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United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur announces a new FBI tipline to report MS-13 gang activity.
United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Robert K. Hur announces a new FBI tipline to report MS-13 gang activity. (Lilly Price / The Capital/The Capital)

Victims of violence inflicted by MS-13 gang activity can report their experience by calling a new FBI tipline that promises to protect callers’ identities, Maryland’s U.S. Attorney Robert Hur announced Tuesday in Greenbelt.

Maryland is the first state to announce the nationwide initiative, which urges victims of violence or individuals with information on the notoriously violent Salvadoran gang known as Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, to report information to the FBI through a secure, 24/7 tipline. Anne Arundel and Annapolis law enforcement have worked with federal officials on a sprawling racketeering case against more than two dozen suspected MS-13 members in the area.

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The goal of the tipline is to streamline information and create a well-known, public channel between the agency and communities. The number is 1-866-STP-MS13 (1-866-787-6713).

“We want people who are being victimized by the gang to know and to understand that that can end,” Hur said at the press conference.

After calling the tipline, callers will have the option to speak with a Spanish-speaking operator or report an MS-13 matter to the federal agency. The officer handling the tipline will determine what region the tip came from and hand off the information to the closest FBI field office to follow up with the tipster.

Hur was joined by eight other members of national and statewide law enforcement agencies, including Ross Passman from Anne Arundel County police and Annapolis Police Deputy Chief Paul Herman.

MS-13 members recruit and target Hispanic teens, sometimes as young as 11 or 12 years old, said Special Agent Jennifer Boone, from the Baltimore FBI field office.

Four people associated with MS-13 pleaded guilty in October to two murders in Anne Arundel County. Ronald Mendez-Sosa, 21, of Edgewater, Brenda Argueta, 20, of Silver Spring, Ervin Arrue-Figueroa, 20, of Annapolis, and Francisco Ramirez-Pena, 24, of Annapolis, admitted they participated in the murder of 21-year-old Annapolis resident Jennifer Rivera-Lopez. She was attacked with machetes and decapitated. Her body was found buried in Crownsville park in September 2017.

Mendez-Sosa also said he aided in the killing of a 17-year-old Neri Giovani Bonilla-Palacios who was found decapitated and buried in a wooded area off Open View Lane in Annapolis.

In October, Anne Arundel County police offered a $10,000 reward to anyone with information that could lead to the discovery of two missing teenagers. Javier Rodriguez went missing in 2015 and David Rivera went missing in 2017. Police have not linked those disappearances to MS-13 but they are similar to others in the area.

Herman declined to comment on the missing teens.

The FBI hopes to build trust in communities plagued by MS-13 violence by promising to protect the identities of tipsters.

Undocumented immigrants who fear to report to law enforcement due to deportation risks are encouraged to use their voice and report gang activity to the tipline.

“We can and we have and we’re willing to continue helping victims and witnesses with their immigration status here in the U.S., should that be necessary,” Hur said.

For undocumented immigrants with detainers filed against them, the agency said they will handle tipsters on a “case by case basis.”

The FBI is rolling out a Spanish-language public service announcement to advertise the tipline. The PSA video depicts a woman, whose identity is concealed, speaking about her experience as a victim of extortion by MS-13. For years the gang promised to hurt her family if she didn’t continuously pay them money. The gang murdered her son.

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“Our hope is the story of the brave woman in the video … will encourage others to call the dedicated FBI MS-13 tipline,” Boone said.

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