Federal prosecutors are expected to bring more indictments against members of the transnational drug gang MS-13 that could connect them to homicides in central Ohio.
The indictments could allow the U.S. attorney general's office to request the death penalty for members of the notorious gang, which is based primarily out of El Salvador but has its origins in Los Angeles, the Columbus Dispatch reported Sunday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Martinez is prosecuting the gang members in the Southern District of Ohio.
"It is a group that wants to grow, and is growing, in Columbus and elsewhere," Martinez said.
In July, prosecutors issued a series of indictments in the Southern District of Ohio against MS-13 members. Those charges focused on extortion and money laundering in order to support the gang's headquarters in El Salvador. Another wave of indictments came in December against MS-13 members. Those charges included drug and weapons offenses, as well as extortion and money laundering.
The past indictments were against 14 different MS-13 members and associates. Two defendants are also being prosecuted for illegally re-entering the United States. All of the gang members are from El Salvador or Honduras.
"At least one of the individuals in there has had temporary protective status," Martinez said. "That's sort of in flux, too."
At least two past homicides in Columbus are believed to be a part of the new set of charges that prosecutors are planning. One of the victims, whose body was found in 2015, was 17 years old. According to the Dispatch, the body had been "chopped 69 times in the head, neck, and torso, and the upper left arm was severed."
U.S. Attorney Benjamin Glassman of the Southern District of Ohio said prosecutors are "not allowed to say" whether they are seeking the death penalty. Sixty crimes, including murder and narcotics offenses, can qualify for the death penalty, the Dispatch noted.