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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Venezuelan gang Tren de Aragua could team up with MS-13

A brutal Venezuelan gang which has used the border crisis to set up in New York could join forces with the feared MS-13, a senior FBI agent has told The Post.

Tren de Aragua, which law enforcement is warning is rapidly expanding its criminal empire with a spate of brazen phone robberies in the five boroughs, is now a priority for the FBI, Special Agent in Charge John Morales said.

Morales, the special agent in charge of the El Paso division in Texas, said the agency is closely monitoring Tren de Aragua’s growth and is concerned about it forming alliances with existing networks.

The Post revealed Monday how the Venezuelan gang, which established a bloody crime network across South America, is now replicating its methods in New York, recruiting among new migrants at shelters to set up cellphone robbery gangs — and using its international reach to traffic the phones to Colombia to be sold.

Now Morales is warning that it, MS-13 and other gangs could become temporary allies — and said that the FBI is actively sharing intelligence about Tren de Aragua.

The FBI is warning that MS-13 gang members, such as leader (center) Ãlmer Canales, could team up with Tren de Aragua, a Venezuelan gang that has embedded themselves with a surge of migrants crossing the southern border.
Tren de Aragua gang members after a raid at the Tocoron prison in Venezuela last year. Dozens of gang members escaped, and made their way north to the US embedded with groups of migrants. ZUMAPRESS.com

“While these gangs wouldn’t normally mix, it’s always going to be a concern as the gang [Tren de Aragua] expands in strength and establishes a foothold,” said Morales said in an exclusive interview with The Post.

“Right now we are working with our local law enforcement partners and sharing intelligence in order to stop the growth of Tren de Aragua.”

Gang members generally pass through border cities, such as El Paso, en route to other parts of the US, said Morales.

Border Patrol agents apprehended 41 Tren de Aragua members along the US southern border between October 2022 and September 2023 — and the FBI is now pleading with Venezuelan migrants to report gang members, offering them witness protection and temporary visas if they do.

The NYPD has arrested two men in connection to a crew of migrants who have been stealing cellphones while riding mopeds. NYPD
Go Nakamura for NY Post; Christopher Sadowski; NYPD; Google Maps; Adobe Stock; Alamy

“Their first victims are their fellow Venezuelans,” said Morales, adding that the gang tries to recruit new members among their own migrant community.

They extort Venezuelans by demanding that they pay bribes in exchange for protection and even to cross the border into from Venezuela into Colombia and from Mexico into the US, he said.

Tren de Aragua has taken advantage of an explosion in Venezuelan migration to come across the southern border. There were more than 340,000 “encounters” with migrants from the country at the border last year, making them second only to Mexicans.

Another expert warned that there is also a risk of turf wars between gangs.

“They are already coming over as hardened criminals,” said Robert Almonte, a security consultant and former US Marshal in El Paso.

The border crisis has allowed Tren de Aragua members to enter the United States by claiming asylum. REUTERS

“But they [Tren de Aragua] could certainly be trying to recruit others to join the gang in the US.

“I wouldn’t rule out the possibility that they could form alliances with other gangs, but what’s more likely to happen is that turf wars break out as each gang fights to control their own criminal enterprise.”

Tren de Aragua has its origins in a Venezuelan prison and has exploded into Colombia, Peru and Chile, where it is known for the brutal torture and murder of its victims, including prostitutes whom it routinely executes to take control of the sex trade.

In the US, the gang has been making inroads in Chicago and Miami, where a gang member was recently arrested after the murder of a retired Venezuelan police officer.

In the Peruvian capital, Lima, the gang murdered rival pimps and prostitutes to gain control of the sex trade, which brings in more than $275,000 a month, El País reported.

Hector Guerrero, the leader of Tren de Aragua, is believed to have escaped to the US after the Venezuelan military raid’s on their headquarters inside the Tocoron prison. Venezuelan Interior Ministry

Last year US Homeland Security and law enforcement in Peru created the Transnational Criminal Investigation Unit specifically to share intelligence on Tren de Aragua.

Law enforcement officials say that the gang’s leader, Hector Guerrero, escaped his prison headquarters after a Venezuelan military raid last year and could be hiding in the US.

MS-13, which was set up among Salvadoran migrants in Los Angeles in the 1980s, now boasts more than 10,000 members and is closely linked to Mexican drug cartels.

Its heavily-tattooed leaders have used brutal tactics, especially in Queens and Long Island where members of MS-13 went on a bloody crime wave, which culminated in the murder in 2017 of 16-year-old Julio Vasquez who was stabbed 30 times and nearly decapitated.

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