Gang of the nation: An L.A. crime army warrants national attention

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Roughly two decades ago, two immigrants from El Salvador started a gang in Los Angeles that would evolve into one of the most ruthless criminal enterprises in U.S. history.

The gang called itself Mara Salvatrucha, which is a mouthful for the average English-speaking American. Today, with 10,000 members and an operation engaged in murder, extortion, prostitution, kidnapping and smuggling in 46 states, the gang goes by the far more memorable moniker MS-13. It has elevated killing and mutilation by machete and other forms of stabbing and hacking to a gruesome art.

At the behest of the Obama administration, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control has designated MS-13 an international criminal group, laying the groundwork for the systematic targeting of the cartel's criminal profits and finances.

Millions of ill-gotten dollars it attempts to launder in U.S. banks and foreign financial institutions can now be seized. The administration wants to make the cost of doing business in the United States prohibitively high for MS-13. Any American institution or business laundering or hiding dollars on behalf of the crime organization can have its assets frozen. Sending profits made in the States back to El Salvador, where its leaders are holed up, will become progressively more difficult.

The gang is effective in communities with large Salvadoran populations, but has an ability to expand anywhere an illegal buck can be made. The fact that the Obama administration has decided to throw federal resources into smashing MS-13 is a sign that the gang's reign of terror and intimidation may be coming to an end.

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