El Salvador court gives hefty sentences in mass gang trial

A court in El Salvador has sentenced 373 convicted members of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang to prison terms of up to 74 years

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador -- A court in El Salvador has sentenced 373 convicted members of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang to prison terms of up to 74 years in a mass trial historic for the sheer number of defendants, authorities said Friday.

The courts' press office said the case also confirmed secret negotiations between criminal groups and politicians over support for the 2014 elections, evidence of which was presented at trial in videos, photos and transcripts of intercepted telephone calls.

in his ruling, Judge Godofredo Salazar criticized prosecutors for failing to charge the politicians, from both the leftist Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN, and the conservative Republican Nationalist Alliance, or Arena.

Among those in the recordings were Norman Quijano, ex-president of the Legislative Assembly, and San Salvador Mayor Ernesto Muyshondt of Arena, as well as an FMLN former interior minister.

Quijano has denied the allegations and said he never met with gangsters to negotiate anything at all. Muyshondt acknowledged in an interview with local TV that he met with gang members, but said it was to ask them to allow his party supporters to vote.