Monday, August 20, 2018

Leadership of MS-13 Attempt to Expand the Gang into #Mafia Organized Crime Family with "The Program"

The meeting in Richmond, Va., quickly dispensed with routine matters, including introductions, before the senior leadership got down to business. Teamwork and recruitment, said one top official, needed improvement. Also, anyone wanting to kill a rival must secure prior approval.

Mara Salvatrucha, the violent international street gang known as MS-13, had its share of headaches by the time of its fall 2015 meeting, which was surreptitiously recorded by U.S. authorities. One proposed solution was to better manage its estimated 10,000 U.S. members along the lines of other corporate-style criminal gangs, such as the Mafia or drug cartels.

MS-13 leaders created a catchphrase, “The Program,” for widening its influence and improving cash flow. “What we are asking is total cooperation,” a top leader told the group by speaker phone from El Salvador. “Let’s all work together, united, you know.”

For years, MS-13’s impact on the U.S. was local—confined to specific neighborhoods and cities scattered across the country as the gang used violence to secure and hold turf.

Then, federal officials tracked an alarming development. As MS-13’s influence grew, so did its ambition to leverage its network of local franchises into a cohesive, national brand. That would vault MS-13 into territory once occupied by the Mafia, and now held by Mexican drug cartels.

A series of trials that wrapped up this summer in Boston shows how MS-13 is pushing to make that leap by streamlining its management structure and creating uniform standards, much like a multinational company. The question, one that will determine whether MS-13 can make the jump to national significance, is whether that transformation can impose order on its unruly, violent young members.

The group, partly because of its success in the U.S., has become a political football, with President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions using gruesome acts by MS-13 members to push the administration’s tight immigration policy. The attorney general has called MS-13 “one of the most dangerous groups in America,” while Mr. Trump has declared its members to be “thugs” and “animals.” Democrats and lawmakers in favor of looser restrictions say their rhetoric is overblown.

Federal and state law-enforcement officials say MS-13 gang membership has grown by several thousand members over the past decade or so. It stretches to at least 40 states and the District of Columbia, according to the Justice Department.

“They have definitely showed their organizational capacity in terms of ordering violence and in terms of recruiting and replenishing the ranks,” said Derek N. Benner, a top official at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations.

MS-13 has drawn recruits by branding itself as an ultraviolent enterprise, according to federal officials, a gang image of protection and status. Yet while it dabbles in drugs, street robberies and petty extortion, its profits are minuscule. Federal raids of MS-13 residences typically net little more than a handful of knives, loose cash and occasionally a gun.

Dues range from $15 to $30 a month, largely paid by MS-13 members who work as laborers, construction workers or dishwashers. Most of the money is wired to gang leaders in El Salvador, to pay for phones and weapons. What’s left is pooled locally for knives, guns and recreational drugs.

“The way they are acting right now, they are not going to reach the level of organization of, say, the Mexican Mafia or the Italian mob,” said George Norris, an investigator with the Anne Arundel County, Md., State’s Attorney’s Office and a court-sanctioned gang expert. “They are just too violent. As other gangs have discovered, newsworthy violence is bad for business.”

MS-13 was founded in the 1980s in and around Los Angeles by immigrants from El Salvador, who had fled their country’s civil war. In their new neighborhoods, they found themselves surrounded by hostile gangs. For protection, they formed their own group, which they called Mara Salvatrucha.

After an alliance with the Mexican Mafia for protection inside California prisons, Mara Salvatrucha became MS-13—M is the 13th letter of the alphabet, a sign of respect for their new partners.

U.S. immigration crackdowns in the 1980s ended up sending members of MS-13 to El Salvador, where the gang took root and transformed into a transnational enterprise.

The first time federal agents began tracking the MS-13 organizational push came during a 2013 gang-wide conference call. The line was shared by about two dozen leaders in California and El Salvador, according to law-enforcement officials and court records. The goal of the call was consolidating members “under a single, cohesive leadership structure,” U.S. prosecutors said in court papers.

“The sales pitch was that everybody in MS-13 will benefit,” a federal law-enforcement official said. “The local members would get more money, guns, cars and support from the gang if they were arrested. Meanwhile, larger amounts of money would flow back to the leadership in El Salvador.”

