Dozens held in gang sweep of Charlotte area

CHARLOTTE -- Authorities indicted 26 suspected members of the notoriously violent MS-13 gang Tuesday -- an effort to shut down a culture of intimidation operating in 42 states and five countries.

MS-13 members have been linked to four homicides, drug trafficking and extortion in the Carolinas.

"Today's indictment is merely the latest sign of the gang's reach," U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey said in a news conference in Charlotte.

The Salvadoran gang, which has more than 10,000 members, has operation centers in Charlotte, Greensboro and Durham, N.C., and Columbia.

At 6 a.m. Tuesday, federal agents and Charlotte-Mecklenburg police made numerous arrests at apartment complexes in south Charlotte and near Mint Hill, N.C. In all, 20 people with names like "Smoke," "Sailor" and "Speedy" were arrested after the indictment on federal racketeering and other charges for crimes committed in the U.S. and El Salvador.

Links to four slayings

The 86-page document, unsealed Tuesday, alleges that three of the gang members murdered four people in Charlotte and Greensboro.

One of the victims was Ulisses Alejandro Mayo, who was shot to death April 12 while sitting in a car after a children's birthday party on Belton Street in south Charlotte. The other was 24-year-old Yonni Alexander Morales-Maradiaga, who was shot during a 2005 robbery near Eastland Mall.

Others in the gang, also known as La Mara Salvatrucha, were accused of selling cocaine and marijuana, committing robberies and illegally possessing firearms, the indictment said.

Members worked to protect power, territory and profits by extorting drug dealers and intimidating victims and community members with threats of violence, the indictment said.

They are accused of collecting fees from dealers who sold drugs in Charlotte nightclubs operated by MS-13.

Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said law enforcement officers are continuing to make arrests.

Members are beaten during an initiation. They also are required to commit violence to maintain membership, including acts against rival gangs. Assaults, robberies and murder are rewarded with respect and leadership positions, according to the indictment.

The gang first emerged in Charlotte in 2001 at which time police had identified about 20 members. The group was linked in 2003 to a shooting at a boat landing near Lake Wylie, where one person died and three others were wounded.