THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everybody. I think we have all of our journalists in with us at this moment. My name is Jed Wolfington, and I am one of the officers at the Washington Foreign Press Center, and I would like to welcome you to today’s virtual briefing of the Department of State’s Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program.
We are joined today by Ambassador Todd Robinson, Assistant Secretary of the Bureau for International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. Mr. Robinson is joined by the Associate Director, Office of Foreign Assets Control, U.S. Department of the Treasury, Mr. Gregory Gatjanis. And from New York, we are happy to welcome Director of the Department of Justice’s Joint Task Force Vulcan, Mr. John J. Durham.
I just want to remind everybody that this briefing is on the record. We will post a transcript and the video of this briefing later today on our website, which is fpc.state.gov. Please make sure that your Zoom profile has your full name and the media outlet that you represent. And with that, I will pass it over to Ambassador Robinson. Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: Hi, and thank you for joining us today. I’d also like to thank my colleagues from the Department of Treasury and the Department of Justice for being on this call. As you saw earlier today, the U.S. Department of State announced a major reward offer of up to $5 million for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of Yulán Adonay Archaga Carías, alias “Porky,” also known as Alex Mendoza. Archaga Carías is the highest-ranking member of Mara Salvatrucha 13, or MS-13, in Honduras. He is responsible for directing the gang’s criminal activities, including drug trafficking, money laundering, murder, and other violent crimes. Archaga Carías is also responsible for the gang’s movement of large amounts of cocaine into the United States.
The reward is being – the reward offer is being released in coordination with sanctions against Archaga Carías from the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and the U.S. Department of Justice’s criminal indictment against him. These actions showcase a major effort across the United States Government. He is a Most Wanted Fugitive by the FBI, DEA, and DHS Homeland Security Investigations.
This major reward of up to $5 million is being made under the Department of State’s Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program. Since its inception in 2013, this program and the older and closely related Narcotics Rewards Program have helped bring more than 75 transnational criminals and major narcotics traffickers to justice. The Department of State has paid more than $155 million in rewards under these programs for information leading to apprehensions and convictions.
We are offering this reward because we are committed to supporting the efforts of our law enforcement partners in Honduras in their quest for justice against violent MS-13 gang members like Archaga Carías. We believe that this reward offer will provide an incentive for individuals to come forward with information that will lead to his arrest and conviction.
Thank you, and I hope – and I would be happy to answer your questions – any questions you may have after we hear from my other colleagues today.
MR GATJANIS: Thank you, Ambassador. If I may, my name is Greg Gatjanis. I’m with – the associate director with the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the U.S. Department of – Treasury Department. On behalf of Treasury and OFAC, it’s a pleasure to be with all of you today here for this important announcement.
Treasury sanctions against transnational criminal organizations aim to sever their access to the U.S. financial system as well as to disrupt how they raise, move, use, and store money for their criminal enterprises. Obviously by today’s headlines, sanctions are among the most prominent and powerful U.S. tools used to protect national security. They’re reserved for those individuals and entities that pose an extraordinary threat to the foreign policy, national security, and economy of the United States as well as international peace and security.
MS-13 is one of the hemisphere’s most violent street gangs. Because of the systemic use of murder and its capacity to terrorize civilian populations and destabilize regions and the rule of law, MS-13 indeed constitutes a national and regional and international security threat. The organization engages in human smuggling, narcotics, sex trafficking, murder, contract killings, racketeering, blackmail, extortion, as well as immigration offenses.
In 2012, MS-13 was among the first criminal organizations to be designated by the Treasury Department under its new transnational crime authority at the time. In the last decade, Treasury has not let up its relentless pressure on MS-13 to recognize the harm that it does in the region and within the United States. Therefore, we were pleased to announce along with the other U.S. agencies here today that the Treasury has imposed further financial sanctions on MS-13’s leader and an associate.
