Seven Crime Families Still Operate In New Jersey, Now MS-13's East Coast Hub

Alleged MS-13 East Coast boss Miguel Angel Corea Diaz, 36, aka Reaper, was among 17 defendants named in a January 2018 indictment that New York State prosecutors say delivered a strong blow to the gang’s infrastructure.

MS-13 East Coast boss Miguel Angel Corea Diaz

He faces 15 years in prison for drug trafficking and conspiracy in New York State; he’s also been indicted by the Feds in a Maryland racketeering case that could send him away for life.

Corea Diaz reported directly to MS-13’s leaders in El Salvador, prosecutors alleged. And though he is in a Maryland prison and is alleged to have run the “Sailors” crew on Long Island, Reaper considered his home to be a suburb in the Garden State: specifically, Long Branch, New Jersey.

La Mara Salvatrucha, one of the largest gangs in the United States, has members as distant as France, Egypt and Australia. “In October, the Justice Department declared MS-13 a graver threat than any other transnational crime group, including the cartels that have flooded the United States with cheap, potent heroin, contributing to an unprecedented spike in overdose deaths,” as per the latest State Commission of Investigation report.

The gang is comprised primarily of immigrants or descendants of immigrants from El Salvador, with members operating throughout the United States. The name "Mara Salvatrucha" is a combination of several slang terms, the Feds noted in the Maryland indictment. The word "Mara" was the term used in El Salvador for "gang." The phrase "Salvatrucha" was a combination of the words "Salva," which was an abbreviation for "Salvadoran," and "trucha," which was a slang term for "fear us," "look out," or "heads up."

In the United States, MS-13 -- its motto is “mata, viola, controla”—or “kill, rape, control”— originated in Los Angeles, California, where members banded together for protection against larger Mexican groups. It has been functioning since at least the 1980s. The gang is defined by its cruelty, and is known for committing triple homicides in school yards and murdering victims with machetes.

Gang members earn through various illegal activities including murder, racketeering, drug trafficking, sex trafficking, and human trafficking including prostitution. Most members earn the bulk of their income through violence as a means for extortion.

“A lot of the violence is part of the extortion … and prostitution. Once they get here, they get these individuals and extort money from their families. They’re also into extortion for protection of this neighborhood or that neighborhood,” University of Houston sociology professor Luis Salinas told FOX Business.

New Jersey has become the hub for MS-13 activity on the East Coast; high-ranking leaders based there direct regional operations beyond the state borders. As per New Jersey’s State Commission of Investigation, the gang has about 700 members in New Jersey living in towns including Union City, Morristown, Trenton, Red Bank, Lindenwold and Lakewood.

The New Jersey Commission of Investigation report on organized crime says MS-13 “remains a persistent threat” but credits local police cooperation with federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement for a slew of arrests that have slowed the growth of the gang and its homicide numbers in recent years.

Still the commission's report notes that MS-13 is particularly ruthless, employing senseless violence — including using machetes to hack, dismember and sometimes behead rivals or random victims — to instill fear in their communities. The report also notes that the gang is getting better at sneaking into the country and blending in, saying that a “common tactic used by MS-13 members" is to "deny any affiliation with the gang and instead cast themselves as victims.”

Meanwhile seven crime families historically operated in New Jersey.

How many crime families operate in the Garden State today? Still seven. All five of the New York City crime families, plus the New Jersey DeCavalcantes and the Philadelphia mob have people placed in the port, according to Walter Arsenault, executive director of the Waterfront Commission of New York Harbor.

Their presence however is said to have shrunk by more than half. About 300 mobsters are active in New Jersey, down from 800 at the late-1980s/early 1990s peak.

“(The Mafia's) death has been greatly exaggerated,” Arsenault said recently. “The one thing that they are is adaptable.”

The Genovese family controls the New Jersey side of the Port of New York and New Jersey, according to Arsenault.

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In addition to sweeping prosecutions in recent years, mobsters seeking to earn in the state also have to contend with legalized sports gambling and a crackdown on opioids.

Organized crime still earns from longtime rackets spun on the Port of New York and New Jersey. These include theft of cargo and containers, extortion of port workers, and importation and sale of drugs.

There's been some buzz about who exactly was behind one of the largest drug busts in history at the Port of New York and New Jersey. Law enforcement officials haven't named anyone as responsible for the massive drug trafficking effort.

As per a recent announcement by the Waterfront Commission, which historically has been focused on keeping the Mafia out of the Port:

In February law enforcement seized about 3,200 pounds of cocaine in what's been hailed as the largest cocaine seizure there in nearly 25 years, and the second largest of all time. The haul of cocaine is worth an estimated $77 million.

Officials from multiple city, state and federal agencies discovered the cocaine in a shipping container. Officials from Customs and Border Protection seized the drugs and turned them over to agents from Homeland Security Investigations.

The bust occurred on February 28 and is now under investigation by the DEA and Homeland Security Investigations. No arrests have been made.

"This is a significant seizure. In fact it is the largest cocaine seizure at the Port of New York/Newark since May 1994," said Troy Miller, director of CBP New York Field Operations, in a statement. The seizure in 1994 contained about 6,000 pounds of cocaine.

“Transnational Criminal Organizations rely upon illicit networks throughout the world to supply, transport, and distribute cocaine and other dangerous drugs,” said Brian Michael, Special Agent in Charge, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Newark.

“Cocaine, New York’s nemesis of the 90’s, is back-indicating traffickers push to build an emerging customer base of users mixing cocaine with fentanyl,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Ray Donovan. “This record breaking seizure draws attention to this new threat and shows law enforcement’s collaborative efforts in seizing illicit drugs before it gets to the streets and into users’ hands.”

“Successes such as this seizure are a testament to the importance of our partnerships and our ability to work together to keep our ports and our communities safe,” said Capt. Jason Tama, Captain of the Port of New York and New Jersey, and commander Sector New York.