A high-ranking leader of the transnational criminal organization La Mara Salvatrucha, more commonly known as MS-13, has been arrested on terrorism charges based on a December 2020 indictment filed in the Eastern District of New York.
On Nov. 9, Elmer Canales-Rivera, also known as “Crook de Hollywood” and a founding member of MS-13’s “Twelve Apostles of the Devil,” was arrested by federal law enforcement upon his arrival at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas.
A federal judge then ordered Canales-Rivera be transferred to the custody of the Eastern District of New York to face the 2020 indictment, which also charged 13 other high-ranking MS-13 members on terrorism offenses related to the gang’s criminal activities in the United States.
Canales-Rivera faces charges of conspiracy to provide and conceal material transport to terrorists, conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries, conspiracy to finance terrorism, and narco-terrorism conspiracy.
If convicted, Canales-Rivera faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
“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,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said Wednesday.
“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,” Garland said.
As alleged in the 2020 indictment, Canales-Rivera and his co-defendants are a part of MS-13’s command and control structure, and directed the expansion of the gang’s activities around the world, including the U.S. and Mexico.
Canales-Rivera is alleged to have “directed acts of violence and murder in El Salvador, the United States, and elsewhere, established military-style training camps for [MS-13’s] members and obtained military weapons such as rifles, handguns, grenades, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and rocket launchers.”
“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 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.”
In the Eastern District of New York, Canales-Rivera is alleged to have lead MS-13 members to commit murders, attempted murders, assaults, kidnappings, drug trafficking, and extortion.
When the indictment was unsealed in January 2021, Canales-Rivera was serving a prison sentence in El Salvafor.
Following an extradition request by the U.S., Canales-Rivera was released from custody and unlawfully entered Guatemala, where he remained a fugitive until Nov. 7, 2023, when he was apprehended by Mexican authorities.
In 2021 and 2022, the United States requested the extradition of 11 of Canales-Rivera’s co-defendants.
However, to date the Government of El Salvador has not extradited any of those defendants, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.