MS-13’s Money Laundering Practices

September 14, 2018 Crime , OTHER

AP photo



Ricardo Swire



A modern Organized Crime/Drug Enforcement Task Force report confirmed MS-13 ravages American communities with brutality and violence, while generating substantial revenues. MS-13 is an international crime gang that has been around for thirty years. Members are characterized by tattoos covering their bodies and faces. They recruit children, destroying families in the process. Mara Salvatrucha or MS-13 originated in Los Angeles, California and quickly expanded to Canada, Latin America and Mexico.


The criminal gang functions as an unseen, well-tuned, corporate machine. MS-13’s high-value informal revenue is channelled through a complex financial structure. Extortion became its main profit earner, after integration with transnational drug smuggling networks and micro-trafficking increased its financial muscle. Each MS-13 “Clica” or unit orchestrates its own crime projects to fund expansion. The Tuesday June 26, 2018 US Federal Indictment of twenty-four MS-13 gang members for “senseless acts of violence,” brought clarity to the perception of aggression.


MS-13 is governed by the “Council of Nine.” Underbosses are “Clica leaders.” Next in the executive order are “Finance & Special Operations” directors. The two top tiers are supported by “Hired Assassins.” “Extortionist” and “Menial Task” performers at the middle are followed by “Informants” on the bottom tier. The Council of Nine makes strategic decisions and issues orders. They appoint new members and review all financial documentation especially records of the motel, auto theft/resale operations.


Property investment is MS-13’s preferred money laundering method. Such financial deals allow the criminal enterprise to transfer large amounts in single transactions. During “Operation Avalanche II” Honduran internal security officials detained Oscar Efrain Cortes Cabrera. Pre-operational intelligence data identified him as a senior MS-13 money launderer. Honduran police confiscated two mansions together valued US$913,367.56. His car lot, with two hundred and thirty-two vehicles, was also seized.


A 2018 Salvadorian national security taskforce highlighted MS-13 shell companies comprised of hotels, bars, restaurants, parking lots and brothels. Salvadorian National Police officers confirmed MS-13 members received lucrative returns on investments and profits. Properties double as rendezvous for clandestine meetings. Law enforcers who conducted “Operation Jaque” discovered that stealing, scrapping or reselling vehicles are other MS-13 channels to clean underground money. Two thousand missing vehicles were recovered in the operation.


Initially auto theft was restricted to MS-13 members based in El Salvador. Today stolen vehicles from America, Mexico and Honduras are exported to El Salvador for disposal as rentals and taxis. MS-13’s extortion practice targets clothing, food and liquor stores located in central plazas. The extortionists demand seventy percent of victims’ business profits. The gang’s Honduran emissaries use loan sharking as their cash cleaner. Money is lent at high interest rates locally known as “gota a gota.” Such loan sharking schemes function in tandem with Colombian organized crime syndicates.


Businesses in Tegucigalpa, San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba, Honduras extorted by MS-13 with thirty percent interest rates. The criminal gang’s portfolio managers also launder money via legitimate lottery ticket sales. MS-13 members cleaned cash by depositing small amounts in bank accounts. Afterwards extortion victims are forced to transfer cash payments via Western Union or the Tigo Money platform to the accounts. Such electronic remitters have a monthly US$750 limit and receive a sim card plus special Tigo identification.





Ricardo Swire - Tuck Magazine

Ricardo Swire

Ricardo Swire is the Principal Consultant at R-L-H Security Consultants & Business Support Services and writes on a number of important issues.

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1 Comment

  1. HHH September 30, at 12:49

    I believe you should do more research about the veracity of this news. The person you mention in this article has never been arrested, he does not even had a warrant. He was accused of money laundry but they never could proved any involvement with this organization. this case was a distractor to cover up the situation of the president's brother who at that time was mentioned as a drug dealer, in the present time he is waiting for a trial in New York. Please don't become one more of those magazines that are being tariff for spreading fake news.


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