Prosecutors announce MS-13 'rendered inoperable' in Suffolk County

SUFFOLK COUNTY, Long Island (WABC) -- Police, prosecutors and federal agencies on Long Island announced Friday that they've rendered MS-13 inoperable in Suffolk County, where the violent street gang had tried to establish an East Coast base.

Authorities announced charges against 96 MS-13 gang members and associates in what's described as the largest take down of the violent street gang in New York State history.

Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini revealed a sweeping indictment that he said "decimated" the gang's leadership and drug suppliers on Long Island. He described the case as the largest of its kind against MS-13 in New York, where the gang has been blamed for dozens of killings since 2016.

The two-year investigation by state and federal authorities thwarted more than a half-dozen murder plots, Sini said, and also provided authorities insights into the gang's structure and recruiting patterns. The operation was bolstered by an expansive wire tap in which the authorities monitored calls from more than 200 phone numbers.

"MS-13 is a ruthless, savage gang," Sini said at a news conference, pointing to a machete recovered by law enforcement, the gang's signature weapon. "They will attempt to recalibrate and send individuals to take up leadership roles in Suffolk County. That's why we have to stay vigilant."

Originally founded in Southern California by gang members from El Salvador, MS-13, known in Spanish as La Mara Salvatrucha, has been accused in recent years of brutal murders and assaults on eastern Long Island.

MS-13 tried to establish an East Coast base and has wreaked havoc throughout the county. Their violence in Long Island included the 2016 murders of 16-year-old Kayla Cuevas and 15-year-old Nisa Mickens, which drew the attention of President Donald Trump.

"They kidnap, they extort, they rape and they rob. They prey on children, they shouldn't be here," Trump said when he visited Suffolk County in July 2017. "It's time for every member of MS-13 to be in fear. Look over their shoulder. Look in their rear view mirror, because ICE and its partners are coming hard, and we're coming strong."

Authorities said they seized more than 10 kilograms of cocaine, hundreds of fentanyl pills, drug ledgers, long guns and other firearms, and more than $200,000 cash. Those taken into custody included the leaders of nine so-called "cliques" - factions of MS-13.

"What you're hearing from us today is that we're more committed than every to eradicate this gang," Sini said. "Is the battle over? Absolutely not."

Brothers Alexi and Jairo Saenz were charged in the connection to six murders, including of Cuevas and Micken. If convicted, they both face up to life in prison or the death penalty -- which was reinstated in July 2019 by U.S. Attorney William Barr after a 15-year moratorium on executions.

Authorities also revealed that MS-13 was trying to replenish its depleted ranks by asking gang members in other states to come to Suffolk County.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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