LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Nearly two dozen Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang members who operate in the San Fernando Valley have been charged with a series of ruthless murders, some of which involved hacking people to death with machetes in the Angeles National Forest.
The 22 suspects were indicted by a grand jury last week on charges of committing and/or coordinating the murders of seven people over the past two years, according to a federal RICO indictment unsealed Monday.
Federal prosecutors allege the MS-13 gang leaders and members who committed the murders were part of a subgroup known as the Fulton Clique, which operates out of the San Fernando Valley and recruited several recent Central American immigrants.
“The majority of the gang in Fulton is mostly teenagers,” one teen, who asked to remain anonymous, told CBS2. “Sometimes, it gets heated in the streets. It gets crazy, like you hear gunshots all night. It’s where most of the things happen.”
The suspects murdered rival gang members and those were they believed were informers, the Justice Department reports. One of the victims was 15-years-old, the indictment reads. Another was a homeless man who was shot and killed in January while he slept at a rec center in North Hollywood, an area controlled by MS-13.
In one case, a rival gang member was dismembered and his heart was carved out, U.S. District Attorney Nick Hanna said in a news conference Tuesday.
“The rival gang member was abducted, choked, and driven to a remote location in the Angeles National Forest, where six defendants hacked him to death with a machete,” Hanna said. “The victim was dismembered and one of the defendants allegedly carved out his heart before throwing the body parts into a canyon.”
In total, MS-13 is believed to have murdered 24 people in the L.A. metro area over the past two years, federal prosecutors say.
“This investigation has been an unqualified success,” Hanna said in a statement. “The collaborative law enforcement effort solved several murder cases and dealt a severe blow to members of the gang who engaged in acts of brutality not seen in the region for over 20 years.”
Of the 22 suspects, three were arrested in L.A. over the past several days by the multi-agency L.A. Metropolitan Task Force on Violent Gangs. The fourth was apprehended last weekend in Oklahoma. The other 18 were taken into custody over the past year.
If convicted as charged, some of the suspects could be eligible for the death penalty.