While prosecutors in New Jersey were tracking the gang’s efforts to expand, federal agents and prosecutors in Boston were in the early stages of an MS-13 investigation in the Boston area, a probe that resulted in charges against 61 alleged members from at least eight cliques. Many who later pleaded guilty provided information about the gang’s inner workings.

Five gang members have testified in court. All were immigrants from either El Salvador or Honduras who entered the U.S. illegally. Some said they were recruited to join MS-13 by neighbors, friends at work or school classmates.

They admitted to committing street crimes, assaults and killings largely targeting rivals and suspected informants. Their weapon of choice was a machete because, as one gang member said, it allowed him to “cut somebody’s head off easily, and that person will not scream or make noise.”

Mauricio Sanchez testified he traveled to the U.S. from Honduras in 2008, and once in the Boston area, he was recruited by MS-13 members. After joining the Eastside Clique in 2013, he said he embraced the gang’s mandate for violence and focused his energy on “doing hits on the rivals.”

Mr. Sanchez described how he and other members of the Eastside Clique chased members of the rival 18th Street gang and nearly beat one to death. “He was a small guy,” testified Mr. Sanchez, now 30. “I hit him on the head, and we were all beating him…. He looked like he was in bad shape.”

Jose Hernandez Miguel testified he was deported to El Salvador in 2009 but returned two years later. Members of his Everett clique chipped in $1,000 to help pay for his illegal re-entry into the U.S.

Mr. Hernandez Miguel and other witnesses explained how members were kept in line under the organizational push from El Salvador. Short beatings were given for drinking too much or missing too many meetings. Before then, local cliques were largely autonomous.

Two members were savagely kicked after MS-13 leaders in El Salvador saw a photo of graffiti on a high school wall hailing their clique without permission. At the time, the local clique was essentially on probation, awaiting the arrival of a new leader from El Salvador.

Josue Alexis De Paz aspired to join the gang while living in El Salvador. He sold drugs, kept an eye out for rivals and extorted delivery drivers.

After being interrogated about his work by police, Mr. De Paz’s family paid $9,000 to have the teenager smuggled into the U.S., and, they hoped, out of trouble. He settled near Boston and soon joined the Everett clique.

Mr. De Paz, now 21, became a junior associate. In April, he testified how suspicion grew that another member was a snitch. Mr. De Paz and an associate were told to “make the soup,” code for killing the suspected informant, 16-year-old Jose Aguilar Villanueva, known by friends as Fantasma.

In a deserted park, Mr. De Paz testified he grabbed Mr. Aquilar Villanueva from behind and held him, while the other man stabbed the teenager.

“Then Fantasma kicked him,” Mr. De Paz said in court. “I took out my folding knife and I also stabbed him.”

They left the teen for dead and tossed away their knives and bloody clothes. Gang leaders were impressed by the work and promised to promote them to full gang status. The two associates were arrested before they got the chance. Only later did they learn Mr. Aguilar Villanueva was never an informant.

Despite their obsession with betrayal, the Boston-area MS-13 members didn’t suspect anything of the man who turned out to be their greatest threat,

Federal agents had recruited an El Salvadoran man convicted in Florida on federal charges of trafficking drugs for Mexican cartels. He returned to the U.S. from El Salvador and took the role of an unlicensed taxicab driver, shuttling members of more than a half-dozen MS-13 cliques in the area.

For nearly three years, the informant secretly recorded conversations in his car and at gang gatherings. He captured on video the promotions of junior associates—chequeos—to full-fledged gang member—homeboy—a process that included a ceremonial 13-second beating.

As trusted member of Eastside Loco Salvatrucha, the informant participated in the FBI’s biggest intelligence coup, secretly recording the December 2015 meeting in Richmond, Va. The informant drove gang leaders to meet with more than a dozen other leaders from around the U.S. His recordings, prosecutors said in court papers, provided rare “firsthand insight into the inner workings of MS-13, including its organizational structure and hierarchy.”

The meeting was held at the home of the head of the gang’s East Coast program, Jose Adan Martinez Castro, 28, who has since pleaded guilty to federal racketeering charges and awaits sentencing.

