Feds ‘dismantle’ violent street gang MS-13 in early morning raids

Gang members are suspected of committing five murders, federal officials said.

United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz is flanked by federal, state and local law enforcement as she discusses the dismantling of the MS-13 street gang. Seized cash and weapons -- including machetes and firearms -- are on the table in front of her.
United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz is flanked by federal, state and local law enforcement as she discusses the dismantling of the MS-13 street gang. Seized cash and weapons -- including machetes and firearms -- are on the table in front of her. –Jonathan Wiggs / The Boston Globe

Raids across Massachusetts Friday morning targeted more than 50 members of the violent street gang MS-13, federal officials announced, dismantling the criminal organization that terrorized many immigrant communities.

Of the 56 gang members targeted — a third of MS-13’s Massachusetts membership — 37 have been arrested, officials said. The gang is responsible for five brutal murders, and 15 members are facing federal racketeering charges, U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz said.

Those killings include the murders of Katerin “Catherine’’ Gomez and Javier Ortiz in Chelsea in 2014 and three teenagers in East Boston: Wilson Martinez, Irvin Javier de Paz Castro and Christofer Perez de la Cruz.

The head of MS-13’s “East Coast Program,’’ Jose Adan Martinez Castro, 26, who lived in Richmond, Virginia and also went by the name “Chucky,’’ was among those captured.

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Others arrested, who range in age from 18 to 44, face drug and weapons charges, and some were picked up on charges of being in the country illegally.

The gang targets middle and high schoolers for initiation, officials said, especially Chelsea, East Boston and Everett high schools.

No juveniles were named in the indictment, but Ortiz said the gang targets younger kids to commit the most violent acts, because they know they’ll receive less severe penalties because of their ages.

Ortiz called the gang “very structured and extremely violent, as evident by their motto — kill, rape, control,’’ she said.

To reach “homeboy status,’’ or full-fledged membership, members must engaged in “significant criminal activity,’’ Ortiz said. That includes the murder of a rival gang member.

Earlier this month, a shooting at the Maverick T station in East Boston was blamed on a feud between MS-13 and rival gang 18th Street.

The indictment details how the murders fit into the gang’s method of promotion. It alleges that:

• After the murder of 29-year-old Javier Ortiz in Chelsea in December 2014, two leaders of one MS-13 clique held a meeting and congratulated two of Ortiz’s killers. They also ordered the beating of one member who didn’t help one of the killers when he had a prior altercation with Ortiz.

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• Leaders of two different cliques encouraged members to murder rivals in order to prove themselves worthy of promotion. As a result, three men and a teenage boy killed Wilson Martinez, 15, in September 2015. After the murder, they were promoted within MS-13.

• The September 2015 murder of Irvin De Paz, 15, led to the initiation of one MS-13 member.

• Martinez Castro, the leader of MS-13’s East Coast Program, told his clique leaders that they needed to be more active in killing rival gang members. A month later, Christofer Perez-De la Cruz, 16, was killed in East Boston.

There were 14 other attempted murders, according to the indictment, mostly in 2014 and 2015. Gang members used guns, machetes, knives and a metal baseball bat.

MS-13 is a designated transnational criminal organization with more than 6,000 members in the U.S., and 30,000 members globally, Ortiz said.

Locally, the central American gang operates in communities including Boston, Everett, Somerville, Lynn, Revere and Chelsea, Ortiz said.

More than 400 officers fanned out across the state early Friday rounding up those arrested and those wanted for deportation. All have connection to gang activity, officials said.

Mass. State Police Deputy Superintendent Frank Hughes said in 30 years of law enforcement, he has never seen a more violent gang.

“The violence is unspeakable, some of the cruelty that they inflict upon each other,’’ he said. “I want to warn anyone who thinks they’re going to fill this void, we will be on you.’’

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