Leader of notorious MS-13 gang arrested (07-27) 13:00 PDT RICHMOND -- A top leader of the notorious MS-13 street gang was arrested this morning in Richmond by a task force of federal and local law enforcement agents seeking to stop the Los Angeles-based gang from establishing itself in the Bay Area, authorities said.
Jose Santos Bonilla, 33, was arrested during a 6 a.m. raid on a southeast Richmond home. Since Bonilla came to the East Bay from San Francisco six months ago, MS-13 members have been linked to three homicides and several other shootings as it sought to carve out territory and intimidate other gangs, authorities said this morning.
Police recovered a loaded shotgun and a handgun at the scene, but searches at two other locations failed to net any additional gang members. An officer shot a dog at Bonilla's house when it broke free from the woman who answered the door and it charged police.
Bonilla joked and laughed with heavily armed officers while being led in handcuffs to a police van. The letters "MS" were tattooed on the back of his shaved skull.
"The MS-13 has established itself as a very violent gang (and) they're starting to get a foothold in the Bay Area," said RichmondPolice Lt. Mark Gagan. "Several of the other individuals we targeted today are implicated in murders and assaults with deadly weapons."
The violence stems from a street war between MS-13 and a rival gang called RST (Richmond Sureno Trece), authorities said. The homicides made police realize MS-13 was branching into the area.
Police declined to release further information on the homicides.
"We were surprised to see we had a number of MS-13 gang members living in Richmond," Gagan said. "This was a safe place to live while they committed their crimes in the Bay Area."
The house in the 1500 block of Monterey Street is in a quiet area of one- and two-story single-family homes with little drug activity. Many neighbors were shocked when a convoy of police vehicles arrived and about 30 heavily armed men and women surrounded the house.
"They're in and out all the time. They have the dogs out front - pit bulls -- guarding the place," said neighborhood resident Oscar Bradley, 26, as he watched police go in and out of the house. "Everybody knows everyone here, but they never talked to anyone."
Bonilla, who police referred to as a "shot caller" because of his alleged high status, has a record of previous arrests on assault with a deadly weapon and firearms charges. He was arrested this morning for immigration violations and could face additional criminal charges stemming from his alleged gang activities.
"When you dismantle a gang, you have to start at the upper echelons," Gagan said.
The raid was the culmination of a six-month operation and included members of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Richmond Police Department.
MS-13, also known as Mara Salvatrucha, is a predominantly Salvadoran gang that has long been active in Central America and Los Angeles, authorities said. In recent years it has spread to several other major U.S. cities.
Many gang members are former members of the Salvadoran military and have gained a reputation for extreme violence, including machete attacks on its enemies. Several local gangs were intimidated by MS-13 as it muscled its way into the Richmond area, police said.
Leader Of Notorious Gang Captured In RichmondFBI, Police Looking For More Suspects By Willie Monroe
July 27 - KGO - Richmond police and federal agents hope they've crippled local factions of a notorious international street gang that stretches from Central America to many parts of the United States.
Dozens of agents with the immigration and customs enforcement,FBI and Richmond police raided several locations early Thursday morning in Richmond. It shocked residents in the normally quiet neighborhood.
Oliver Bradley, neighbor: "There's no crime here & very nice neighborhood. Everyone here leaves their doors unlocked, so it's a real close knit neighborhood, so to see something like that, it's very, very different."
Their targets were more than half a dozen leaders in the notorious international gang Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, as well as a local street gang called Richmond Sur Tres.
Graffiti illustrates just part of the ongoing rivalry that's erupted in serious violence in the past year.
Lt. Mark Gagan, Richmond police department: "These gangs are primarily Latino street gangs who have been responsible for many of the robberies, carjackings, shootings and even murders here in Richmond and in other parts of the Bay Area."
MS-13 has become a major concern for law enforcement in recent years. Starting as former military in el Salvador, the group has turned into a brutal street gang and spread throughout Texas, the East Coast and California. MS-13 has been responsible for a string of crimes ranging from drug dealing, and gun running, to extortion, rape and murder.
These Salvadoran immigrants are familiar with the name and reputation.
"They never do nothing to me or to my family, but I just hear the news what the people say what they're doing you know."
"Not on this area, but more down on 23rd, everybody knows them. And in San Francisco, that's where they're more known at, not on this area."
Lt. Mark Gagan, Richmond police department: "In this case, we were unaware that these kingpins were living in our city. Their crimes were throughout the Bay Area, and not particularly in Richmond. So it's a benefit for us to have such a good working relationship with the federal agencies."
Thirty-two-year old Jose Santos Bonilla was arrested. Several weapons were seized at his house. He's being held on immigration violations, but could face other charges.
Lt. Mark Gagan, Richmond police department: "His arrest will destabilize that gang. One thing we need to identify is when you arrest gang members you cause instability."
They just want to make sure no one else steps up. A few other people were taken into custody for questioning, but several other suspects remain at large.
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