Mr. Castro kicked off the gathering by explaining he had been tapped by senior gang members in El Salvador to take charge. There was too much infighting among U.S. cliques, he told the group, according to court papers that included a lengthy summary of the informant’s recording.

The gang leader provided guidance on how to conduct “hits” on rivals and informants, telling other leaders that such killings “have to be coordinated and requested beforehand.” He cautioned members against wearing Nike Cortez sneakers because police had figured out it was a gang favorite. He encouraged more drug dealing because he had extra product to sell.

The local leader dialed his counterpart in El Salvador, Edwin Manica Flores. One by one, those in attendance picked up the cellphone and introduced themselves to Mr. Flores, who was described in court papers as “one of the El Salvador-based leaders of MS-13’s East Coast Program.”

Mr. Flores, who is in custody in El Salvador, couldn’t be reached for comment.

During the meeting, Mr. Flores warned associates that their enemies “are filling up the turfs around us” and that they would benefit financially from cooperation.

The MS-13 leader, court papers allege, also emphasized the need for careful vetting of members and associates.

“You guys know how hot things are,” the leader said, according to prosecutors. “Be very careful, all of you that are there, brother, be very careful…. The FBI gives them a car, gives them money, gives them everything, and when they give them all that, they loosen their tongues.”

Mr. Flores’ warning was prescient, but late. Within weeks, FBI agents and police were fanning across Boston with arrest warrants.

Thanks to Del Quentin Wilber.

Friday, August 17, 2018

Loan Shark Ronald “Ronnie G” Giallanzo, Acting Captain in the Bonanno Organized Crime Family, Imprisoned for Racketeering Conspiracy

In federal court in Brooklyn, Ronald “Ronnie G” Giallanzo, an acting captain in the Bonanno organized crime family of La Cosa Nostra, was sentenced by Chief United States District Judge Dora L. Irizarry to a total of 14 years’ imprisonment for racketeering conspiracy, including predicate acts of extortionate extension and collection of credit, as well as a related violation of the conditions of supervised release imposed for a prior racketeering conviction. As part of his plea agreement with the government, the Court also ordered Giallanzo to pay $1.25 million in forfeiture and sell his mansion in Howard Beach, Queens, which was constructed using the criminal proceeds of the defendant’s loansharking business. Giallanzo was also ordered to pay $268,000 in restitution to his victims.  Giallanzo pleaded guilty in March and June 2018.

Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), announced the sentence.

“Today’s sentence punishes a violent mobster for running a massive loansharking operation that victimized a community and earned him millions in illicit profits,” stated United States Attorney Donoghue.  “Giallanzo is headed to prison, forced to sell his mansion built on ill-gotten proceeds and held responsible for brazenly committing many of his crimes from behind bars while serving another organized crime-related sentence.  Together with our law enforcement partners, this Office will continue to vigorously investigate and prosecute members and associates of organized crime.”  Mr. Donoghue thanked the Queens County District Attorney’s Office, the New York City Police Department and the U.S. Probation Department of the Eastern District of New York for their assistance in the investigation.

“Members of these mafia families continue to prey upon the people of their communities, lining their pockets on the backs of victims through intimidation and acts of violence,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney. “While these criminals lead lavish lifestyles, their victims struggle through years of financial distress and the constant fear of what will happen to them when they can no longer pay. The FBI New York Joint Organized Crime Task Force has been doggedly tracking members of the mafia for decades, and our work to round them up and put them in prison will not stop.”

Between 1998 and 2017, including eight years while incarcerated on a prior racketeering conviction and for nearly two years while on supervised release, Giallanzo ran a loansharking operation in which he loaned millions of dollars in cash at exorbitant weekly interest rates. Giallanzo then directed a crew of Bonanno family soldiers and associates to enforce the collection of the debts through violence and threats of physical injury. Giallanzo used more than $1 million of the extortion proceeds to purchase, reconstruct and furnish a mansion, which featured five bedrooms and five bathrooms, radiant heated floors, high-end appliances, a built-in aquarium, wine cellar, home gym, three kitchens and a salt water pool with a waterfall.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Have Connections to the #Mafia Marked @RealDonaldTrump's Entire Career?

Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas titled their classic group portrait of Harry S. Truman’s foreign policy team, “The Wise Men.” A book about Donald Trump’s associations might be called “The Wise Guys.”

