Federal authorities in San Francisco announced charges against 17 alleged members and associates of the international MS-13 gang for a broad range of crimes, including racketeering and attempted murder, carried out in the heart of the city's Latino district.
The individuals were taken into federal custody Thursday and appeared before a federal judge Friday, said U.S. Attorney David Anderson. Their alleged crimes range in punishment from 10 years to life in prison, he said.
Anderson, who launched an initiative last year to clean up open-air drug dealing in the city's notoriously rundown Tenderloin neighborhood, said he was appalled by the violence carried out by gang members in family-friendly parts of the city, including Dolores Park in the Mission district.
"San Francisco is suffering from gang violence and gang claims on our public spaces," he said. "Our parks and playgrounds and other public spaces do not belong to transnational criminal organizations. Our public spaces belong to all of us."
The city's politically liberal leaders have clashed with the federal government over issues related to homelessness, clean water, immigration. Mayor London Breed recently issued a stinging letter rebuking the White House for what she called deficient leadership on tackling the spread of the coronavirus.
But on Friday, San Francisco Police Chief William Scott shared the stage with Anderson in announcing the indictments. Police started looking into MS-13 related crimes in 2017, Scott said, and reached out to the federal government when they realized they needed more resources.
President Donald Trump has been particularly critical of MS-13, also called La Mara Salvatrucha, using gang activity as a reason to build a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. The gang originated in Los Angeles decades ago. Many members hail from Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala and operate in at least 20 states.
The complaint alleges 10 criminal acts that took place between 2016 and 2019. Three of the defendants went after a family with two minors in January 2019, punching and kicking near a playground, according to the complaint.
Anderson said he did not know the citizenship status of the 17 defendants, who range in age from 19 to 30. Eleven of them were already in custody in local jails.
"There are certainly some folks who have ... lawful status and those who have no lawful status and no right to be here," he said.
Friday's briefing was live-streamed and the press conference limited to a handful of reporters, in keeping with new social spacing guidelines issued to curb the spread of coronavirus.
In August 2019, Anderson launched a crackdown on drug dealing in the Tenderloin neighborhood, where his office is located. He said Friday the effort has resulted in charges against more than 150 people.