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BALTIMORE – An investigation headed by the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore Field Office resulted in a life sentence for a notorious gang member for a racketeering conspiracy involving two murders. On May 13, Milton Portillo Rodriguez, a/k/a “Little Gangster,” a/k/a “Seco,” age 26, was sentenced to serve life in federal prison for a racketeering conspiracy, racketeering, attempted murder, assault with a dangerous weapon, conspiracy to commit murder in aid of 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 three-month trial, a federal jury convicted Portillo Rodriguez, along with co-defendants Jose Joya Parada, a/k/a “Calmado,” age 21; Oscar Armando Sorto Romero, a/k/a “Lobo,” age 23; and Juan Carlos Sandoval-Rodriguez, a/k/a “Picaro,” age 24, on January 24. Portillo-Rodriguez and Sandoval-Rodriguez were also convicted of multiple counts of murder in aid of racketeering.
The investigation established that between 2015 and 2017, Portillo 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 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 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.
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. Portillo Rodriguez, Sandoval 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.
The investigation revealed that 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 at least four grisly murders of those suspected of association with rival gang members carried out in 2017.
The HSI Baltimore-led investigation into Portillo Rodriguez focused on his participation in several murders including the murder of a 17-year-old victim in March 2017. During this murder, Portillo Rodriguez, Sandoval Rodriguez, Joya Parada, and other gang members lured Victim 1 to an Annapolis, Maryland park where they stabbed Victim 1 to death and subsequently dismembered him. After murdering Victim 1 and removing the victim’s heart, the defendants buried the body, disposed of the evidence, and smoked marijuana to celebrate the murder. As a result of their participation in the murder of Victim 1, certain gang members were promoted within MS-13.
In June 2017, Portillo Rodriguez participated in the murder of Victim 2, a female victim that MS-13 members believed to have been associated with a rival gang. Portillo Rodriguez aided in the planning of the murder and helped lure Victim 2 into a car with another MS-13 member and a female associate. Victim 2 believed she was meeting the female associate for a date. After Victim 2 entered the vehicle, another MS-13 member stopped the car and allowed Portillo Rodiguez and another MS-13 gang member to enter on both sides of the vehicle to trap Victim 2 in the middle. Portillo Rodriguez and others then forced Victim 2 onto the backseat floor at knifepoint. Eventually, the MS-13 members took Victim 2 to a wooded area in Crownsville, Maryland where MS-13 members caused Victim 2 to lose consciousness, removed Victim 2’s clothing, and decapitated Victim 2 with a machete. Portillo Rodriguez and Sandoval 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 of Victim 2, Portillo Rodriguez, Sandoval Rodriguez, and other gang members were promoted within MS-13.
Additionally, in August 2017, Portillo Rodriguez and Sorto Romero participated in the planning and murder of Victim 3 at an Annapolis, Maryland park. After Victim 3 was lured to the park, Victim 3 was hit on the head with a hammer and slashed with a machete until he died. The evidence presented at trial revealed that the victim was a low-level member of MS-13 suspected of warning one of his relatives, who was believed to be a member of a rival gang, that he was an MS-13 target.
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 this and a related case.
On April 20, Jose Joya Parada, a/k/a “Calmado,” age 20, was sentenced to 50 years in federal prison, for a racketeering conspiracy, racketeering, and related violent crimes in aid of racketeering. Oscar Sorto Romero was sentenced to life in federal prison, on May 6, for a racketeering conspiracy and for racketeering, as well as related violent crimes in aid of racketeering, including two murders. Sandoval Rodriguez faces a mandatory sentence of life in prison and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 25 at 3:30 p.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. 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 Homeland Security Investigations. Homeland Security Investigations has nationwide tipline that you can call to report what you know. You can reach HSI at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE.