After Three-Month Federal Trial Four MS-13 Gang Members Convicted of Racketeering Conspiracy Involving Multiple Murders
Trial Evidence Focused on the Defendants’ Participation in Four Brutal Murders in 2017
Baltimore, Maryland – On January 24, 2022, a federal jury convicted Milton Portillo-Rodriguez, a/k/a “Little Gangster,” age 26; Juan Carlos Sandoval-Rodriguez, a/k/a “Picaro,” age 22; Oscar Armando Sorto Romero, a/k/a “Lobo,” age 22; and Jose Joya Parada, a/k/a “Calmado,” age 20, for a racketeering conspiracy and for racketeering, connected to their participation in La Mara Salvatrucha, a transnational criminal enterprise also known as MS-13. Portillo-Rodriguez, Sandoval-Rodriguez, and Sorto Romero were each also convicted of multiple counts of murder in aid of racketeering.
The convictions were announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron; Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Sobocinski of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Baltimore Field Office; Special Agent in Charge James R. Mancuso of Homeland Security Investigations, Baltimore Office; Chief Jason Lando of the Frederick City Police Department; Frederick County Sheriff Charles A. “Chuck” Jenkins; Frederick County State’s Attorney J. Charles Smith, III; Chief Amal E. Awad of the Anne Arundel County Police Department; Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Anne Colt Leitess; Chief Malik Aziz of the Prince George’s County Police Department; Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy; Chief Marcus Jones of the Montgomery County Police Department; and Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy.
“The brutal and tragic violence perpetrated by these defendants and their fellow MS-13 gang members is totally unacceptable. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Maryland and our local, state and federal partners are working together to remove these violent gang members to keep our communities safe from the threat of MS-13,” said U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron. “We will continue to work to bring to justice these transnational gangs, and we welcome the continued support from members of our communities in order to carry on our work against MS-13.”
“These convictions mark a profound victory for the people of Maryland, who do not deserve to be intimidated by the reprehensible actions of these criminals,” said James R. Mancuso, Special Agent in Charge of HSI Baltimore. “Hopefully this prosecution and the sentences facing these defendants will deter others from joining criminal organizations. We thank all of our federal and local law enforcement partners for their hard work in making these convictions happen.”
MS-13 is a national and international gang composed primarily of immigrants or descendants from El Salvador and other central American countries. Branches or “cliques” of MS-13, one of the largest street gangs in the United States, operate throughout Frederick County, Anne Arundel County, Prince George’s County, and Montgomery County, Maryland. The defendants were members of the Fulton Locos Salvatruchas (“FLS”) and Parque Vista (“PVLS”) cliques.
The evidence at the three-month trial established that between 2015 and 2017, the defendants engaged in drug trafficking, extortion, and brutal acts of violence against suspected rivals of the gang in an effort to increase MS-13’s power in the Frederick County, Montgomery County, and Anne Arundel County areas of Maryland.
At all times of this conspiracy, members of MS-13 were expected to protect the name, reputation, and status of the gang from rival gang members and other persons. To protect the gang and to enhance its reputation, MS-13 members were expected to use any means necessary to force respect from those who showed disrespect, including acts of intimidation and violence. MS-13 had mottos consistent with its rules, beliefs, expectations and reputation including “mata, viola, controla,” which translates as, “kill, rape, control,” and “ver, oir y callar,” which means, “see nothing, hear nothing and say nothing.” One of the principal rules of MS-13 is that its members must attack and kill rivals, often referred to as “chavalas,” whenever possible.
MS-13 members are required to commit acts of violence both to maintain membership and discipline within the gang, as well as against rival gang members. Participation in criminal activity by a member, particularly in violent acts directed at rival gangs or as directed by gang leadership, increase the respect accorded to that member, resulting in that member maintaining or increasing his position in the gang, and opens the door to promotion to a leadership position.
As detailed during the trial, from 2015 through 2017, the Fulton clique of MS-13 sought to increase its presence in Frederick, Wheaton, and Annapolis, Maryland through numerous acts of violence, extortion, and drug sales. Trial evidence focused on the defendants’ participation in four grisly murders of those suspected of association with rival gang members carried out in 2017. First, on March 31, 2017, the gang lured a 17-year old from Annapolis to Wheaton Regional Park, where they stabbed him over 100 times, dismembered him, removed his heart, and buried him in a clandestine grave. Two days later, the gang kidnapped another individual from Silver Spring, Maryland and brought him to a wooded area in Frederick, where he was killed with knives and machetes before being buried in a shallow grave. On June 24, 2017, the gang used a female associate to lure a 21-year old woman into a car and then took her to a wooded area in Crownsville, where she was killed, her body was dismembered, and she was buried in a clandestine grave. Finally, on August 5, 2017, the gang lured another victim to Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis, where he was hit in the head with a hammer and slashed with a machete until he died. He was also buried in a grave in the park.
According to trial evidence, these murders were all intended to maintain and increase the status of MS-13, as well as allow individual MS-13 members to maintain or increase their status within the gang.
As a result of this guilty verdict, more than 30 defendants have been convicted in this and a related case.
Portillo-Rodriguez, Sandoval-Rodriguez, and Sorto Romero each face a mandatory sentence of life in prison for each of the murder in aid of racketeering charges. Joya Parada faces a maximum sentenced of life in prison for the racketeering conspiracy and for racketeering. Chief U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar has scheduled sentencing for Joya Parada for April 8, 2022, at 10 a.m.; Sandoval Rodriguez for April 22, 2022, at 4 p.m.; Sorto Romero for May 6, 2022, at 10 a.m.; and Portillo Rodriguez for May 13, 2022, at 10 a.m.
This case is part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), a program bringing together all levels of law enforcement and the communities they serve to reduce violent crime and make our neighborhoods safer for everyone. Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN) is the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts. PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.
This case is an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.
Anyone with information about MS-13 is encouraged to provide their tips to law enforcement. The FBI and Homeland Security Investigations both have nationwide tiplines that you can call to report what you know. You can reach the FBI at 1-866-STP-MS13 (1-866-787-6713), or you can call HSI at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE.
United States Attorney Erek L. Barron commended the FBI; HSI; the Frederick Police Department; the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office; the Anne Arundel, Montgomery, and Prince George’s County Police Departments; and the Anne Arundel, Frederick, Montgomery, and Prince George’s County State’s Attorneys for their work in the investigation, and the Baltimore County Police Department for its assistance. Mr. Barron thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kenneth S. Clark, Zachary Stendig, and Anatoly Smolkin, who are prosecuting this case.
For more information on the Maryland U.S. Attorney’s Office, its priorities, and resources available to help the community, please visit https://www.justice.gov/usao-md/project-safe-neighborhoods-psnexile and https://www.justice.gov/usao-md/community-outreach.
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