An El Salvador man was sentenced today to life in prison for murder in aid of racketeering and conspiracy to commit murder in aid of racketeering.
Juan Carlos Sandoval-Rodriguez, aka Picaro, aka El Pastor, aka Gasper, 24, of El Salvador, was sentenced to life in federal 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.
On Oct. 31, 2019, after a nine-day trial, 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 on March 11, 2016.
On Jan. 24, 2022, a federal jury convicted Sandoval-Rodriguez of racketeering charges, along with co-defendants Jose Joya-Parada, aka Calmado, 21; Oscar Armando Sorto-Romero, aka Lobo, 23; and Milton Portillo-Rodriguez, aka Little Gangster, aka Seco, 26, after a three-month trial. Sandoval-Rodriguez, Portillo-Rodriguez, and Sorto-Romero were also convicted of multiple counts of murder in aid of racketeering.
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 Sorto-Romero was part of the Parque Vista Locos Salvatruchas (PVLS) clique.
Evidence at both trials 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.
Evidence presented at the 2019 trial established that Sandoval-Rodriguez participated in the murder of a suspected rival gang member on March 11, 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. Sandoval-Rodriguez cut his finger on the knife that he used to stab the victim. 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 Aug. 28, 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.
Trial evidence related to Sandoval-Rodriguez at his second trial focused on his participation in several murders, including that of a 17-year-old victim, who was believed to be a rival gang member. Specifically, the evidence showed that 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. Evidence was presented that Sandoval-Rodriguez and Portillo-Rodriguez lured the victim and, with other MS-13 members and associates, brought him from Annapolis to Wheaton Regional. 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.
Trial evidence also demonstrated that Sandoval-Rodriguez participated in a murder that occurred on June 24, 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.
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, 25, Fermin Gomez-Jimenez, 23, Moises Alexis Reyes-Canales, and Manuel Martinez-Aguilar, aka El Lunatic, aka Zomb, 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, Joya-Parada was sentenced 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.
Assistant Attorney General Kenneth A. Polite, Jr. of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division; U.S. Attorney Erek L. Barron for the District of Maryland; Special Agent in Charge Thomas J. Sobocinski of the FBI’s Baltimore Field Office; Acting Special Agent in Charge Selwyn Smith of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Baltimore Office; and Special Agent in Charge Toni M. Crosby of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Baltimore Field Division made the announcement.
The case was investigated by the FBI; HSI; ATF; Frederick Police Department; Frederick County Sheriff’s Office; Anne Arundel, Montgomery, and Prince George’s County Police Departments; and Anne Arundel, Frederick, Montgomery, and Prince George’s County State’s Attorneys, with valuable assistance provided by the Baltimore County Police Department.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Zachary Stendig for the District of Maryland and Trial Attorney Matthew Hoff of the Criminal Division’s Organized Crime and Gang Section prosecuted the first trial. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kenneth S. Clark, Zachary Stendig, and Anatoly Smolkin for the District of Maryland prosecuted the second trial.
Anyone with information about MS-13 is encouraged to provide their tips to law enforcement. HSI and the FBI both have nationwide tip lines 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.
This case is an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation.