Police charge alleged MS-13 members with trafficking teen

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By MATTHEW BARAKAT Associated Press
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Federal prosecutors have charged 11 alleged members and associates of the MS-13 street gang with sex trafficking and other charges after they say a 13-year-old runaway was repeatedly beaten with a baseball bat and forced into prostitution in northern Virginia.
Charges were unsealed Wednesday in federal court in Alexandria. A 48-page FBI affidavit says the 13-year-old girl ran away from a group home in Fairfax in August 2018 with a 16-year-old friend who was connected to MS-13.
A child trafficking task force found the 13-year-old girl nearly two months later at an apartment in Mount Rainier, Maryland.
The girl, initially reluctant to talk to police, eventually told authorities she was twice beaten on her backside and legs 26 times on two separate occasions with a baseball bat — once as an initiation to the gang, and once as a punishment for talking to rival gang members and allegedly stealing from fellow gang members.
The girl reported that she could barely walk after the beatings and still suffers pain.
The affidavit states that multiple gang members had sex with her, and that the gang prostituted her on multiple occasions in northern Virginia and Maryland.
Robert E. Bornstein, acting special agent in charge of the FBI Washington Field Office’s criminal division, said in a statement that “MS-13 is known for their violence and intimidation, but the horrific crimes alleged in this case show how their cruelty and depravity know no bounds,”
Court records indicate 10 of the defendants were arrested Wednesday and made initial appearances, in which a magistrate ordered that they have attorneys appointed on their behalf and they be held pending a detention hearing scheduled for Friday.
The defendants range in age from 20 to 48 and all live in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs surrounding the nation’s capital.
U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia G. Zachary Terwilliger, whose office is prosecuting the case, said at a news conference Wednesday that the gang remains prevalent in the region.
He said MS-13, a gang with roots in El Salvador, has been a priority for the office for more than a decade, back when he handled cases as a line prosecutor. He bristled at the perception that targeting MS-13 is somehow anti-immigrant, which he said is a view of some political leaders in the region.
“The group that suffers the most at the hands of MS-13 is our immigrant community,” he said. “Fighting MS-13 is not anti-immigrant. It is about as pro-immigrant as it gets.”
He declined to comment on the immigration status of the 11 defendants, saying he expected it would be revealed in court at Thursday’s detention hearing.
The Eastern District of Virginia has several high-profile MS-13 cases already underway. Last month, an indictment in Alexandria against an MS-13 leader in El Salvador, Armando Eliu Melgar Diaz, was the first in the U.S. to lodge terrorism charges against an MS-13 leader.
Another alleged MS-13 leader, Elmer Martinez is facing a death penalty trial next year on charges of kidnapping and killing two northern Virginia teenagers in 2016.
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This story has been corrected to show the arrests were made Wednesday and the affidavit was unsealed Wednesday, not on Tuesday.