Tennessee Gang Threat: MS-13 Recruiting, Victimizing Hispanics

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Knoxville (WVLT) - They call themselves members of Mara Salvatrucha, MS-13 for short, and their reputation precedes them.

A record of violence so brutal, so long, that some federal agencies consider MS-13, the most serious gang threat our country faces.

Volunteer TV's Gordon Boyd been asking whether a major indictment in Nashville, could be signs of trouble here.

Apparently, not yet.

MS-13's roots are in El Salvador and the Dominican Republic, but federal agents say it's spread, as Hispanic immigrants have spread.

"MS swept into Nashville, like a pack of jackals, and they left a group of bloody victims in their wake," says ATF Agent Jim Cavanaugh.

Prosecutors and Federal Agents allege the body count began almost a year ago. A man shot and killed outside a bar in Madison, Tennessee.

Roughly six months later, two men shot dead in their car.

Thirteen men now stand accused of planning those murders and 7 more, their alleged gang ties, considered a criminal conspiracy.

"Their victims were mostly Latino, they preyed on other Latino citizens," says US Attorney Craig Morford.

"Point though, law enforcement will find a reference to 13 with a gang member, and will believe its MS 13, when in fact, its other gangs that use the number 13," explains Special Agent Mike MacLean, from the FBI Violent Crime/Criminal Enterprise Squad.

The Knoxville FBI's Gang Specialist says there's no doubt MS-13 has infiltrated Middle Tennessee, but East Tennessee may be more a victim of wannabes.

"We've had cases where they were just talking, they were Hispanic males who knew, just with the reputation of MS, no one was gonna screw with them," Special Agent MacLean says.

The threat of MS-13's, or any Hispanic gang, Special Agent Mike MacLeans says, grows as the recruiting pool grows, that is, where the jobs, and money go.

"Where we see heavy Hispanic gang activity here, we see quite a bit in Lenior City, heavy into construction right now, the potential is there," Special Agent MacLean. "We take every one of those sightings incredibly seriously."

Knoxville FBI agents meet monthly with police and sheriff's departments, to track reports of gang trouble.

TBI says it's found nothing to tie MS-13 to the murder of a Highway Patrolman in West Tennessee this past weekend.

No question, MS-13 has its own mystique and mythology.

Internet reports claim it has as many as 50,000 members. More than four times FBI estimates.