9 more charged in series of alleged MS-13 killings, some in which victims were hacked up in Angeles National Forest

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A pair is seen hiking the Trail Canyon Falls trail in Angeles National Forest in this undated file photo. (Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times)

A pair is seen hiking the Trail Canyon Falls trail in Angeles National Forest in this undated file photo. (Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times)

Nine more alleged MS-13 gang members and associates have been charged in a case involving 11 slayings, including five in which the victims were hacked to death in the Angeles National Forest, prosecutors said Tuesday.

A total of 31 defendants are named in an expanded federal grand jury indictment unsealed Tuesday after four new defendants were arrested, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Los Angeles said in a news release.

The 18-count indictment filed Aug. 5 marks the third time the case was expanded and includes four previously uncharged slayings in a wide-ranging racketeering investigation targeting a San Fernando Valley-based arm of the gang.

Machetes or knives were allegedly used in five of the killings, while the victims were shot to death in the other six. Each homicide is alleged to have been carried out as a form of gang initiation or to gain standing, prosecutors said.

In one March 2017 killing previously described in the indictment, prosecutors say a rival gang member was abducted after defacing MS-13 graffiti and driven to a remote part of Angeles National Forest, where his body was dismembered and his heart cut out with a machete before remains were thrown into a canyon.

The new indictment includes charges for the fatal shooting of a man in January 2019 in a remote area near Santa Clarita. The victim’s remains weren’t discovered until that October, after the destructive Tick Fire burned through the area.  

Of the 31 defendants, 21 are charged with conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, including with offenses like murder, drug trafficking and extortion.

MS-13 was founded in Los Angeles in the 1980s. Prosecutors say the most recent case involves the gang’s Fulton clique, which is particularly violent subset and operates in the San Fernando Valley.

“In 2016, the Fulton clique decided to break from MS-13’s traditional program in Los Angeles in favor of a traditional Salvadoran Mara Salvatrucha program,” the indictment states. Investigators say the difference between the two programs is that the Salvadoran one requires prospective members to have killed at least one person before joining the gang.

The expanded indictment was unsealed just before scheduled arraignments for three of the new defendants, all of whom were arrested in the L.A. area. The fourth was detained in Colorado, officials said.

The five remaining new defendants were already in state or federal custody.

Across the country, federal authorities have brought multiple racketeering conspiracy charges against MS-13 members in recent years. Last month, four accused members gang members were indicted in a Las Vegas case stemming from 10 killings and abductions that police and the FBI identified in 2018.

In July, the last of 23 members of a gang group based in Columbus, Ohio, was sentenced in connection with a series of eight homicides.

Authorities have also prosecuted MS-13 members for a series of killings on Long Island, New York.

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