Ten men and one woman are now charged in Alexandria federal court of involvement in assaulting and sex trafficking the girl over those three months.
In the past decade, authorities say Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, has increasingly turned to prostitution as way to generate income alongside drug trafficking. The victims are often young runaways.
“We will not stop until MS-13 is contained and eradicated,” U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger said at a news conference after the arrests.
Terwilliger was recently at the White House for a news conference with President Trump announcing a slew of charges against alleged MS-13 members, including the first involving terrorism. On Wednesday he credited the Trump administration for “a stepped-up effort” against the gang, along with new funding to help victims of human trafficking.
Trump often invokes the menace of MS-13 as reason to build a wall along the southern border and deport undocumented immigrants. Terwilliger argued that the administration focus on MS-13 is helpful, not harmful, to Central American immigrants preyed upon by the gang.
“Fighting MS-13 is not anti-immigrant, fighting MS-13 is about as pro-immigrant as it gets,” he said.
The gang replenishes after arrests with new migrants, Terwilliger said, and “people aren’t just pouring across our borders anymore.”
The defendants do not yet have attorneys and said little in a brief court appearance Wednesday. The one woman charged told the judge she “had nothing to do with any of those people.”
The girl told law enforcement she was beaten on the back and legs with a metal baseball bat as an initiation into the gang and as punishment for stealing and spending time with rival gang members, according to the criminal complaint. Both beatings involved 26 blows, and weeks later she was still bruised.
“If I want to leave the gang MS13 will kill me,” she said in a text message after her first beating, according to the court papers, which include a series of text messages sent by the girl and various suspects. One defendant said in a text message to an associate in El Salvador that he told the girl “her family will be first if she does not keep her mouth shut.”
Prosecutors said members of the gang charged men $100 to rape the girl for an hour; they also traded her among themselves.
“You can have her all week if you want,” one defendant texted another in September. “Just give me something under the table.”
One of the men charged expressed reservations when the girl was being kept at his home in Greenbelt, Md., according to the court documents.
“I kicked a guy out of the apartment today,” he said in a message to a friend. “He brought a girl to the apartment. She is a minor and that is a serious offense over here.” He said he had “asked the little girl how old she was,” and that she said she was 18 but it was obviously untrue.
Two of the men are charged with violent crimes in aid of racketeering, a crime punishable by 20 years in prison. Nine men and one woman are charged with sex trafficking a minor, punishable by at least 15 years and up to life in prison.