Suffolk District Attorney Tim Sini traveled with state and local law-enforcement officials from New York and Maryland this week to El Salvador, where he met with the Central American nation’s top prosecutors and police to discuss strategies on combating MS-13.
The three-day trip sponsored by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has already paid dividends, Sini said. He secured the services of a Salvadoran law-enforcement veteran who will serve as an MS-13 analyst for the district attorney’s office, Suffolk police, the Long Island Gang Task Force and other law-enforcement agencies, he said.
“This law-enforcement official will help us interpret intelligence from the street,” said Sini, who returned to the United States Thursday. “He will become another member of the team.”
The Salvadoran official who will be stationed on Long Island has been vetted and has worked extensively with U.S. law-enforcement agencies, Sini said.
The district attorney said he believes the trip will lead to greater sharing of intelligence and resources between law-enforcement agencies in the United States and El Salvador.
“This is a transnational criminal gang,” Sini said of MS-13, which has been linked to more than a dozen murders on Long Island in recent years and has also been active in recent years in Maryland. “We have to build international partnerships.
“It’s all about collecting intelligence and connecting the dots, the more RICO prosecutions we can make, the sooner we demolish this gang,” Sini said, referring to the federal racketeering law.
Sini also said he hopes the meetings will lead to reforms to the unaccompanied minors program. Thousands of unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras have been relocated to Long Island, and their vulnerability has made them targets for recruitment by MS-13 and other gangs. “We need to do a better job of vetting sponsors,” Sini said. “Homeland Security will help us with the screening of the sponsors.
The trip’s agenda included meetings with Salvadoran officials and representatives of American law-enforcement officials who are stationed in El Salvador. The group also visited the infamous Zacatecoluca Prison, where inmates are locked down for 23 hours a day to prevent MS-13 leaders from communicating with gang members in El Salvador and the United States.
One highlight of the trip was a meeting with Salvadoran Attorney General Douglas Melendez, who Sini said has a reputation for targeting corrupt officials and politicians who are linked to the nation’s powerful street gangs. Melendez told a Salvadoran television station last year that he received death threats because he had prosecuted gang and corruption cases.
“We talked about the most effective ways to dismantle the structure of the gang, not just targeting individuals,” Sini said.
Participants in the trip also discussed how to block remittance MS-13 members on Long Island and elsewhere in the United States send to the gang’s leadership in El Salvador.
“It’s been a good trip,” Sini said. “It’s been an opportunity to strengthen relationships that already exist and develop strategies to eradicate this gang.”