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High-Ranking MS-13 Fugitive Arrested on Terrorism Charges

Defendant Was Influential Member of the Ranfla Nacional, MS-13’s Board of Directors that Directed Transnational Criminal Operations

At the conclusion of a removal hearing, a federal court in Houston, Texas ordered Elmer Canales-Rivera, aka Crook de Hollywood, a high-ranking leader of La Mara Salvatrucha, aka MS-13, to be transferred in custody to the Eastern District of New York where he and 13 other high-ranking MS-13 leaders were indicted in December 2020 on terrorism offenses relating to their direction of the transnational criminal organization’s criminal activities in the United States, El Salvador, Mexico, and elsewhere over the past two decades.

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On Nov. 9, Canales-Rivera was arrested by members of the FBI, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS) when he arrived at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas. Specifically, Canales-Rivera has been charged with conspiracy to provide and conceal material support to terrorists, conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries, conspiracy to finance terrorism and narco-terrorism conspiracy.

“We allege that Elmer Canales-Rivera, a founding member of MS-13’s ‘Twelve Apostles of the Devil,’ bears responsibility for the gang’s efforts over decades to terrorize communities, target law enforcement, and sow violence here in the United States and abroad,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “The arrest of this high-ranking, long-time leader of MS-13 should serve as a warning to MS-13’s other leaders that the Justice Department will hold you accountable for your crimes.”

“This arrest makes it clear that there is no hiding place for leaders of criminal syndicates that threaten our communities,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “Through the dedication and investigative abilities of HSI agents and our federal partners, we are taking on criminal organizations like MS-13 and helping to bring all those who perpetrate transnational crimes to justice.”

“With determination and coordinated effort, the FBI and our law enforcement and foreign partners successfully apprehended a violent criminal that directly threatened the safety of our communities,” said FBI Director Christopher A. Wray. “This pursuit exemplifies the FBI’s commitment to safeguard the American public and continued promise to dismantle criminal networks like MS-13.”

“The defendant’s appearance in a federal courtroom today in the United States is a giant step in holding him accountable for his significant role as an alleged member of the MS-13 gang’s leadership body known as the ‘Twelve Apostles of the Devil’ and later renamed Ranfla Nacional,” said U.S. Attorney Breon Peace for the Eastern District of New York. “As alleged, Canales-Rivera along with his co-defendants acted as a board of directors, directing acts of violence, intimidation, and material support of terrorists in El Salvador and throughout the United States, including in the Eastern District of New York where he will appear next in a federal courtroom in Central Islip to answer these charges.”

As set forth in the indictment, which was returned on Dec. 16, 2020 and unsealed on Jan. 14, 2021, and related court filings, Canales-Rivera and his co-defendants are part of MS-13’s command and control structure, consisting of the Ranfla NacionalRanfla en Las Calles, and Ranfla en Los Penales. They play significant leadership roles in the organization’s operations in El Salvador, Mexico, the United States, and throughout the world. In total, 27 of the highest-ranking leaders of MS-13 have been charged in the Eastern District of New York in this indictment and the related indictment of United States v. Arevalo-Chavez, et al.

As further alleged, in approximately 2002, Canales-Rivera, his co-defendants, and other MS-13 leaders began establishing a highly-organized, hierarchical command and control structure as a means to effectuate their decisions and enforce their orders, even while in prison. They directed acts of violence and murder in El Salvador, the United States, and elsewhere, established military-style training camps for its members and obtained military weapons such as rifles, handguns, grenades, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and rocket launchers. Further, beginning in approximately 2012, Canales-Rivera and other members of the Ranfla Nacional negotiated with officials from the government of El Salvador (GOES) and obtained benefits and concessions from the GOES. In order to extract those benefits and concessions from the GOES, MS-13 engaged in public displays of violence to threaten and intimidate civilian populations, targeted GOES law enforcement and military officials, and manipulated the electoral process in El Salvador. Canales-Rivera played one of the most prominent roles in MS-13’s negotiations and agreements with the GOES.

Additionally, as alleged, the Ranfla Nacional directed the expansion of MS-13 activities around the world, including the United States and Mexico, where several high-ranking leaders were sent to organize operations, make connections to obtain narcotics and firearms from Mexican drug cartels such as the Zetas, Gulf Cartel, Cártel de Jalisco Nueva Generación (CJNG) and Sinaloa Cartel, and engage in human trafficking and smuggling. The Ranfla Nacional also directed MS-13’s large membership in the United States to engage in criminal activities, such as drug trafficking and extortion, to raise money to support MS-13’s terrorist activities in El Salvador and elsewhere.

