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Feds shuffle forces to "ramp up" against international crime gangs

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
  • "Changing criminal environment" cited as reason for shuffle
  • Prosecutors fighting organized crime will merge with those fighting gangs
  • Authorities estimate about 1 million gang members belong to 20,000 gangs in U.S.
  • Gangs with international ties are trafficking drugs, weapons, illegal aliens, feds say

Washington (CNN) -- Federal prosecutors battling organized crime and those fighting criminal gangs are being merged into a single unit in a move designed to "ramp up" the fight against international criminal organizations, the Justice Department announced Monday.

Increasingly organized gangs with international ties are trafficking drugs, weapons and illegal aliens, and posing a serious threat to communities in every one of the 50 states.

Authorities estimate about one million gang members belong to 20,000 gangs, including street and neighborhood gangs. In the past few years gang activity has spread from major cities to suburban areas and smaller communities.

Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer noted "the long and storied history" of the prosecutors of the Justice Department's organized crime unit who took on and largely broke the back of the mafia, sending mob bosses to prison.

Breuer insisted the move does not lessen the commitment to fighting traditional family-based organized crime, but noted the changing criminal environment in announcing the internal government shuffle.

"More recently the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section has been focusing its efforts on combating international organized crime groups that threaten our safety and security. I want us to ramp up our efforts in this area," Breuer told reporters.

He cited MS-13, a brutal gang with roots in El Salvador, as well as crime groups that originated in Russia and the former Soviet Union as examples of threats to U.S. communities.

To consolidate the moves, the Justice Department is moving its Northern Virginia office called the National Gang Targeting, Enforcement and Coordination Center to be located with the DEA-led Special Operations Division where agents and lawyers of several agencies work side-by-side.

A report by the inspector general had urged better use of resources, improved information sharing and moves to lessen duplication of effort.

Some of the changes will require congressional approval, but Justice Department officials believe lawmakers have signaled they will quickly approve the changes.