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BALTIMORE – An investigation headed by the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore Field Office resulted in life in federal prison for a notorious gang member for his part in a racketeering conspiracy involving three gruesome murders. On May 25, Juan Carlos Sandoval-Rodriguez, a/k/a “Picaro,” “El Pastor,” and “Gasper,” age 24, of Annapolis, Maryland was sentenced to serve life in prison for a racketeering conspiracy, racketeering, attempted murder, assault with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit murder in aid or racketeering, as well as related violent crimes in aid of racketeering, including three murders, connected to his participation in La Mara Salvatrucha, a transnational criminal enterprise also known as MS-13.
After a nine-day trial, in October 2019, a federal jury convicted Sandoval-Rodriguez of murder in aid of racketeering, and conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering, in connection with a murder that occurred in March 2016. Then on January 24, after a three-month trial, a federal jury convicted Sandoval-Rodriguez of racketeering charges, along with co-defendants Jose Joya Parada, a/k/a “Calmado,” age 21; Oscar Armando Sorto Romero, a/k/a “Lobo,” age 23; and Milton Portillo Rodriguez, a/k/a “Little Gangster,” a/k/a “Seco,” age 26. Sandoval-Rodriguez and Portillo-Rodriguez were also convicted of multiple counts of murder in aid of racketeering.
The HSI Baltimore investigation established that between 2015 and 2017, Sandoval-Rodriguez and his co-defendants engaged in a pattern of racketeering, drug trafficking, extortion, murder, 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.
The investigation further established that Sandoval-Rodriguez participated in the murder of a suspected rival gang member in March 2016. During this murder, Sandoval Rodriguez lured the victim to Quiet Waters Park in Annapolis, Maryland, with the intention of killing him. Surveillance video from a nearby laundromat captured Sandoval-Rodriguez and the victim walking toward Quiet Waters Park on the evening of the murder. Once the victim arrived at the park, members of the gang struck him in the head with a branch or stick, and the assailants, including Sandoval-Rodriguez, repeatedly stabbed the victim with a knife, killing him. While Sandoval-Rodriguez and other members of the gang committed the murder, other MS-13 members and associates stood watch outside the park to ensure no one entered or left the park, and to watch for police, so that the gang could complete the murder. After the victim was killed, MS-13 members and associates buried him in a shallow grave inside the park, but Sandoval-Rodriguez did not bury the body because of the cut on his finger and fear that he would leave evidence at the scene. The body was not recovered until August 2017, when it was exhumed by law enforcement. After his arrest, Sandoval-Rodriguez’s writings about the murder as well as additional MS-13 paraphernalia was recovered among his personal belongings in jail. Sandoval-Rodriguez participated in the murder to raise his status in the gang and to assert the authority of MS-13 in Annapolis.
The investigation was led by HSI Baltimore with cooperation from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Baltimore Field Office, the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives’ Baltimore Field Division, the Frederick City Police Department, the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office, the Frederick County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Anne Arundel County Police Department, the Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Prince George’s County Police Department, the Prince George’s County State’s Attorney’s Office, the Montgomery County Police Department, and the Montgomery County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Much of the investigation focused on Sandoval-Rodriguez’ participation in several murders, including that of a 17-year-old victim, who was believed to be a rival gang member. Specifically, the investigation showed that in March 2017, the gang lured a 17-year-old from Annapolis to Wheaton Regional Park, where they stabbed him more than 100 times, dismembered him, removed his heart, and buried him in a clandestine grave. The investigation further revealed that Sandoval-Rodriguez and Portillo Rodriguez lured the victim out and along with other MS-13 members and associates, brought him from Annapolis to Wheaton Regional Park. Sandoval-Rodriguez, Portillo Rodriguez, and Joya Parada participated in the murder by stabbing, cutting, and dismembering the victim and Joya Parada also helped to dig the victim’s grave.
The investigation also revealed that Sandoval-Rodriguez participated in a murder that occurred in June 2017. In that murder, 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. Co-defendant Portillo-Rodriguez aided in the planning of the murder and helped lure the victim into a car. Sandoval-Rodriguez traveled to the wooded area earlier in the day to dig a hole for the victim’s grave. MS-13 members caused the victim to lose consciousness, removed her clothing, and decapitated the victim with a machete. Sandoval-Rodriguez and Portillo-Rodriguez participated in the murder by stabbing and slashing the victim’s body with a machete, dismembering the body, and burying the body in a wooded area. As a result of their participation in the murder, Sandoval-Rodriguez, Portillo-Rodriguez, and other gang members were promoted within MS-13.
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. Sandoval Rodriguez, Portillo Rodriguez, and Joya Parada were members of the Fulton Locos Salvatruchas (“FLS”) clique. Co-defendant Oscar Sorto Romero was part of the Parque Vista Locos Salvatruchas (“PVLS”) clique.
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.
More than 30 MS-13 gang members and associates have been convicted in these cases.
Co-defendants from Sandoval-Rodriguez’s first case, Marlon Cruz-Flores, age 25; Fermin Gomez-Jimenez, age 23; Moises Alexis Reyes-Canales; and Manuel Martinez-Aguilar, aka El Lunatic, aka Zomb, age 22, all of Annapolis, previously pleaded guilty to racketeering conspiracy and a firearms offense. Both Gomez-Jimenez and Cruz-Flores were sentenced to 38 years in prison, Reyes-Canales was sentenced to 35 years in prison, and Martinez-Aguilar was sentenced to 24 years in prison.
On April 20, 2022, Chief Judge Bredar sentenced Joya Parada to 50 years in federal prison, for a racketeering conspiracy, racketeering, and related violent crimes in aid of racketeering. Portillo Rodriguez and Sorto Romero were each sentenced to life in federal prison, for a racketeering conspiracy and for racketeering, as well as related violent crimes in aid of racketeering, including multiple murders.
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 HSI at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE.