Treasury goes after MS-13

It’s now officially a “transnational crime group” threatening international security, and doing any sort of business with it is now a serious crime.

The Treasury Department today issued an order designating the MS-13 gang a “transnational criminal organization” of “such scope and gravity that they threaten the stability of international political and economic systems.”

That formal category was created by Executive Order 13581, issued last year; at the time, four groups were named: the Yakuza, the Camorra, Los Zetas, and an outfit I’d never heard of called variously “The Brothers’ Circle” or “The Family of Eleven.”

Today’s order – which so far I don’t have a link to – accuses MS-13 of “… drug trafficking, kidnapping, human smuggling, sex trafficking, murder, assassinations, racketeering, blackmail, and extortion.”

The legal significance of the designation is that the Executive Order extends the President’s statutory national-security powers to block the assets and transactions of hostile foreign entities to major violent criminal groups. It is now a serious crime to give or receive money or to buy or sell goods or services to anyone acting on behalf of MS-13. That criminalizes what would otherwise be routine transactions, and greatly increases the penalties for – as an important example – gun-trafficking violations. The NRA’s Congressional allies have ensured that gun-running crimes are next-to-impossible to prosecute and draw such short sentences that federal prosecutors mostly don’t bother taking them to court. Now any sort of dealing with MS-13 is good for a long stretch.

This approach is modeled after the “material support to terrorism” law. My Constitutional conscience would sleep better if Congress had explicitly authorized this by statute, but the “transnational organized crim group” designation is probably less likely to be abused than the “terrorist” designation. There are certainly some groups thta pose threats different in kind from the threats addressed by the ordinary criminal law, and MS-13 – so powerful back home that the Salvadoran government, having brokered a “truce” between it and a rival gang, is now trying to negotiate something like a peace accord between the gang and the state, and a major player in the prison-gang problem here in the U.S. – belongs high on that list.

Still, it wouldn’t do any harm to embody this set of powers in statute, rather than doing a legal three-carom shot. The powers themselves are pretty astounding – something like an organizational version of a Bill of Attainder – and they ought to be conferred explicitly if they’re going to be used in this fashion.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

4 thoughts on “Treasury goes after MS-13”

  1. were you in a hurry when you typed this, mr. kleiman. there are a couple of spelling errors of hastiness in your last paragraph you might want to clean up. feel free to delete this comment after you’ve done some editing.

    1. Not so much haste as the failure of an update to “take,” meaning that what’s now the last paragraph got left out. Thanks for catching it.

  2. If it’s true that Russian Mafiosi were among those profiting from the corrupt Yeltsin privatization scheme, which Bain facilitated, I wonder how many of those in “The Brothers’ Circle” were Mitt Romney’s clients?

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