But first, as Yulán Adonay Archaga Carías, a.k.a. “Porky” – Archaga Carías is a leader of MS-13 in Honduras, where he has overseen the gang’s drug trafficking operations, including processing, receiving, transporting, and distributing multi-ton loads of cocaine through Honduras to the United States markets in cities across the country. To preserve power, he has directed murderous attacks, ordered the contract killing of rival gang members, and contracted out MS‑13 assassins to other drug organizations for payment. In 2020, while in custody, Archaga Carías escaped after a gang of 20 men attacked a courthouse in El Progreso, Honduras, and spirited him away, leaving five people dead. In 2021, a U.S. grand jury indicted him. He is on the Most Wanted list of the FBI, the DEA, and HSI.
The second person we sanctioned today: David Elias Campbell Licona, an MS-13 associated who planned and coordinated retaliatory acts of violence with Archaga Carías and assisted MS-13 in establishing businesses to help launder the gang’s drug profits. Campbell Licona and MS-13 used businesses they owned and controlled to launder drug proceeds, including through banks in the United States. He is in custody in Nicaragua and under U.S. indictment.
As a result of these sanctions, these criminals are immediately cut off from the U.S. financial system. Tens of thousands of U.S. financial institutions worldwide have already been alerted that Archaga Carías and Campbell Licona are now under Treasury sanctions for their affiliation with MS-13. Any of their assets found in the United States or under U.S. jurisdiction worldwide will be immediately blocked.
Further, Treasury warns that any person who provides or attempts to provide material support to these two individuals or anyone else sanctioned by the Treasury Department may find themselves becoming the target of U.S. sanctions.
Treasury thanks our interagency partners for their leadership and cooperation with Treasury on today’s action. Especially, we want to recognize the Justice Department’s Vulcan Task Force for its extraordinary leadership, and the State Department for leading this Transnational Organized Crime Rewards program.
Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: And with that, we can move on to Director Durham.
MR DURHAM: Good afternoon. I want to thank my colleagues from the State and Treasury Departments for your partnership for Joint Task Force Vulcan and for today’s announcements of the $5 million reward and the OFAC sanctions.
Yulán Adonay Archaga Carías, who’s also known as Alexander Mendoza and “Porky,” is a high-ranking Honduran leader of MS-13. As my colleagues noted, MS-13 is a transnational criminal organization, has tens of thousands of members around the world, and for more than two decades MS-13 has engaged in brutal acts of violence which have had a devastating impact across the United States and they’ve been a root cause of instability in Central America.
In February of 2020, Archaga Carías escaped from a courthouse in Honduras with the help of numerous armed men. They were disguised as police officers, and unfortunately, during that escape, several real police officers were killed. Surveillance footage which has been released by some of the Honduran news outlets depicted Archaga Carías and others in a shootout with the police as he exited the courthouse. He was carrying an AK-47 rifle. In September of 2021, Archaga Carías and his co-defendant Campbell were indicted in the Southern District of New York on racketeering, narcotics trafficking, and firearms charges stemming from their leadership of MS-13’s drug trafficking operation in Honduras, ordering numerous murders, providing sicarios for drug trafficking organizations, and using machine guns and other firearms. Archaga Carías was placed on the FBI, DEA, and HSI’s 10 Most Wanted lists in November of 2021, but he remains a fugitive. Campbell is in custody in Nicaragua.
Now, executive orders from several presidential administrations have recognized that transnational criminal organizations such as MS-13 constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States, and have directed a whole-of-government strategy to disrupt these organizations.
Since its creation in August 2019 by Attorney General Barr, Joint Task Force Vulcan has led that strategy for the Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners to dismantle MS-13’s global leadership. The indictment of Archaga Carías and Campbell would not have been possible without the tireless efforts of all the members of Joint Task Force Vulcan, including the FBI, HSI, DEA, ATF, Marshals Service, Bureau of Prisons, USAID OIG, and the tremendous support of DOJ components, including United States attorneys offices across the country, the organized crime drug enforcement task forces, the national security division, and criminal division.
