FARMINGTON — San Juan County Sheriff's Office deputies arrested a man believed to be a member of one of the "most violent and fastest growing gangs in America," Wednesday night, said Sgt. Tyler Truby of the San Juan County Sheriff's Office.

Jesus Morales, 24, of Farmington, was arrested for a misdemeanor warrant for failure to pay fines with a $218 cash-only bond, deputies said.

The United States Immigration, Customs and Enforcement (ICE) Office placed a detainer on Morales, who allegedly entered the United States illegally from El Salvador, Truby said.

Morales is reported to be a confirmed member of the international gang Mara Salvatrucha, commonly referred to as MS13, deputies said. The gang has roots in El Salvador but has "widely spread" throughout South America and Central America.

"We don't believe (MS13 activity) is prevalent in our county," Truby said. "He's the only MS13 gang member we've identified in our county."

Truby noted that MS13 is heavily involved with the distribution and trafficking of illicit drugs, including methamphetamine. Additionally, the gang is alleged to deal in firearms trafficking.

FBI Special Agent Bill Elwell confirmed that MS13 is a "well-known national threat."

"We don't seem to have as many members (in New Mexico)," Elwell said. "We are tracking them here and trying to gain more information about them.



A gang's threat level is determined by membership numbers, involvement in illegal activities and the establishment of gang territories, he said.

"Those activities are very lucrative for gangs," Elwell added.

The County Sheriff's Office Gang Suppression Unit (GSU) learned of Morales' warrants several weeks ago and have been searching for him since, Truby said. At around 11:30 p.m. Wednesday, GSU deputies found him at a local motel. He was taken into custody without incident and was booked in to the San Juan County Detention Center.

Truby said deputies believe Morales was in the area because of work.

When Morales' local charges are adjudicated, he will be released to ICE, and will likely be deported to El Salvador, deputies said.

Rhys Saunders: