One of El Salvador’s most wanted captured in Chelsea

Published 1:02 pm Friday, August 18, 2023

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By BARTON PERKINS | Staff Writer

CHELSEA – Juan Carlos Portillo, 29, holds the distinction of being one of the most wanted men in El Salvador and, on Friday, Aug. 11, he was captured in Chelsea.

Portillo, commonly known by the moniker “Pirana”, is sought by El Salvadoran authorities on the charges of aggravated kidnapping, attempted aggravated homicide, aggravated extortion, terrorist organization, deprivation of liberty and aggravated homicide.

Portillo is a member of MS-13, an international criminal organization that originated in California during the 1980s. It is believed that the group was originally created to protect El Salvadoran immigrants from other gangs in the Californian area. It has since devolved into a dangerous and international criminal organization that has become responsible for a sizable percentage of gang related murders in the United States and abroad.

Currently MS-13 operates in Central America, Canada, Mexico and the United States. Reports indicate that many members of M-13 are recruited as minors, and primarily consist of individuals of El Salvadoran descent. This, coupled with an influx of immigrants from El Salvador with connections to the gang has made MS-13 a common reference in calls for stricter oversight on immigration from El Salvador to the United States.

Reports indicate that Portillo entered the United States illegally at some point before July 2023, although authorities are not certain of the exact date.. He had previously been arrested in Hidalgo, Texas on Dec, 7 2022 and was extradited back to El Salvador on Dec. 23.

On Wednesday,  July 5, Enforcement and Removal Operations’ Birmingham sub office received information that indicated that Portillo was residing in Columbiana. He was subsequently arrested in Chelsea a month later with the aid of the Shelby County Sheriff’s office.

At the moment Portillo is being held in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, pending his removal from the United States so that he might be tried back in El Salvador.

“This MS-13 gang member blatantly ignored laws both in his home country and here in the United States and this arrest sends a message that we will not allow our communities to be safe havens for violent criminals,” said ERO New Orleans Field Office Director Mellissa Harper. “By apprehending and removing dangerous individuals like Portillo who are part of transnational criminal organizations, ERO officers are making our communities safer.”