U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Monday designated five groups, including the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Central American street gang MS-13, as “top transnational organized crime threats,” targeting them for stepped up prosecutions by the Justice Department.
Sessions identified the other three groups as Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion, a Mexican criminal group; the Sinaloa Cartel, an international organized crime syndicate based in Mexico; and Clan del Golfo, a Colombian drug cartel, Sessions said.
Speaking to a group of law enforcement officials in Washington, Sessions described the designations as “our next steps to carry out President [Donald] Trump’s order to take MS-13 and other [transnational criminal organizations] off of our streets.”
“Taking on transnational criminal groups like the cartels is a priority for this president and for his administration,” Sessions said. “The same day I was sworn in as Attorney General, President Trump ordered me to disrupt and dismantle these groups.”
Session said the five organizations had been identified by the FBI, DEA, the Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF), and the Justice Department’s criminal division.
A task force of prosecutors organized into five committees has been created to “coordinate our efforts and develop a plan to take each of these groups off of our streets for good,” he added. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein will head up the task force.
Each subcommittee will be led by a prosecutor experienced in investigating and prosecuting the target group.
The subcommittee on Hezbollah will be headed by Ilan Graff, an assistant US attorney in the Southern District of New York overseeing the prosecution of two alleged Hezbollah members, the first Hezbollah operatives to be charged with terrorism in the United States.
The subcommittee will be staffed by members of the Hezbollah Financing and Narcoterrorism Team. Sessions created the team in January as part of the Trump Administration’s anti-Hezbollah campaign, accusing the group of involvement in drug trafficking and vowing to “prosecute those who provide financial support to Hezbollah in an effort to eradicate the illicit networks that fuel terrorism and the drug crisis.”
The Lebanese Hezbollah was designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department in 1997.
Last October, Sessions designated MS-13, the only street gang listed as a transnational criminal organization in the United States, as a priority for the OCDETF, ordering prosecutors to use every law in their toolkit — from tax laws to firearms laws — to prosecute its members.
“Transnational Criminal Organizations – whether they are gangs, drug trafficking cartels or terrorist groups — are a scourge,” Rosenstein said. “They sow violence and sell poisonous drugs. They bribe public officials and fuel corruption. They terrorize law-abiding citizens.”
The newly formed task force has been charged with providing the attorney general with recommendations within 90 days with the best ways to prosecute the target groups.
“With the advice of these experienced professionals, the Department will be better able to follow the President’s order and dismantle these organized criminals,” Sessions said.