Mario Puzo would’ve been just the man to write it. Martin Scorsese could option the movie rights. And if he’s not in prison when filming starts, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort deserves a role. Though Manafort hasn’t been accused of Mafia membership, Smooth Paulie certainly acts the part, judging from testimony at his trial in federal court on charges of fraud and tax evasion. He has a closet full of suits worthy of John Gotti (though even the Dapper Don might have balked at an ostrich-skin windbreaker) and a maze of offshore bank accounts dense enough to addle Meyer Lansky.

When Manafort’s turncoat lieutenant Rick Gates took the stand to detail their alleged conspiracies, I was transported to the day back in 1992 when Gotti’s underboss Sammy Gravano began singing at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn. Gotti’s lawyers attacked Sammy the Bull by demanding to know how many people he’d whacked. Manafort’s team asked Gates how many affairs he’s had.

If it seems harsh to compare Manafort to a mobster, take it up with President Trump, who got the ball rolling with a tweet before the trial began. “Looking back at history, who was treated worse, [Al] Capone, legendary mob boss . . . or Paul Manafort?” Trump mused. And the president ought to know: He has spent plenty of time in mobbed-up milieus. As many journalists have documented — the late Wayne Barrett and decorated investigator David Cay Johnston most deeply — Trump’s trail was blazed through one business after another notorious for corruption by organized crime.

New York construction, for starters. In 1988, Vincent “the Fish” Cafaro of the Genovese crime family testified before a U.S. Senate committee concerning the Mafia’s control of building projects in New York. Construction unions and concrete contractors were deeply dirty, Cafaro confirmed, and four of the city’s five crime families worked cooperatively to keep it that way.

This would not have been news to Trump, whose early political mentor and personal lawyer was Roy Cohn, consigliere to such dons as Fat Tony Salerno and Carmine Galante. After Cohn guided the brash young developer through the gutters of city politics to win permits for Trump Plaza and Trump Tower, it happened that Trump elected to build primarily with concrete rather than steel. He bought the mud at inflated prices from S&A Concrete, co-owned by Cohn’s client Salerno and Paul Castellano, boss of the Gambino family.

Coincidence? Fuhgeddaboudit.

Trump moved next into the New Jersey casino business, which was every bit as clean as it sounds. State officials merely shrugged when Trump bought a piece of land from associates of Philadelphia mob boss “Little Nicky” Scarfo for roughly $500,000 more than it was worth. However, this and other ties persuaded police in Australia to block Trump’s bid to build a casino in Sydney in 1987, citing Trump’s “Mafia connections.”

His gambling interests led him into the world of boxing promotion, where Trump became chums with fight impresario Don King, a former Cleveland numbers runner. (Trump once told me that he owes his remarkable coiffure to King, who advised the future president, from personal experience, that outlandish hair is great PR.) King hasn’t been convicted since the 1960s, when he did time for stomping a man to death. But investigators at the FBI and U.S. Senate concluded that his Mafia ties ran from Cleveland to New York, Las Vegas to Atlantic City. Mobsters “were looking to launder illicit cash,” wrote one sleuth. “Boxing, of all the sports, was perhaps the most accommodating laundromat, what with its international subculture of unsavory characters who play by their own rules.” But an even more accommodating laundromat came along: luxury real estate — yet another mob-adjacent field in which the Trump name has loomed large. Because buyers of high-end properties often hide their identities, it’s impossible to say how many Russian Mafia oligarchs own Trump-branded condos. Donald Trump Jr. gave a hint in 2008: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.”

For instance: In 2013, federal prosecutors indicted Russian mob boss Alimzhan Tokhtakhounov and 33 others on charges related to a gambling ring operating from two Trump Tower condos that allegedly laundered more than $100 million. A few months later, the same Mr. Tokhtakhounov, a fugitive from U.S. justice, was seen on the red carpet at Trump’s Miss Universe pageant in Moscow.

Obviously, not everyone in these industries is corrupt, and if Donald Trump spent four decades rubbing elbows with wiseguys and never got dirty, he has nothing to worry about from special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. But does he look unworried to you?

