TERRORISM: MS-13 Gang Leader Armando Diaz in El Salvador Charged with RICO, Murder, and Terrorism Offenses
Defendant is the first MS-13 leader to face terrorism charges in the U.S.
ALEXANDRIA, Va. – A federal indictment was unsealed on July 15, 2020, charging an MS-13 leader in El Salvador with a racketeering conspiracy and conspiring to provide material support to terrorists based on his role as a leader of La Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13).
The defendant, Armando Eliu Melgar Diaz, 30, is the first MS-13 leader to face terrorism charges in the United States.
“In 2017, the President directed the Department of Justice to go to war against MS-13, and we did just that,” said Attorney General William Barr. “In coordination with our partners at the Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department’s law enforcement components have successfully investigated, charged, and arrested command and control elements of MS-13 responsible for murder. Joint Task Force Vulcan’s operations have significantly degraded MS-13’s capabilities. While there is still work to be done, the Department of Justice remains committed to protecting Americans threatened by MS-13, and we will not rest until we have successfully defeated this transnational criminal organization.”
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“MS-13 is a transnational gang of vicious predators that primarily preys on people and businesses in our nation’s vibrant immigrant communities,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “Members of those communities should feel confident, as demonstrated today with this announcement, that members and associates of MS-13 that commit violent acts here will be held accountable.”
“Today’s announcements are the result of tremendous teamwork and coordination between prosecutors and law enforcement officers across the United States and Central America,” said John Durham, Director of Joint Task Force Vulcan. “MS-13 is a violent transnational criminal organization, whose criminal activities respect no boundaries. The only way to defeat MS-13 is by targeting the organization as a whole, focusing on the leadership structure, and deploying a whole-of-government approach against a common enemy.”
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MS-13 has tens of thousands of members located in the United States, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and elsewhere. The organization is responsible for murders, extortion, violence, drug trafficking, human trafficking, and other crimes, and has been designated as a terrorist organization by the government of El Salvador.
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“This enforcement action sends a clear message that the FBI and our law enforcement partners represented on the Violent Gang Safe Streets Task Forces remain aggressive in investigating and dismantling gang activity that brings violence and fear into our communities,” said Timothy R. Slater, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI Washington Field Office. “We will use all available tools in our investigative and legal arsenal to disrupt MS-13’s leadership, take these violent offenders off the streets, and ultimately bring justice to the victims of these brutal acts.”
“Homeland Security Investigations is committed to leveraging its unique cross-border authorities to identify and bring to justice members of violent gangs and other transnational criminal organizations,” said Jerry Templet, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations Nashville. “These violent transnational criminal networks threaten the safety and security of the law-abiding public, and HSI will continue to work with our federal, state and local partners to identify and seek prosecution of these dangerous individuals.”
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According to court documents, Melgar Diaz moved to the United States from El Salvador in 2003 and settled in Virginia. After moving to Virginia, he joined the Gangster Locos Salvatruchas, also known as GLS, a clique of MS-13. In February 2013, Melgar Diaz was deported to El Salvador but illegally returned to the United States in approximately August of 2013. In November 2016, Melgar Diaz was once again deported to El Salvador. He has resided in El Salvador since 2016.
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After his return to El Salvador, Melgar Diaz allegedly continued to be an active member of MS-13. In approximately May 2017, Melgar Diaz allegedly became the Corredor, or leader, of the MS-13 East Coast Program.
As Corredor, Melgar Diaz oversaw the activities of approximately 20 MS-13 cliques in the United States, including in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, California, Ohio, Rhode Island, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and the District of Columbia.
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Melgar Diaz allegedly also oversaw MS-13 activities internationally in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Mexico. Melgar Diaz allegedly coordinated financing for MS-13 by collecting dues and drug trafficking proceeds, aided in trafficking cocaine and marijuana, facilitated communications between MS-13 leaders in El Salvador and cliques in the United States, and authorized acts of violence in the United States, including murder. The money Melgar Diaz allegedly received from members in the United States was used to support MS-13’s violent activities in El Salvador, including by purchasing weapons.
Melgar Diaz is currently in custody El Salvador, where he is facing drug trafficking and conspiracy to commit murder charges.
Alexi Saenz was indicted in 2017 in the Eastern District of New York. It is alleged that between 2016 and 2017 he committed seven murders: the Jan. 28, 2016, murder of Michael Johnson; the April 29, 2016, murder of Oscar Acosta; the Sept. 13, 2016, murders of Kayla Cuevas and Nisa Mickens; the Oct. 10, 2016, murder of Javier Castillo; the Oct. 13, 2016, the murder of Dewann Stacks, and; the Jan. 30, 2017, murder of Esteban Alvarado-Bonilla. Two of the victims were Brentwood high school students killed with a machete and baseball bat. The Attorney General has filed a Notice of Intent to Seek the Death Penalty for Saenz.
In August 2019, Attorney General Barr created Joint Task Force Vulcan to carry out the recommendations of the MS-13 subcommittee formed under the Attorney General’s Transnational Organized Crime Task Force, which was the result of President Trump’s February 2017 Executive Order directing the Departments of Justice, State, and Homeland Security, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to coordinate a whole-of-government approach to dismantling transnational criminal organizations, such as MS-13, and restore safety for the American people. The principal purpose of JTFV is to coordinate and lead the efforts of the Justice Department and U.S. law enforcement agencies against MS-13 in order to dismantle the group.
The JTFV has successfully implemented the whole-of-government approach to law enforcement relating to MS-13; increased coordination and collaboration with foreign law enforcement partners, including El Salvador, Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala; designated priority MS-13 programs, cliques and leaders, who have the most impact on the U.S., for targeted prosecutions; and coordinated significant MS-13 indictments in United States Attorney’s Offices across the country, such as the Eastern District of New York, the Eastern District of Virginia, and the District of Nevada.
Federal prosecutors from the Department of Justice’s National Security Division and the Criminal Division, as well as 10 United States Attorney’s Offices have been assigned to serve the JTFV in full-time capacities: the Eastern District of New York; the Eastern District of Virginia; the District of Nevada; the Southern District of California; the District of Massachusetts; the Northern District of Ohio; the District of New Jersey; the Eastern District of Texas; the District of Utah; and the District of Columbia. In addition, all Department of Justice law enforcement agencies are involved in the effort – the Federal Bureau of Investigation; the Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the U.S. Marshals Service; and the Bureau of Prisons. The Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Security Investigations has also played a critical role in JTFV.
G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; Timothy R. Slater, Assistant Director in Charge, FBI Washington Field Office; and Jerry Templet, Special Agent in Charge, Homeland Security Investigations Nashville, made the announcement after the indictment was unsealed.
Terwilliger would like to thank John Demers, Assistant Attorney General for National Security, and Brian Rabbitt, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division, for their assistance with this case.
Terwilliger also recognizes the following U.S. Attorneys for their assistance in this prosecution: Donald Q. Cochran, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee; Ryan K. Patrick, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas; Erin Nealy Cox, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas; and R. Andrew Murray, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of North Carolina.
Terwilliger would also like to thank Attorney General Raul Melara of El Salvador for the assistance of his office in the investigation, as well as investigators from El Salvador’s Policía Nacional Civil (“PNC”) Centro Antipandilla Transnacional (“CAT”) unit for their assistance.
Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kevin L. Rosenberg and Matthew W. Shepherd, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas J. Patterson are prosecuting the case.