Finally, the Ranfla Nacional and MS-13’s transnational leadership structure is alleged to have directed members in the United States to commit acts of violence, including murders, to further its goals and implemented rules that enabled MS-13 to entrench itself in parts of the United States, including within the EDNY where, under the defendants’ leadership and rules, MS-13 has committed numerous acts of violence — including murders, attempted murders, assaults, kidnappings, drug trafficking, extortion of individuals and businesses, obstructed justice and sent dues and the proceeds of criminal activity by wire transfer to MS-13 leaders in El Salvador. For example, this the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York’s Long Island Criminal Division has prosecuted hundreds of MS-13 leaders, members, and associates for carrying out more than 65 murders in the Eastern District of New York between 2009 and the present.

When the indictment was unsealed in January 2021, Canales-Rivera was in custody in El Salvador serving a prison sentence, and the United States lodged an INTERPOL Red Notice and submitted an extradition request for Canales-Rivera to the GOES. However, in or about November 2021, Canales-Rivera was released from custody by the GOES and then unlawfully entered Guatemala. Canales-Rivera remained a fugitive until Nov. 7, when he was apprehended by Mexican authorities.

Further, in addition to requesting Canales-Rivera’s extradition, in 2021 and 2022, the United States requested the extradition of 11 of his co-defendants, including Borromeo Enrique Henriquez, also known as “Diablito de Hollywood,” who is widely recognized as the most powerful member of the Ranfla Nacional. To date, the GOES has not extradited any of those defendants.

Two of Canales-Rivera’s co-defendants, Fredy Ivan Jandres-Parada, aka Lucky de Park View and Lacky de Park View, and Cesar Humberto Lopez-Larios, aka El Grenas de Stoners and Oso de Stoners, and three related defendants from the Arevalo-Chavez indictment, Jorge Alexander De La Cruz, aka Cruger de Peatonales; Juan Antonio Martinez-Abrego, aka Mary Jane de Hollywood, and Francisco Javier Roman-Bardales, aka Veterano de Tribus, remain at large. Members of the public with information concerning their whereabouts are strongly encouraged to contact the FBI’s toll-free MS-13 tip line, 1-866-STP-MS13 (1-866-787-6713), or HSI’s tip line at 866-347-2423 or www.ice.gov/webform/ice-tip-form. Together, FBI and HSI have offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the fugitives.

This case was brought by Joint Task Force Vulcan (JTFV), which was created to combat MS-13, led by Assistant U.S. Attorney John J. Durham of the Eastern District of New York, and comprised of U.S. Attorneys’ Offices across the country, including the District of New Jersey; the Northern District of Ohio; the District of Utah; the District of Massachusetts; the Eastern District of Texas; the Southern District of New York; the Southern District of Florida; the Eastern District of Virginia; the Southern District of California; the District of Nevada; the District of Alaska; and the District of Columbia, as well as other government agencies and offices have been essential partners in JTFV, including the Justice Department’s National Security Division and the FBI’s Criminal Division; HSI; U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA); Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); USMS; Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP); and U.S. Agency for International Development, Office of Inspector General.

The FBI Los Angeles Field Office spearheaded JTFV’s MS-13 leadership investigations, with critical support provided by the Criminal Investigative Division’s Safe Streets Gang Unit, along with HSI’s National Gangs and Violent Crime Unit and HSI’s New York and Houston Field Offices. Additionally, the FBI Legal Attachés in Mexico City and San Salvador, FBI Houston Field Office, HSI Attaché Mexico City, USMS Legal Attaché in Mexico City, and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officers at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston provided critical support in connection with the arrest, as well as the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the USMS for the Southern District of Texas for coordinating the initial appearance in Houston.

Numerous Justice Department components that contributed to this indictment, including: the National Security Division’s Counterterrorism Section; the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) Executive Office; the Justice Department’s Office of International Affairs; and the Criminal Division’s Office of Overseas Prosecutorial Development, Assistance and Training. In addition, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) have provided valuable assistance for JTFV’s mission.

If convicted, Canales-Rivera faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys John J. Durham, Paul G. Scotti, Justina L. Geraci, and Megan E. Farrell for the Eastern District of New York’s Long Island Criminal Division are prosecuting the case, with assistance from Assistant U.S. Attorneys James Donnelly for the District of New Jersey, Matthew Shepherd for the Northern District of Ohio, and Stewart Young for the District of Utah from JTFV.

An indictment is merely an allegation. All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

Updated November 15, 2023
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