Justice Department announces task force to tackle international criminal gangs

The Justice Department announced Monday it was creating a task force to coordinate the fight against international criminal gangs such as MS-13 and drug cartels from Mexico and Columbia, the latest effort to control cross-border organized crime groups that the Trump administration has trumpeted as a major threat.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the task force would help to better “coordinate our efforts to take each of these groups off our streets for good.”

In a statement, Sessions said the task force would focus on five transnational criminal organizations: MS-13, the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion, the Sinaloa Cartel, the Clan del Golfo and Lebanese Hezbollah.

Hezbollah, which the U.S. considers a foreign terrorist group, long has raised and laundered money in the United States. But several alleged members of the group were charged with terrorism offenses last year, including one man who allegedly was scouting John F. Kennedy Airport in New York for a potential Hezbollah attack.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will lead the task force, while five veteran prosecutors from around the country were tapped to lead investigations and prosecutions against the five groups.

The push against Mexico’s Sinaloa Cartel will be led by Matthew Sutton, an assistant U.S. attorney in the Southern District of California. Other prosecutors were named in New York, Florida and in Washington, D.C.

“This is about being focused on bringing cases and helping to dismantle these organizations,” said a senior Justice Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal planning. “These prosecutors have been bringing cases against these groups for decades.”

Associate Deputy Attorney General Patrick Hovakimian was named as the first director of Counter Transnational Organized Crime to coordinate strategies and tactics. Hovakimian, a former federal prosecutor in Southern California, has worked in the deputy attorney general’s office since early 2017.

Sessions also appointed Adam Cohen, a former prosecutor in Florida who now is a senior lawyer in the Justice Department’s criminal division, to run the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force.

That task force was created in 1982 and targets major drug trafficking and money laundering organizations. It was led until last December by Bruce Ohr, but he was removed after he came under fire from the White House for his actions in the Justice Department’s investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign.

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© 2018 Los Angeles Times

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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