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April 20, 2022Baltimore, MD, United StatesTransnational Gangs

ICE HSI Baltimore-led investigation results in a 50-year sentence for a notorious MS-13 gang member

BALTIMORE – An investigation led by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Baltimore field office recently culminated in a lengthy prison sentence for a member of La Mara Salvatrucha, a transnational criminal enterprise also known as MS-13. After a three-month trial, Jose Joya Parada, a/k/a “Calmado,” age 20, was sentenced to 50 years in federal prison, followed by three years of supervised release on April 20, for racketeering conspiracy, racketeering, and related violent crimes in aid of racketeering.

The three-month trial focused on four brutal murders, in two of which Parada personally participated. The federal jury also convicted Milton Portillo-Rodriguez, a/k/a “Little Gangster,” age 26; Juan Carlos Sandoval-Rodriguez, a/k/a “Picaro,” age 22; and Oscar Armando Sorto Romero, a/k/a “Lobo,” age 22; on the same charges. Portillo-Rodriguez, Sandoval-Rodriguez, and Sorto Romero were additionally convicted of multiple counts of murder in aid of racketeering.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the Frederick Police Department; the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office; the Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery, and Prince George’s County Police Departments; and the Anne Arundel, Frederick, Montgomery, and Prince George’s County State’s Attorneys’ Offices assisted in the investigation.

“This sentencing marks a tremendous victory for law enforcement and law-abiding citizens across the state of Maryland,” said Special Agent in Charge James R. Mancuso, of HSI Baltimore. “MS-13 is a notorious criminal enterprise, and Mr. Joya Prada is one of its most dangerous members. Any time we can take someone like this off of the streets, we are making our community safer for its residents. We are grateful for all of our federal, state, and local law enforcement partners, all of whom can share in this victory.”

The investigation 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.

During the entirety of this conspiracy, the 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 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.

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 revealed during the investigation, 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. Joya Parada was a member of the Fulton clique of MS-13. Trial evidence related to Joya Parada focused on his participation in two grisly murders of individuals 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. Specifically, Joya Parada arrived at Wheaton Regional Park with other MS-13 members to dig the grave before the victim arrived there and participated in the murder by stabbing, cutting, and dismembering the victim.

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. Before being taken to Frederick, the victim, who was extremely intoxicated, was held in a basement laundry room in Wheaton, Maryland by members and associates of MS-13, including by Joya Parada. Inside the laundry room, the victim was forced to remove his shirt so that gang members could examine his tattoos to satisfy themselves that the victim was associated with a rival gang and should therefore be killed.

Co-defendant Sorto Romero and others went to the laundry room where the victim was being held, and they placed him in the backseat of a car in which Sorto Romero was a passenger. In the meantime, Joya Parada and other members of MS-13 went to the woods in Frederick with weapons and a shovel to dig a grave and to wait for the victim’s arrival. Sorto Romero eventually arrived with the victim, delivering the victim to other members of MS-13 who were waiting, including Joya Parada. A member of MS-13 incapacitated the victim by hitting him in the head with a tree branch. Joya Parada and others then dragged the victim through the woods to the hole they had dug for the victim’s grave. They placed the victim face down on the ground next to the hole and stabbed and slashed his body repeatedly with a machete. Joya Parada personally participated in this murder not only by slashing the victim with the long edge of the machete blade, but also by plunging the point of the machete into the victim’s back numerous times. The victim died as a result of the blunt force trauma, stabbing, cutting, and chopping inflicted by Joya Parada and his co-conspirators.

Based on his participation in this murder, Joya Parada earned the new nickname “Little Jason,” a reference to a character from a horror movie franchise who used a machete to kill his victims.

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. More than 30 MS-13 members and associates 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. Chief Judge Bredar has scheduled sentencing for Sorto Romero for May 6, 2022, at 10 a.m.; for Portillo Rodriguez for May 13, 2022, at 10 a.m.; and for Sandoval Rodriguez for May 23, 2022, at 3:30 p.m.

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.

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.

Anyone with information about MS-13 is encouraged to provide their tips to law enforcement. The FBI and HSI 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.

HSI is a directorate of ICE and the principal investigative arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), responsible for investigating transnational crime and threats, specifically those criminal organizations that exploit the global infrastructure through which international trade, travel, and finance move. HSI’s workforce of over 10,400 employees consists of more than 7,100 special agents assigned to 220 cities throughout the United States, and 80 overseas locations in 53 countries. HSI’s international presence represents DHS’s largest investigative law enforcement presence abroad and one of the largest international footprints in U.S. law enforcement.