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FBI creates an MS-13 gang squad, local director says

New York's FBI Assistant Director in Charge William

New York's FBI Assistant Director in Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. addresses the Jericho Chamber of Commerce in Jericho on Thursday. Credit: Howard Schnapp

The FBI has created a new squad of agents focused entirely on MS-13, ratcheting up its campaign to eradicate the brutal street gang that has plagued Long Island with violence and drug-dealing, the agency's New York director said Thursday.

William F. Sweeney, speaking at a breakfast meeting of the Jericho Chamber of Commerce, said a second violent crimes squad of 15 members was added six months ago in the FBI's Long Island office to concentrate on human trafficking, and street gangs like the Bloods and the Crips. That move freed up agents who have already been working MS-13 cases to focus exclusively on the gang, Sweeney said.

"We took a number of positions in the New York office that were management positions ... and we wiped out that bureaucracy and put those agents back on the street," Sweeney told the audience.

Sweeney, assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office since July 2016, said while MS-13 has been "quieter" on Long Island recently, the FBI is "constantly" working on defeating the gang.

"We're not short of cases," said Sweeney. "We're still working plenty of cases and we're still tying together all sorts of facts from the cases that we already have. So there's a lot of work going on in the background."

A spate of MS-13 violence on Long Island resulted in more than two dozen killings attributed to the gang in 2016 and 2017, fueled by a concerted effort by the gang to increase its stature on Long Island, according to authorities.

The violence led to visits in 2017 by President Donald Trump and his-then Attorney General, Jeff Sessions. They vowed to go after the gang, whose leaders are in El Salvador, with Sessions pledging to "demolish" MS-13. 

Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas, Nassau Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, and other top police officials attended the event at the Milleridge Inn in Jericho, where Todd Shapiro, a public relations executive and president of the newly created Chamber of Commerce, presented Sweeney with an honorary plaque. 

The director also said counterintelligence threats and cyber attacks from countries like China are important priorities for the FBI, as well as newer trends in international terrorism. In the past, terrorists went overseas for training to carry out attacks, but now, he said, the agency also has to deal with the homegrown extremists who don't "need to travel, can sit at home and absorb this propaganda." 

He also threw in a recruiting pitch, urging those with tech and law enforcement experience to apply, calling the  FBI a "fabulous" place to work.

"I'm looking for smart folks to come work for us," said Sweeney, acknowledging that there are higher-paying jobs. "We don't pay a lot ... But we will beat your mission any day of the year, 24-7. You cannot match the mission when you come to work at an agency like ours."

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