At the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions drew attention to Justice Department strikes against MS-13, the ultra-violent transnational street gang shaping up to be a major issue in this fall’s Virginia governor’s race.
“I am announcing today that I have designated MS-13 as a priority for our Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces,” Sessions told the assembled law enforcement officials. “These task forces bring together a broad coalition of our federal prosecutors, DEA, FBI, ATF, ICE, HSI, the IRS, the Department of Labor Inspector General, the Postal Service Inspectors, the Secret Service, the Marshals Service, and the Coast Guard.”
MS-13 has rapidly expanded from its lowly beginnings as a local band of thugs among refugees from El Salvador’s brutal civil wars in Southern California. As Sessions explained, the now 40,000 international menace is “based in El Salvador, but whose tentacles reach across Central America, Europe, through 40 U.S. States, and to within yards of the U.S. Capitol.”
The attorney general was referring to the stronghold of MS-13 that has formed in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs and Washington, DC. Virginia MS-13 members were among the 3,800 gangsters busted this month in Operation Regional Shield, an international law enforcement sweep aimed at transnational gangs like MS-13, and a string of gruesome crimes attributed to the group have made headlines across the state.
Only hours after Sessions’ remarks, one particularly heinous episode in MS-13’s history in northern Virginia drew one step closer to closure as gang members charged with stabbing Jose Luis Ferman Perez, 24, and Eduardo David Chandias Almendarez, 22, to death in an Alexandria, VA park pleaded guilty. The Washington Post reported that the hit, carried out in the savage fashion typical of the group by Jonathon Gomez Soto, Boris Elias Rosa Castro, and Edwin Alexander Guerrero Umana, was ordered by MS-13 bosses in El Salvador.
A series of ads by Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie have put the gang at the center of next month’s election. Democratic opponent Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam has largely downplayed the threat and refused to support banning sanctuary cities and taking other actions against the illegal immigration that provides a key conduit for MS-13’s growth.
Gillespie’s MS-13 play appears to have given him some traction in the close race as it enters its final weeks and, according to one poll by Monmouth, put him in the lead. The ads come as part of a larger strategy of painting Northam as soft on crime – hitting him, for example, on his and incumbent Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s decision to automatically restore voting and gun rights to many released Virginia felons.