MS-13 members convicted of conspiracy involving 2017 Frederick murder

Jan. 27—Four MS-13 gang members were convicted Monday of racketeering after a federal trial underscored their gang's link to four murders in 2017, including one that occurred in Frederick.

Milton Portillo-Rodriguez, AKA "Little Gangster," 26; Juan Carlos Sandoval-Rodriguez, AKA "Picaro," 22; Oscar Armando Sorto Romero, AKA "Lobo," 22; and Jose Joya Parada, AKA "Calmado," 20, were convicted of a racketeering conspiracy and for racketeering connected to their participation in the transnational criminal enterprise known as MS-13 or La Mara Salvatrucha, according to a release from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Portillo-Rodriguez, Sandoval-Rodriguez and Sorto Romero were each also convicted of multiple counts of murder in aid of racketeering. The trial lasted three months.

MS-13 members, according to the DOJ, are required to commit acts of violence to maintain membership and discipline within the gang. In trial, the prosecution reportedly showed how MS-13 sought to expand its presence in Frederick, Wheaton and Annapolis through violence, extortion and drug sales. On April 2, 2017, MS-13 members kidnapped an individual from Silver Spring, brought him to a wooded area in Frederick, and killed him with knives and machetes before burying him in a shallow grave, the release reads. The release did not name the victim.

A hiker found 37-year-old Victor Antonio Turcios-Valle dead near Gambrill Park Road and Hamburg Road June 29, 2017, according to previous News-Post reporting. Carlos Javier Hernandez Diaz was sentenced to 27 years in federal prison in 2020 for his role in the murder.

The gang also killed an Annapolis teen in Wheaton Regional Park, a 21-year-old woman in Crownsville and another victim in Annapolis in 2017, the release reads.

"The brutal and tragic violence perpetrated by these defendants and their fellow MS-13 gang members is totally unacceptable," U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron said in the release. "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. ... 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."

As a result of Monday's guilty verdict, the DOJ said more than 30 defendants have been convicted in this and another related case. The convictions were announced by a number of law enforcement officials including Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins, Frederick Police Chief Jason Lando and Frederick County State's Attorney Charlie Smith.

Portillo-Rodriguez, Sandoval-Rodriguez, and Sorto Romero each face mandatory sentences of life in prison for each murder in aid of racketeering charges. Joya Parada faces a maximum sentenced of life in prison for the racketeering conspiracy and for racketeering. Their sentencing dates are scattered across April and May.

Laura Kelsey Rhodes, the defense attorney for Portillo-Rodriguez, in an email suggested the defendant is a victim as well.

"The tragedy of this case is that victims and accused alike lived abusive, deprived and traumatic childhoods in Central America," Rhodes wrote. "Often, their parents left them to look for work in the U.S. and send money back. When those children to the U.S., as teens they are easy prey for gang members who offer friendship and a supposed family."

Charles Curlett, the attorney representing Joya Parada, noted his client's age at the time of the crime.

"Jose Parada was 15 and 16 years old during the events at issue in this case, yet the government elected to try him as an adult," Curlett wrote in an email. "Whether that decision was correct under the law is an issue to be raised on appeal."

Gerald C. Ruter, who represents Sandoval-Rodriguez, declined to comment Thursday. An attorney for Sorto Romero could not be reached Thursday afternoon.

Anyone with information about MS-13 is encouraged to provide tips to law enforcement. The FBI can be reached at 1-866-STP-MS13 (1-866-787-6713), or call Homeland Security Investigations at 1-866-DHS-2-ICE.

Follow Mary Grace Keller on Twitter: @MaryGraceKeller