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Reputed MS-13 gang members arrested in food-truck extortion racket

A grand jury indictment was scheduled to be unsealed Monday for about two dozen reputed members of the notorious MS-13 gang in connection with a violent extortion racket that targeted food-truck operators.

The victims of the alleged organized shakedown were not four-wheeled foodie cuisine servers, such as the Kogi BBQ truck, but those who serve blue collar workers at construction sites, according to several law enforcement sources familiar with the case.

Those arrested were reputed Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, gang members but the sources, who did not want to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss the case before details were revealed in court, said the arrests were the culmination of a year-long investigation centered in the Los Angeles Police Department's Hollywood Division.

The arrests took place early Friday morning, and the charges against the suspects and the nature of the alleged shakedown will be detailed in a grand jury indictment that will be unsealed Monday in a downtown courtroom, the sources said.

The LAPD would not discuss the case, including how many members of the gang were arrested or the exact nature of their alleged crimes. But there were no significant incidents reported as a result of the take down that sources said involved more than 200 officers and yielded weapons and narcotics, the sources said.

The violent reputation of MS-13, which was born in Los Angeles, is well known to locals, and in recent years has captured the attention of authorities across the country. In October, federal officials designated Mara Salvatrucha as a "transnational criminal organization."

It became the first street gang to join the list and allowed authorities to freeze any financial assets from the gang or its members and prohibit financial institutions from engaging in any transactions with members of the group.

MS-13 began among Salvadoran refugees—many of them young ex-soldiers—who came to Los Angeles in the 1980s to escape civil war in their home country. Most of the refugees settled in large numbers in the Pico-Union neighborhood and around MacArthur Park.

Ongoing crackdowns by the LAPD led the gang to branch out geographically and diversify its criminal activities into areas such as drugs, extortion and human trafficking. MS-13 also spread into Central America and across the United States, penetrating the Eastern Seaboard.

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-- Andrew Blankstein

 
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