Manuel Martinez-Aguilar, 20, of Annapolis. He pleaded guilty to participating in MS-13 and using a firearm during a violent crime.
Manuel Martinez-Aguilar, 20, of Annapolis. He pleaded guilty to participating in MS-13 and using a firearm during a violent crime. (Anne Arundel police / handout)

An Annapolis man has pleaded guilty to his role in a double stabbing in Annapolis in 2016 as defense attorneys for other alleged MS-13 members charged in the stabbing and a homicide the same year are fighting to suppress evidence obtained from cell phone records and social media.

Manuel Martinez-Aguilar’s guilty plea comes as new court filings show that investigators used search warrants to gather cell phone records, information from social media accounts and data from the encrypted messaging application WhatsApp as several other defendants approach a jury trial in October.

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Martinez-Aguilar pleaded guilty to racketeering and use of a firearm during a crime of violence, according to a Jan. 15 filing in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. He is set to be sentenced April 19.

Martinez-Aguilar was one of several men facing charges in the attack of two men off of Hillsmere Drive in October 2016.

In his plea agreement with prosecutors, Martinez-Aguilar admitted to planning the attack with other associates at Quiet Waters Park. The park is near where police say they’ve found other victims buried after the gang killed them.

“Martinez-Aguilar and another member or associate of MS-13 were tasked with disposing of Victim-2’s vehicle after the murder and the group planned to bury the victim’s body in Quiet Waters Park,” the agreement reads.

Police charge second man in alleged MS-13 murder in Annapolis

Brandon Recinos-Guardado was charged with first and second-degree murder in the death of Neris Giovani Bonilla-Palacios, a 17-year-old Annapolis resident whose body was found in October.

As other members allegedly pursued the two men with firearms and machetes, Martinez-Aguilar admitted to trying to run over one of the men with his own vehicle as he tried to run away from the attack.

Prosecutors wrote that Martinez-Aguilar’s DNA was recovered off of cigarettes left inside one of the victim’s cars. The car smelled of gasoline, the agreement reads.

He also admitted to selling cocaine and marijuana to help finance the gang’s operations.

An attorney for Martinez-Aguilar did not return comment.

Orlando Evelio Gomez-Jimenez pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in relation to the attack.

Martinez-Aguilar was one of a number of people charged in the federal case involving the October 2016 attack and the March 2016 death of Jose Hernandez-Portillo, as well as the inner workings of the gang and its intimidation methods.

Four people — Marlon Cruz-Flores, Fermin Gomez-Jimenez, Juan Carlos Sandoval-Rodriguez and David Diaz-Alvarado — are charged with the murder of Hernandez-Portillo on March 11, 2016. Anne Arundel police discovered his body on Aug. 28, 2017, at 600 Quiet Waters Park Road, charging documents state.

Man pleads guilty in MS-13 Annapolis double stabbing

Orlando Gomez-Jimenez, 18, of Annapolis, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in a double stabbing in Annapolis in 2016 police say was committed by members of MS-13.

Court documents filed in late February also outline more of what looks to be the backbone of prosecutors’ case against the alleged members of the gang.

Investigators sought and obtained cell phone records, executed a search warrant in Georgia, pulled messages from Facebook accounts and took data from the WhatsApp encrypted messaging application, according to multiple documents filed by defense attorneys in the case.

On behalf of Juan Carlos Sandoval-Rodriguez — who Anne Arundel police said lured Portillo-Hernandez to the location of his murder — attorney Gerald Ruter wrote in a Feb. 28 filing that the seizure of WhatsApp data allegedly tied to the homicide was done without a proper warrant.

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In his motion to suppress evidence, Ruter wrote that Anne Arundel County Circuit Court Judge Mark Crooks authorized the seizure of data from a WhatsApp account named “Gasper Rodriguez.” Investigators believe Sandoval-Rodriguez owned the account.

Crooks granted investigators the ability to seize “all information” from the account between Jan. 1, 2016 and Feb. 5, 2016, Ruter wrote.

Police identify body found in Quiet Waters Park as second gang victim

Police say human remains found at Quiet Waters Park belong to a 22-year-old Annapolis man who was murdered, leading to his reported disappearance last year.

WhatsApp has been a controversial messaging application, as the encryption on messages can prevent investigators from seeing exactly what suspects are saying to one another. Australia passed a law last year that would force technology firms to remove encrypted protection for people under investigation.

It’s unclear exactly what data was retrieved, but Ruter wrote they were investigating Portillo-Hernandez’s death. Ruter contends the warrant failed to establish probable cause and shouldn’t be admitted when the case goes to trial in October.

According to a motion to suppress evidence by attorney Joseph Balter, who is representing Cruz-Flores, investigators also executed a search warrant at a Georgia home on the outskirts of the Atlanta metropolitan area.

Balter wrote the warrant that was executed “was prompted” by Cruz-Flores’ and others’ arrest and that a drug dog alerted officers to the presence of narcotics.

However, he claims that other items seized during the search — including three cell phones, firearms and weapons — were outside of the scope of the search warrant and shouldn’t be permitted for use during the case.

The investigation into the gang’s presence in Anne Arundel County has led law enforcement to chase suspects up and down the East Coast. Suspects linked to the Anne Arundel investigation have been arrested in North Carolina while investigators from New York say they arrested a man charged with the murder of a 16-year-old Long Island boy in Anne Arundel County.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not return a call for comment.

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