A 23-year-old man pleaded guilty Wednesday to charges related to a violent street gang that preyed on the Hispanic community in Annapolis over a two-year period, the sixth and final member of MS-13 indicted in a string of crimes.
Moises Alexis Reyes-Canales pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy to participate in a racketeering enterprise as part of MS-13 gang activities, including murder and two attempted murders, the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced.
“Reyes-Canales and his co-defendants, all members of the MS-13 Hempstead clique, terrorized the Annapolis community for years,” acting Assistant Attorney General Nicholas L. McQuaid said in a statement released by his office. “Ultimately, they murdered a suspected rival gang member and brutally attacked two others, leaving them with permanent injuries that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.”
Reyes-Canales and prosecutors have agreed to recommend a 35-year sentence in federal prison. Chief U.S. District Judge James K. Bredar has scheduled sentencing in September.
As part of a plea agreement, Reyes-Canales admitted he became an associate gang member in March 2016, participated in the murder of a suspected rival gang member, and tried to kill other people in Annapolis. He helped sell marijuana to raise funds for the purchase of narcotics, weapons for use by MS-13 members in other states and El Salvador.
With roots in that Latin American country, the gang is a national crime organization known to focus on communities where immigrants from Latin America and South America live. Annapolis has a thriving Hispanic/Latino community, with a large portion of immigrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.
The gang’s motto translates to “kill, steal, rape, control,” law enforcement officials say, and they have a reputation for committing brutal acts of violence against rival gangs, like the 18th Street gang, and those who are perceived to disrespect their authority.
MS-13 members often refer to each other by their gang monikers and are sometimes identifiable to authorities because of their distinctive tattoos and clothing, authorities say. The gang’s colors are blue, black and white, and members are known to wear sports jerseys with the number “13” or numbers that add up to 13.
The murder of Jose Hernandez-Portillo, 22, of Annapolis in 2016 was one of three in the Annapolis area attributed to the gang.
Four other people pleaded guilty to killing Jennifer Rivera-Lopez, a 21-year-old Annapolis woman who was found buried in a secret grave in a Crownsville park in September 2017. And two of those gang members admitted to participating in the murder of Neri Giovani Bonilla-Palacios, a 17-year-old who was found dead Oct. 3, 2017, in a wooded area off Open View Lane in Annapolis.
Known as Sicopita, Reyes-Canales was indicted along with Marlon Cruz-Flores, 25, and Manuel Martinez-Aguilar, 22, Fermin Gomez-Jimenez, 23, David Diaz-Alvarado, 20, and Juan Carlos Sandoval-Rodriguez, 23. Reyes Canales was the final gang member to go to trial, and all of the others have been convicted of various roles in the gang.
Reyes-Canales admitted that on March 11, 2016, he and other MS-13 members and associates agreed to murder a man police later identified as Hernandez-Portillo, 22, whom the gang suspected of being a rival gang member. Prior to the murder, Reyes-Canales received authorization to commit the murder from MS-13 leadership.
Juan Carlos Sandoval-Rodriguez and another MS-13 gang member lured Hernandez-Portillo to Quiet Waters Park and attacked him with a branch or stick. Reyes-Canales, co-defendants Marlon Cruz-Flores, Fermin Gomez-Jimenez, and other members and associates of MS-13, then stabbed Hernandez-Portillo repeatedly, killing him.
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Prosecutors said Reyes-Canales directed the murder. While Reyes-Canales and other members of the gang stabbed Hernandez-Portillo, other MS-13 members/associates stood watch outside of the park.
After Hernandez-Portillo was killed, gang members buried him in a shallow grave. Anne Arundel County police would not find Hernandez-Portillo′s body until Aug. 28, 2017.
The murder followed an attempted killing of a suspected rival working as an unlicensed taxi driver on Oct. 23, 2016. Cruz-Flores called the man to arrange a ride. When the driver and his passenger arrived at the meeting point along Annapolis Neck Road, Reyes-Canales and Cruz-Flores ambushed him, shooting a passenger with handguns.
Other gang members stabbed and slashed the men with machetes before fleeing at the sound of sirens.
The taxi driver and passenger survived after responders took them to shock trauma but were permanently scarred, court records show. One man required more than 200 staples; the other lost parts of fingers from the machete strikes.
A short time later, police arrested Gomez-Jimenez nearby with blood on his hands and clothes. A surveillance camera in the area captured Gomez-Jimenez assaulting the taxi driver and an attempt to run him over with his own car.
Anyone with information about MS-13 is encouraged to provide their tips to law enforcement. The FBI and Homeland Security Investigations both have nationwide tiplines to 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.