U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions speaks at Pennsylvania Convention Center
By Chris Palmer, Staff Writer, Philly.com
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday formally designated the criminal gang MS-13 as a priority for federal law enforcement, vowing to use agencies ranging from the FBI to Homeland Security and the IRS to dismantle what he described as an organization that “threatens the lives and well-being of each and every family and each and every neighborhood [it] infests.”
“We will use whatever laws we have to get MS-13 off the streets,” Sessions said.
His remarks, delivered at the International Association of Chiefs of Police conferencein Center City, represented an extension of Sessions’ months-long focus on MS-13, a violent gang with links to Central America that police officials have connected to recent killings in Long Island; the Washington suburbs; and elsewhere in the United States.
In the last six months, Sessions has delivered speeches about the group on Long Island and in El Salvador, and promised to prosecute or deport members responsible for crime.
He did not say that the gang had any particular foothold in Philadelphia, and local officials have long said that the city is not a hub for such organized, hierarchical gangs.
But Sessions said that by designating MS-13 as a priority for the Justice Department’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces, investigators from a number of federal agencies could use a variety of tactics to “dismantle” the group. As an example, he pointed toward how Al Capone’s downfall came due to tax violations, as opposed to widely suspected criminal conduct.
“MS-13 members brutally rape, rob, extort, and murder,” Sessions said. “Guided by their motto — ‘kill, rape, and control’ — they leave misery, devastation, and death in their wake.”
Sessions said that last month the Justice Department and officials in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras announced charges against 3,800 gang members.
The speech was the second by Sessions at the police conference, an annual gathering of tens of thousands of law enforcement personnel from across the world. On Saturday, he vowed to support local police in their fight against violent crime.
In his address Monday, Sessions also said the Justice Department would issue grants to local police departments and other organizations, including $200,000 to help with community building efforts; $5 million for training to respond to active shooter events; and $100 million in an attempt to bolster recruitment efforts.
Commissioner Richard Ross applauded the final initiative, saying: “I am delighted to hear that there’s going to be some push toward putting more cops on the street. We believe that that helps.”
As for MS-13, Ross said, “They haven’t got a stronghold here whatsoever.”
“We’ve got our localized gangs, and those are the ones that cause us grief,” he added.
The convention has had its share of protesters, although Sessions’ appearance Monday seemed to pass largely without incident.
Sunday’s demonstration by about 40 protesters was largely peaceful, but on Saturday several picketers were cited and arrested during protests that injured three people, including a police officer.
The conference is scheduled to conclude Tuesday.