▶ Watch Video: The history of MS-13, from El Salvador to the U.S.

The U.S. government is offering a $5 million reward for information to put MS-13 gang leader Yulan Adonay Archaga Carías, also known as “El Porky,” behind bars.

Archaga Carías is the highest-ranking MS-13 gang member in Honduras and is responsible for importing large amounts of cocaine into the United States, along with directing the gang’s other criminal activities, including money laundering, murder, kidnappings and other violent crimes, the State Department said in a press release announcing the reward.

“The arrest of such a prominent leader as El Porky creates suspicion, division, and instability within MS-13, particularly among the top leadership,” said Robert F. Clifford, a former FBI agent and director of the MS-13 National Gang Taskforce who led efforts to combat MS-13, including several deployments throughout Central America. 

“The higher the amount, a potential informant always evaluates the risk versus return of taking such a drastic step as becoming an informant,” Clifford added. “If he or she is already considering trying to depart MS-13, this will significantly impact their decision to cross that line.”

The U.S. Treasury Department also announced sanctions against Archaga Carías and an MS-13 associate based in Nicaragua, David Elias Campbell Licona, who also goes by “Jorge Eduardo Perez Paz,” for drug trafficking and contract killings. In 2012, MS-13 became the first street gang to be designated by the Treasury as a transnational criminal organization.

The U.S. and Honduras have been pursuing Archaga Carías for years. In 2020, supporters of Archaga Carías staged a violent rescue operation to help him elude prison. He had just arrived at a courthouse in El Progreso, about 18 miles from San Pedro Sula, when a group of over 20 men wearing military and anti-gang force uniforms carrying assault weapons attacked, the U.S. government said.  The group succeeded in removing Archaga Carías from the courthouse in El Progreso, leaving at least five dead, including police officers. 

In 2021 the FBI added him to their top 10 fugitive list, offering $100,000 for his arrest, and the Department of Justice indicted him on racketeering, narcotics trafficking and firearms offenses. Prosecutors alleged he was responsible for trafficking multi-ton shipments of cocaine into the U.S. and ordering and overseeing the multiple violent acts carried out to make those shipments happen.

MS-13 is considered one of the most violent criminal gangs in the world and its operations in Northern Triangle countries –Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras– have been one of main factors pushing migrants to flee for the United States. 

The Department of Justice also estimates MS-13 has an estimated 10,000 members across the United States. On October 15, 2018, the Department of Justice created a transnational criminal task force specifically targeting MS-13. From 2016 to 2020, about 500 MS-13 members have been convicted of crimes, with 37 serving life sentences, officials said.

“MS-13 is a highly organized criminal enterprise with senior leadership based in El Salvador and Honduras, with tentacles that reach deep into the United States,” said Clifford, the former FBI agent. “At times MS-13 has been portrayed as just another street gang with cliques operating independently, and this is a dangerous misunderstanding.”