NASHVILLE, Tenn. (NewsNation Now) — A federal grand jury in Nashville has indicted nine suspected members of the MS-13 gang, charging them with a racketeering conspiracy, including allegations of seven murders, kidnappings, assaults, robberies and a large scale drug distribution.
Acting U.S. Attorney Mary Jane Stewart made the announcement Wednesday morning and said the indictment describes the organizational structure of MS-13 and the gang’s sub-unit, the Thompson Place Salvatrucha clique, which has operated in Nashville since at least 2014.
“Make no mistake about it: MS-13 is one of the most violent, ruthless and cold-blooded gangs to ever walk the face of the earth. And we will be relentless in our efforts to root them out of this community,” Stewart said at a news conference, joined by Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Polite and state, federal and local authorities.
The indictment alleges a gang conspiracy in seven slayings in 2016 and 2017 in Nashville, all of them shootings. It said the most recent occurred in September 2017 in which suspected gang members are charged with luring someone to a meeting in the city, fatally shooting him and burning a car with the victim’s body in the trunk.
Metro Nashville Police have said the victims also included a person found dead in a field, others shot in moving cars from other cars, a person killed in a strip mall parking lot, another shot while driving away from an argument at a convenience store, and two others in the parking lot of an apartment complex.
Many of the gang’s “ruthless acts of violence” targeted innocent people, Stewart said.
One of the people killed was 18-year-old Liliana Rodriguez, though her then-20-year-old brother was the target, according to the indictment and police records. In another instance, a man was fatally shot to prevent him from becoming a witness to another killing, the indictment says.
The indictment alleges several other attempted killings, a kidnapping to prevent someone from cooperating with the authorities and the assault of a federal officer, which police records show occurred during a 2017 car pursuit to catch the armed suspect who ultimately rammed into a U.S. Marshal’s vehicle before crashing and being caught.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ahmed Safeeullah said MS-13 members targeted the people they did in the killings because “individuals in the gang wanted to increase their stature.”
Those charged include four Nashville residents; three Honduran residents; one from El Salvador; and one from Lebanon, Tennessee.
All nine are in federal custody and, if convicted, they face decades of incarceration, including up to life in prison.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said MS-13 generates income by engaging in illegal activities, such as drug trafficking, robbery, extortion, and other crimes. Members steal vehicles and use them to carry out the crimes.
Money generated provides financial support to gang leaders, members and associates, including people jailed in the U.S. and in El Salvador, according to federal investigators.
Cooperation with law enforcement is strictly prohibited under MS-13’s rules, Stewart said. She added that it is understood within the gang that anyone who assists authorities will be punished by death.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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