MS-13 Leader Elmer Canales Rivera, AKA El Crook Extradited From Mexico to Face Terrorism Charges in New York

The US seeks 27 Mara Salvatrucha members accused of "terrorism": four of them have been arrested in Mexico, including Elmer Canales, alias "Crook."

Mexican authorities have captured and extradited Elmer Canales Rivera, alias “El Crook,” a top leader of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang, to the United States. El Crook was one of the US government’s most-wanted fugitives and faces federal terrorism charges in New York.

El Crook, 47, is a high-ranking member of MS-13’s leadership council known as “La Ranfla Nacional” or “The National Gang”. He was one of the original founders of the council back in 2002.

The National Gang directs all major activities for MS-13 across its thousands of members and hundreds of cliques in El Salvador, Mexico, and the United States. El Crook specifically oversaw MS-13 operations in Los Angeles in the 1990s.

MS-13 overall began in Los Angeles in the 1980s before spreading internationally. The gang is known for its extreme and brutal violence. It mainly profits from extortion, drug trafficking, and human smuggling.

El Crook’s Arrest and Imprisonment in El Salvador

El Crook was serving a 40-year prison sentence in El Salvador for kidnapping and murder. However, in November 2021, he was released illegally and suspiciously from a maximum-security Salvadoran prison.

This was despite the US government requesting his extradition on terrorism charges earlier in 2021. El Crook had also been placed on an Interpol Red Notice.

Video: Salvatrucha, la mara centroamericana más peligrosa, no cesa su violencia y expande su reinado de terror (Archivo DEF)
Video: Salvatrucha, the most dangerous Central American mara, does not cease its violence and expands its reign of terror (Archivo DEF).

Escape to Mexico and Recapture

After his release in El Salvador, El Crook lived freely in an upscale apartment in San Salvador. He fled to Guatemala and Mexico after his release gained media attention.

El Crook was able to hide out successfully in Mexico for nearly a year until his reported arrest on November 8, 2022. Mexican authorities tracked him to Tapachula near the Guatemalan border.

He was swiftly extradited to the United States. El Crook arrived in Houston before being transferred to New York City to face federal prosecution.

Terrorism Charges in the US

In January 2021, US federal prosecutors charged El Crook and 13 other top MS-13 leaders with various terrorism offenses. The other defendants remain at large in Central America.

The indictment includes charges of:

  • Conspiracy to support terrorists
  • Conspiracy to commit transnational terrorist acts
  • Conspiracy to finance terrorism
  • Narco-terrorism conspiracy

Prosecutors labeled the case as the largest blow against MS-13’s command structure in history. If convicted, the defendants could face up to life in prison.

05/12/2022 Imagen de archivo de un agente del en El Salvador.

Significance of El Crook’s Arrest

Experts say El Crook’s arrest deals a major blow to MS-13’s leadership. He provided historical knowledge and criminal connections as one of the gang’s original founders.

His prosecution may also reveal new details about MS-13’s inner dealings and relationships with Central American officials.

There is speculation El Crook may provide evidence about alleged secret deals between MS-13 and El Salvador’s government in exchange for more lenient treatment.

In the past, MS-13 has allegedly negotiated with officials to gain political favors and prevent gang leaders from being deported.

What’s Next for El Crook and Mara Salvatrucha

Now that he is in US custody, El Crook will face an arraignment and detention hearing. He will likely be held without bail, given his high flight risk.

If El Crook cooperates with US authorities and provides substantial intelligence, he could negotiate a lighter sentence or enter a witness protection program.

However, MS-13 has a reputation for murdering informants, even in prison. Cooperating witnesses typically must be held in highly restrictive conditions away from other gang members for their safety.

In the meantime, US and Latin American officials will likely step up efforts to arrest the 13 other indicted MS-13 leaders who remain fugitives. Their apprehension could lead to further unraveling of the gang’s command structure.