“The goal of this investigation was to deliver a major blow to the gang’s leadership, operations and recruitment in the our region,” Timothy D. Sini, the district attorney told reporters at a news conference.
Among those charged in the sprawling case were nine top leaders of the street gang who were part of what was known as the New York Program, a strategic initiative that MS-13 launched from its base in El Salvador to strengthen its foothold in the New York area and to spread the group’s operations up and down the Eastern Seaboard, law enforcement officials said.
The officials added that the New York Program was likely responsible for an uptick in violence by the group in recent years.
The indictment announced on Friday, which also accused gang members of drug trafficking and weapons sales, capped a two-year-long investigation that was led by the Suffolk County district attorney’s office and was supported by a team of federal, state and local law enforcement officers.
During the course of the inquiry, agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration made more than 100 additional arrests, some in El Salvador, bringing to about 200 the total number of people implicated in the case.
Originally founded in Southern California by refugees from El Salvador, MS-13 — or La Mara Salvatrucha, as it is known in Spanish — has long had a base of operations in Suffolk County, on the East End of Long Island.
But in recent years, the gang has been involved in a string of violent crimes in the county that have led to both a public outcry and an increase in attention by law enforcement officials.
In 2017, several members of a Long Island clique, or cell, of the gang were charged with using knives and machetes to execute four young men in the woods behind a soccer field in Central Islip, New York. That same year, another group of MS-13 members were arrested in connection with the brutal murders in 2016 of Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens, two teenage girls from Brentwood, New York.
The gang’s notoriety and bloody tactics have often caught the eye of President Donald Trump who has frequently invoked its name and reputation as a way to justify his immigration policy.
Trump has referred to the group as an “infestation” and to its members as “animals.” In 2018, he invited Kayla Cuevas’ mother, Evelyn Rodriguez, to be his guest at the State of the Union address.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times .