The ongoing investigations by those partners and today’s announcements of the sanctions and $5 million reward will exert additional pressure on MS-13’s financial network, encourage people to come forward with information that will lead to Archaga Carías’s capture and conviction, and demonstrate our whole-of-government commitment to dismantle MS-13’s command and control structure throughout the Western Hemisphere. Thank you.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Mr. Durham. Thank you, everyone, for their remarks. We can now open it up for question and answer. As – just a reminder that you can either raise your hand virtually or place a question in the chat box. And Alejandra has asked a question. Alejandra, would you like to ask this question yourself? I see that your hand is raised. You can unmute yourself and ask the question. Thank you.
QUESTION: Hey, hello, good afternoon. Thank you so much for doing this call. My question is directed towards Treasury and is if they have already identified any assets in the U.S. by these individuals. And then the second question directed, I would say, to all of you is if you have any leads or any idea where this individual might be. Thank you so much.
MR GATJANIS: Thank you, Alejandra, for the question. It’s a very good question and a logical one. The way sanctions work is as soon as we make the announcement of sanctions against foreign persons who threaten the United States, as I mentioned, we will alert tens of thousands of U.S. financial institutions electronically. What then happens, they actually have 10 business days to scour their accounts to look for any assets, property, financial accounts of any kind that may belong to the person we have sanctioned. They are then required within 10 days to notify us of a possible so-called hit that they have found, money belonging to the individual we have sanctioned.
So it is a bit early right now to determine whether or not there has – that we have blocked any money at this point. But I will say what is helpful is not only – the value of sanctions is not only the stripping finances away from criminals, but it’s the chilling effect that sanctions will have on criminals, and particularly their associates who want to abandon them for fear of becoming targeted for sanctions themselves. But thank you for your question.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Gatjanis. Thank you, Alejandra. Alejandra, I see you still have your hand raised. Was that because you had another question, or if someone else has a question?
QUESTION: It is the second part of my question, if the U.S. Government has any idea or any leads or – of where this individual might be, and if that is the case, if they have already submitted maybe an extradition request to any government or submitted an INTERPOL request. Thank you so much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: Hey Alejandra, thanks for the question. At least from the State Department side, I don’t believe we have a sense of where he might be.
MR DURHAM: From —
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador Robinson. Yeah, go ahead, Mr. Durham.
MR DURHAM: Yeah, from DOJ’s perspective, obviously Archaga Carías is a Honduran citizen, so we’re actively pursuing leads there. But we’re also following leads wherever they might go throughout the region.
MODERATOR: So we do have an advance question that I will share: “Could you speak a little bit about cooperation with regional partners in the rewards program?”
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: Sure. We – well, what I will say is we have in the past – and in some cases currently – a fairly robust relationship with law enforcement in the region. We, INL, of course, are responsible for helping to train and equip prosecutors, police, border security guards, working of course with our interagency partners at DHS, Department of Justice – Department of Homeland Security, Department of Justice, in some cases the United States Coast Guard. And I would say we have a relationship on some level with just about all of the countries in the region except for maybe Nicaragua and Cuba and Venezuela.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador Robinson.
MR DURHAM: Sorry, just to add on to that, I think MS-13 is a good example, but it’s true with any of the transnational organized crime groups. These groups are spread out around the world, so we simply cannot do these cases without engaging with our foreign partners throughout those countries to help develop evidence and witnesses so that we can bring these prosecutions. And I will say in particular, in addition to the reward that’s being offered today, INL is a tremendous partner in that they fund a significant number of vetted officers. And focusing specifically on the MS-13 threat, INL has funded TAG officers in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala for years, and they’ve been crucial allies in this fight.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Mr. Durham. Were there any other questions from the journalists who have joined us?
If not, I’d like to offer the briefers any – an opportunity to offer any closing remarks.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY ROBINSON: Yeah, I would just say thank you for joining us today, and if there are any follow-up questions in the future, we’re happy to address them.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, and just to let people know that we have shared a link to the video the briefers referred to in the chat box, and we will also be sending emails with the press release that came out early today. This concludes our briefing. I want to give special thanks to our briefers. Thank you for sharing your time with us today, and to those of you who participated, we will post a transcript for this briefing at fpc.state.gov later in the day. Thank you very much.