indictment, including conspiracy, attempted murder, weapons possession, and assault.
Thirty-five of the defendants face up to 25 years to life in prison if convicted of the top charge of first-degree conspiracy, authorities said. The youngest defendant is 17 and the oldest is 26.
“MS-13 has terrorized communities, killed innocent people, and stolen the childhoods of the vulnerable young people they recruit to join their ranks,” Singas said.
The takedown followed a months-long investigation started in December of last year by the Nassau County Police Department’s gang squad and the Nassau County District Attorney’s gang bureau, authorities said.
The investigation revealed dozens of acts of violence committed by members of MS-13 in Nassau County since 2013, many of them connected to the defendants, according to authorities. Among the acts of violence are eight charges of attempted murder involving 14 of the defendants.
There were 13 violent incidents in Hempstead, nine in Uniondale, four in Westbury, three in Inwood, along with others elsewhere in Nassau County.
In one of the incidents in May 2016, six of the defendants approached four victims playing soccer at Hempstead Lake Park. They surrounded the victims and identified themselves as MS-13 gang members before attacking them with large knives and machetes, authorities said.
Among the defendants, 17 entered the country as unaccompanied children, according to Homeland Security.
Authorities said the gang aggressively targeted teens and children to become members, going so far as to repeatedly threaten and harass individuals as they headed home from school. Gang members would flash machetes and guns at teens or children they were looking to intimidate and recruit. They’d also threaten to harm them and their families.
Recruitment would start as early as middle school, and several cases related to the gang have been resolved in family court, authorities said.
Before joining the gang, recruits had to pledge to “put in work” by committing assaults, stabbings, shootings and other acts of violence, authorities said. They also had to agree to kill someone if called upon.
The initiated members had to be “jumped in” as well. During this part of the initiation, they’d be beaten for at least 13 seconds by older members in the gang, authorities said.
MS-13 gang violence has plagued Nassau and Suffolk Counties for months.
Another 45 suspected gang members or affiliates were arrested earlier this week in a crackdown on Long Island. At least 39 of them were connected to MS-13, authorities previously said. It's unclear if some of the defendants indicted Thursday were targeted in the crackdown earlier this week.
Authorities say MS-13 has been responsible for nearly 20 killings on Long Island in the past 18 months.
New York lawmakers are hoping to battle the deadly gang violence. The Republican-led Senate approved a bill earlier this year to increase penalties for crimes connected to street gangs and create new crimes for gang involvement.
Supporters say the bill is especially necessary in light of a string of killings on Long Island this year of mostly young people. At least 11 violent deaths since September in blue-collar communities Brentwood and Central Islip have been attributed to MS-13.
The proposal, the state's first legal definition of criminal street gangs, would also create model curriculums for schools related to education and gang violence prevention.
MS-13, or the Mara Salvatrucha, is believed by federal prosecutors to have thousands of members across the U.S., primarily immigrants from Central America. It has a stronghold in Los Angeles, where it emerged in the 1980s as a neighborhood street gang.
But its true rise began after members were deported back to El Salvador in the 1990s. There, the gang thrived and spread to Honduras. MS-13 and rival groups there now control entire towns, rape girls and young women, massacre students, bus drivers and merchants who refuse to pay extortion, and kill competitors or youths who simply refuse to join.
That violence has prompted a migration of people trying to escape, especially children, who have streamed north because of a U.S. policy allowing people under 18 who arrive without parents to stay in the country temporarily with relatives or friends.
Since the fall of 2013, the U.S. has placed 165,000 unaccompanied minors. Long Island has been a frequent landing spot. Suffolk County, which includes Brentwood and Central Islip, has gotten 4,500. Neighboring Nassau County has received 3,800.
Authorities in Suffolk have said that MS-13 preys on recent immigrants, looking to provide the kind of personal relationship that they lack in a new country.
"There's a host of factors as to why MS-13 would prey on immigrant families, but it boils down to the fact that MS-13, they are individuals who prey on the vulnerable," Suffolk Police Commissioner Tim Sini previously said. "They engage in acts of violence, they engage in acts of savagery."
President Trump has promised to eradicate the gang in the U.S. through strict enforcement of immigration law.
"We are putting MS-13 in jail and getting them the hell out of our country," he told The Associated Press last month. "They are a bad group, and somebody said they are as bad as al-Qaida, which is a hell of a reference. ... We are out in Long Island cleaning out the MS-13 scum."