El Salvadorian nationals Wilson Jose Ventura-Mejia, 24, Jimmy Villalobos-Gomez, 23, Angel Miguel Aguilar-Ochoa, 35, Walter Antonio Chicas-Garcia, 23, and Marlon Miranda-Moran, 21, all face charges of conspiracy and murder in aid of racketeering following the death of a police informant in 2018, whose body was found in Cullinan Park, Texas.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said in an indictment that the MS-13 members committed the murder “for the purpose of gaining entrance to, and maintaining and increasing position” in the enterprise.
The victim, 25-year-old Victor Castro-Martinez, was hacked to death with a machete, police said.
Franklin Trejo-Chavarria, 23, who is in custody serving a sentence in El Salvador, is also charged.
If convicted, they face potential death sentences.
MS-13 is considered one of the top transnational organized crime threats in the United States, and has been blamed for dozens of killings since 2016, with President Donald Trump describing its members as “animals” and “thugs.”
MS-13 is believed to have been founded as a neighborhood street gang in Los Angeles in the mid-1980s by immigrants fleeing a civil war in El Salvador. El Salvador’s Supreme Court defined the gang as a terrorist group in 2015, allowing courts there to give tougher sentences to its members.
The president has vowed to crack down on criminal gangs, particularly MS-13, and has blamed the violence and gang growth on lax immigration policies. Violence committed by the gang, including the 2016 slayings of two teenage girls, helped spark an aggressive effort by the FBI and the DOJ to dismantle the gang.
On Oct. 21, the Justice Department released a report (pdf) detailing its efforts to “disrupt, dismantle, and destroy” the gang, showing that nearly three-quarters of alleged members of the violent gang prosecuted by the department in the past four years were present in the United States illegally.
It described the Justice Department’s work to disrupt MS-13 both in the United States and abroad, and showed that the department has, since 2016, prosecuted 749 members of the notorious gang.
“In 2017, the president directed the Department of Justice to go to war against MS-13, and we did just that,” said Attorney General William Barr in a statement. “In coordination with our partners at the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department’s law enforcement components have successfully investigated, charged, and arrested command and control elements of MS-13 responsible for particularly heinous crimes against our communities.”
Tom Ozimek contributed to this report.