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.
The conventional wisdom used to be that the Mexican narcos didn't do this kind of stuff in the US because we are most valuable for our drug appetites—and that market wasn't worth risking by getting involved in other kinds of crimes (that might bring down extra ire from law enforcement). So kidnapping, extortion, and the rest stayed south of the border.
But MS-13 is not a Mexican cartel—it's Salvadorian and born in Los Angeles. (Many of its members were former soldiers fleeing the civil war at home.) Its mechanics are, apparently, a little different. And a recent report shows MS-13 getting closer to the Mexican Zetas and Sinaloa, though not derving huge financial benefit from the relationship yet:
Having spent time in several of their neighborhoods (both MS-13 and Calle 18) over the past two years, it is clear that the gang members and their families are derving little beyond subsistence from their criminal activities, and certainly not enough for an opulent lifestyle. Some of the money is used by gang members to feed personal drug habits, purchase weapons for the clica, pay lawyers for those in prison and other activities; but, it is not enough to life most gang members and their families out of poverty.
Maybe MS-13 is looking south and taking some pages out of the narco handbook—supplement your drug-trafficking income with terrorizing the folks at home. Except in their case, home is here.