More than a dozen alleged members of the feared MS-13 street gang were arrested during early morning raids Tuesday in Ohio and Indiana, the Department of Justice said.
Federal prosecutors said a grand jury had charged 10 gang members of the "Columbus Clique" with conspiracy to commit extortion and money laundering, as well as the use of firearms during a violent crime, in an indictment returned in late July.
The indictment alleges the 10 "conspired to commit extortion through the use of threatened or actual force, violence or fear to intimidate their victims into paying money to the defendants and their co-conspirators." Prosecutors said money was then sent "usually by wire transfer and often through intermediaries," to MS-13 members and associates in El Salvador and elsewhere to promote the group's criminal activities.
Besides the 10 members charged in the federal indictment, federal officials said an additional five people were arrested and charged with federal immigration offenses.
“With more than 10,000 members across 40 states, MS-13 is one of the most dangerous criminal organizations in the United States today," Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement. "MS-13 members have killed children and pregnant women, extorted immigrant-owned businesses, and trafficked underage girls to sell them for sex. President Trump has ordered the Department of Justice to reduce crime and take down transnational criminal organizations, and we will be relentless in our pursuit of these objectives. Today's charges are our next step toward making this country safer by taking MS-13 off of our streets for good.”
Two of the 15 charged by the grand jury, Jose Manuel Romero-Parada and Nelson Alexander Flores, are still at large.
Federal officials say the gang has more than 10,000 members and associates operating in at least 40 states, including Ohio.
"I think that there are probably many people in Columbus who didn't know that MS-13 was here before yesterday, but for those people and communities who were being extorted by its members, it was a very big problem," Benjamin Glassman, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, said Wednesday on "FOX & Friends."
Glassman said the investigation is focusing on other members of the clique, and crimes they may have committed since 2010. He believes the group may have been in Ohio "going back perhaps even a decade prior to that."
The arrests in Ohio's capital Tuesday focused on a mobile home park in North Columbus, WSYX/WTTE reported.
MS-13, also called Mara Salvatrucha, 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.
The gang grew after some members were deported to El Salvador, helping turn that country into one of the most violent places in the world.
The vicious street gang has garnered national headlines for its brutal killings, including those of four young men who were hacked to death in a New York park in April. In all, 19 killings on Long Island have been blamed on MS-13 since January 2016.