US Makes Headway in MS13 Terrorism Case as Gang’s Sixth Top Leader Is Arrested

United States CourthouseUnited States Courthouse - Eastern District of New York. Image by Ajay Suresh. - CC BY 2.0
This article by Sam Woolston and Liza Schmidt originally appeared on Insight Crime and is being published by under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.

The recent arrest of a senior MS13 leader could provide prosecutors with greater insight into the relationship between the MS13’s highest-ranking members and the officials behind El Salvador’s brutal gang crackdown.

Fredy Iván Jandrés Parada, alias “Lucky de Parkview,” was arrested in San Diego, California on March 7. Court Watch was the first to break the news two weeks later.

Lucky was on the FBI’s most wanted list, where he was described as one of “the most senior leaders of MS13 worldwide.” Lucky is a member of the gang’s National Council (Ranfla Nacional), which directs recruitment, approves murders and manages the expansion of the gang into new territories. He had been on the run since 2018.

In an indictment filed on December 16, 2020, Lucky was charged alongside 13 other gang leaders with crimes related to terrorism. The indictment alleges that the MS13’s Ranfla directed “acts of violence including murder” in the United States, established “military style training camps,“ and negotiated with Salvadoran government officials to “implement policies favorable to MS13.”

Lucky’s arrest comes just four months after Mexico arrested and extradited another member of MS13’s Ranfla, Elmer Canales-Rivera, alias “El Crook.” Six of MS13’s 27 leaders are in US custody.

SEE ALSO: El Salvador State of Exception; A Security Measure Implemented to Fight Gangs

InSight Crime Analysis

With several top MS13 leaders now detained in the United States, prosecutors have the opportunity to extract information that could shed light on the gang leadership’s relations with the Salvadoran government.

The United States appears to believe that MS13 leaders negotiated corrupt deals with high-ranking members of Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele’s government.

For example, court filings allege that El Crook was freed from jail in 2021 in El Salvador by “high-level Salvadoran government officials” just days after a spate of gang killings. The officials gave him a gun and put him in touch with a people’s smuggler to aid his escape, prosecutors said.

In early 2022, Bukele announced a state of emergency aimed at crushing the gangs. Since then, homicide rates have plummeted and public perceptions of security have dramatically improved.

But critics have raised concerns about arbitrary detentions and poor prison conditions, in addition to pointing out that relatively few top gang leaders have been among the tens of thousands detained under the emergency measures.

In the United States, the vast majority of criminal cases result in a plea agreement, in which defendants often give up information about their criminal activities and partners in exchange for a more lenient sentence.

Testimony from Lucky, Crook, and other leaders in US custody could be key to proving the alleged negotiations between the Bukele administration and leaders of the gangs.

El Salvador has so far resisted US requests for the extradition of senior gang members, meaning that the US has had to rely on arrests on US soil or extraditions of Salvadoran gang leaders from outside El Salvador.

Past reports have alleged that Bukele negotiated with gangs before implementing the state of emergency. The Salvadoran government has previously denied that it negotiated with street gangs.

In a nine-month investigation into the government’s crackdown, InSight Crime did not find any evidence that Bukele’s administration has had dealings with gangs since the state of emergency was implemented in March 2022.

This article by Sam Woolston and Liza Schmidt originally appeared on Insight Crime and is being published by under a Creative Commons 3.0 license.