Crime

Feds honor state for role in taking down MS-13 in Mendota

U. S. Attorney’s Award presented for efforts made in dismantling MS-13

The California Department of Justice Special Operations Unit received the U.S. Attorney’s Award from McGregor Scott, U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of California, for efforts to dismantle MS-13’s operations in the central valley and nationwide.
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The California Department of Justice Special Operations Unit received the U.S. Attorney’s Award from McGregor Scott, U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of California, for efforts to dismantle MS-13’s operations in the central valley and nationwide.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office on Tuesday presented an award to the state’s Department of Justice Special Operations Unit for its efforts to dismantle MS-13 operations in the Central Valley last August.

McGregor W. Scott, the top lawman in the Eastern District of California that includes the Valley, presented the award during a news conference in Fresno. He said Special Operations Unit supervisor Luis Lopez’s team allowed the feds to build a strong case against dozens of members of MS-13.

“One of the most compelling pieces about it was that because of the wiretap work that was done, the information that was gathered, we were able to link the evidence to crimes and murders that MS-13 had committed in Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Houston, New York and the Maryland-Northern Virginia region because of the work that was done by this team right here in Fresno, California.”

The news conference was attended by officials from the state DOJ who took part in the investigation leading up to a raid in August 2018 against alleged members of the violent gang. Those present included state Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

Last August, 25 alleged MS-13 members operating in Mendota and Los Angeles were arrested during a local, state and federal law enforcement operation. They are believed to be connected to over a dozen murders, and they face federal and state charges.

A Fresno County grand jury indicted 13 of the 25 defendants in February. The trial date for the 13 defendants was set for March of this year, but was continued tentatively to Oct. 15. The state indictment is separate from the federal indictment.

Federal charges were brought against approximately 21 to 24 defendants for crimes ranging from murder to drug trafficking and firearms offenses.

MS-13 had a presence in Mendota for at least a decade before state authorities stepped in.

Current and former city officials in Mendota told The Bee in 2018 they had been pleading for help to deal with the gang’s activities from both federal and state law enforcement officials as early as 2011. Those pleas largely went ignored.

Scott said it took time for the case to reach decision makers, but once the wire team got involved, “this was all hands on deck.”

Becerra attributed the time lag to a lack of resources.

“We know that Mendota is not the only place this is going on, but we are limited in our resources,” Becerra said. “Our special operations team is pretty small, given the size of our state. There are some states that don’t even have the capacity that we have, the capabilities. We’re fortunate that in this case U.S. Attorney Scott and federal agencies decided this was worth doing.”

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