Thanks to David Von Drehle.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Omarosa - Unhinged: An Insider's Account of the Trump White House - Reputedly Backed by Secret Recordings

The former Assistant to the President and Director of Communications for the Office of Public Liaison in the Trump White House, Omarosa Manigault Newman, provides an eye-opening look into the corruption and controversy of the current administration.

Few have been a member of Donald Trump’s inner orbit longer than Omarosa Manigault Newman. Their relationship has spanned fifteen years—through four television shows, a presidential campaign, and a year by his side in the most chaotic, outrageous White House in history. But that relationship has come to a decisive and definitive end, and Omarosa is finally ready to share her side of the story in this explosive, jaw-dropping account.

A stunning tell-all and takedown from a strong, intelligent woman who took every name and number, Unhinged: An Insider's Account of the Trump White House, is a must-read for any concerned citizen.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

MS-13 Gang Members Charged with Murder Conspiracy and Attempted Murder of 16 Year Old

Melvi Amador-Rios, Santos Amador-Rios, Yan Carlos Ramirez and Antonio Salvador were charged in a four-count indictment with assault, murder conspiracy and attempted murder in-aid-of racketeering, along with a related firearms offense. The defendants were arrested and were arraigned before United States Magistrate Judge Marilyn D. Go at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn.

Richard P. Donoghue, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, William F. Sweeney, Jr., Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI), and James P. O’Neill, Commissioner, New York City Police Department (NYPD), announced the indictment.

“As alleged, the defendants are members of MS-13, an international gang known for its culture of violence and murder,” stated United States Attorney Donoghue. “They used their positions to direct, instruct and assist lower-level gang members to shoot and kill a suspected rival on the streets of Jamaica, Queens. We will continue to work with our law enforcement partners to hold accountable those who spread fear in our communities by participating in such acts of violence.” Mr. Donoghue thanked the Queens District Attorney’s Office for its assistance in the investigation.

“Since January 2016, the FBI Safe Streets Gang Task Forces in Queens and Long Island have arrested more than 45 of the most violent MS-13 members in the area and charged them with murder, attempted murder, arson, and assault,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney. “Today’s operation is a continuation of this coordinated and sustained effort. The task force will not stand by while this gang engages in meaningless violence in an attempt to use fear to poison and control our communities.”

“Through close collaboration with our law enforcement partners at the FBI and the Eastern District of New York, the NYPD will continue to conduct aggressive, precisely-directed investigations into criminal groups like this,” stated NYPD Commissioner O’Neill. “Such cases result in strong indictments that ultimately send these criminals to prison. And this important work stanches the violence – which is an essential step toward healing gang-plagued communities and fulfilling our duty to work with and protect all New Yorkers, in every neighborhood.”

According to court filings, the defendants are members of the La Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13. Melvi Amador-Rios is the leader of the Centrales Locos Salvatruchas (CLS) clique of MS-13, which operates in Jamaica, Queens. On October 22, 2016, Amador-Rios directed a low-level CLS member, known as a “chequeo,” to obtain a firearm from his brother, Santos Amador-Rios, and use the firearm to murder a rival gang member. The CLS chequeo obtained the firearm and enlisted two other CLS chequeos to assist in the murder. Yan Carlos Ramirez and Antonio Salvador instructed the three CLS chequeos how to use the firearm to carry out the murder. During the early morning hours of October 23, 2016, in Jamaica, Queens, the three CLS chequeos confronted the suspected member of the rival 18th Street gang, beat the victim and shot him in the head. The victim survived the attack, but is now a paraplegic.

This indictment is the latest in a series of federal prosecutions by the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York targeting members of the MS-13, a violent international criminal organization. The MS-13’s leadership is based in El Salvador and Honduras, but the gang has thousands of members across the United States, comprised primarily of immigrants from Central America. Since 2003, hundreds of MS-13 members, including dozens of clique leaders, have been convicted on federal felony charges in the Eastern District of New York. A majority of those MS-13 members have been convicted on federal racketeering charges for participating in murders, attempted murders and assaults. Since 2010, this Office has obtained indictments charging MS-13 members with carrying out more than 45 murders in the district, and has convicted dozens of MS-13 leaders and members in connection with those murders. These prosecutions are the product of investigations led by our law enforcement partners including the FBI’s Safe Streets Task Force, comprising agents and officers of the FBI and NYPD.

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