WASHINGTON — More than 600 gang members and associates from 145 different gangs were arrested in 179 cities across the U.S. during Project Southbound, a month-long operation executed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), which targeted gangs affiliated with the Sureños.
The Sureños, also known as Sur 13, is a transnational criminal street gang that originated in Southern California with hundreds of cliques around the United States. The Sureños and their affiliates pay tribute to the Mexican Mafia and the number “13” is their symbol signifying “M” in the alphabet for Mexican Mafia. Membership and cliques associated with the Sureños are expanding faster than any other national-level gang in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Gang Intelligence Center’s 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment. Sureños gang members are involved in a myriad of criminal activity, including murder, extortion, narcotics trafficking, human trafficking, prostitution and other crimes with a nexus to the border.
Through Project Southbound, which ran March 12 to April 13, HSI special agents worked with 150 federal, state and local law enforcement partners to apprehend individuals from various gangs affiliated with the Sureños. More than 73 percent of those arrested during this HSI National Gang Unit-led operation were members or associates of the Sureños.
In addition to the 638 gang members and associates, HSI agents also arrested – or assisted in the arrest of – 119 other individuals on federal and/or state criminal violations and administrative immigration violations, for a total of 757 arrests.
“Project Southbound is the largest-ever ICE operation targeting the Sureños gang,” said ICE Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas S. Winkowski. “This gang now has more than 30,000 members in the United States and its numbers are growing. Targeting transnational gangs like the Sureños is a top priority for ICE and we will continue to disrupt and dismantle the violence and criminal activities that they inflict upon our neighborhoods.”
Of the 638 gang members or associates arrested: 525 were charged with criminal offenses; 113 were arrested administratively for immigration violations; 414 had violent criminal histories, including seven individuals wanted for murder and five wanted for rape or sexual assault; and 256 were foreign nationals.
Among the Sureños gang members or associates arrested during Project Southbound were:
- Cesar Lisandro Anaya, 27, an El Salvadoran national and an 18th Street gang member, arrested in Dallas, Texas, on immigration-related charges. He is wanted in El Salvador on felony warrants for aggravated homicide, extortion, and illicit groupings (gang activity).
- Nine MS-13 gang members arrested on RICO charges filed in the District of Maryland stemming from their involvement in multiple criminal acts including murder, assault, extortion and prostitution, in furtherance of MS-13.
- Richard Allen Cotinola, a U.S. citizen and Brewtown Locos gang member, arrested in New Mexico on an outstanding state warrant for violation of parole related to a previous conviction for aggravated burglary with a weapon. He has previous convictions for aggravated burglary with a weapon and armed robbery.
- A father and son arrested in San Francisco on state narcotics and firearms charges following the execution of state search warrants on the father’s property. The father, a Sureños gang associate and previously deported aggravated felon, accused of supplying large quantities of high-quality, commercially-grown marijuana to Sureños and Latin Kings gang members. During these arrests, HSI agents seized 4,669 marijuana plants, 25 pounds of processed marijuana, an AR-15 rifle, a stolen Glock handgun, four diesel generators, four vehicles and $85,635 in cash.
Those arrested during Project Southbound came from 21 countries in South and Central America, Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. Of the total 757 arrested, 678 were males and 79 were females.
HSI special agents also seized 54 firearms, 13.36 pounds of methamphetamine, 82.76 pounds of marijuana, 3.075 pounds of cocaine, 1.44 pounds of heroin, more than $166,000 in U.S currency and 10 vehicles during Project Southbound.
ICE’s Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) in Baltimore and Los Angeles also assisted with this operation.
This enforcement operation is part of HSI’s Operation Community Shield a global initiative, in which HSI partners with existing federal, state and local anti-gang efforts to identify violent street gangs and develop intelligence on gang members and associates, gang criminal activities and international movements to arrest, prosecute, imprison and/or deport transnational gang members. HSI’s National Gang Unit deters, disrupts and dismantles gang operations by tracing and seizing cash, weapons and other assets derived from criminal activities.
Since the inception of Operation Community Shield in February 2005, HSI special agents working in conjunction with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies across the nation have arrested more than 33,000 street gang members and associates linked to more than 2,600 different gangs. At least 43 percent of those arrested had a violent criminal history. More than 438 of those arrested were gang leaders, and more than 4,500 were MS-13 gang members or associates. Through this initiative, HSI has seized more than 5,615 firearms nationally.
The National Gang Unit within HSI identifies violent street gangs and develops intelligence on their membership, associates, criminal activities and international movements to deter, disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal gang operations by tracing and seizing cash, weapons and other assets derived from illicit activities.