Story highlights

Gang leader pleads guilty in federal court

Dennis Gil-Bernandez gets 76 years

Conspiracy led to murders, officials say

Washington CNN —  

A leader of the violent MS-13 gang in the Middle Atlantic region pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court to a conspiracy responsible for a long list of crimes, including murders, federal authorities announced Friday.

Dennis Gil-Bernardez, a native of Honduras, was considered a key figure by federal officials who launched a major campaign to cripple the MS-13 organization in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

He received a 76-year sentence.

Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, originated in Los Angeles 20 years ago among Salvadoran immigrants fleeing the country’s civil war. The government says it has now grown to about 10,000 members in the United States. In October, the Obama administration named the organization a transnational criminal enterprise, with the goal of freezing millions of dollars in profits from drug and sex trafficking operations.

Gil-Bernardez allegedly told authorities that the gang now has a presence in 20 states and the District of Columbia.

The Gil-Bernardez plea Friday included the admission of two murders in Washington, D.C. A third man he severely wounded survived, authorities said. Gil-Bernandez admitted that, after consulting with a top MS-13 leader jailed in El Salvador, he ordered one of the murders to be done by a conspirator. The target of that brutal killing was found stabbed to death on a street in the nation’s capital, officials said.

Several MS-13 members were indicted in Washington in November 2011. Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer described the charges as “a chilling array of violent crimes, including shootings, stabbings, and kidnappings.”

Gil-Bernardez was previously convicted in Virginia of multiple shootings and sentenced to 80 years in prison.