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Long IslandCrime

Defense lawyer in MS-13 gang case says client should be released

Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini in May.

Suffolk County District Attorney Timothy Sini in May. Photo Credit: James Carbone

The attorney for a Maryland man charged with being part of a MS-13 conspiracy to kill a suspected snitch has filed a federal writ seeking to free his client, accusing the Suffolk district attorney's office of withholding evidence and crippling his ability to defend his client.

Jose "Soldado" Portillo, 28, formerly of Brentwood, was one of six people indicted in March and accused of plotting two murders — one of a man believed by the gang to be a law enforcement informant, and one of a rival gang member.

Since the indictment, defense attorney Joseph Hanshe said he has filed motions seeking the routine documents and evidence from prosecutors that he is entitled to by law. That evidence could include witness statements, recordings, detective reports and other documents detailing the case against Portillo.

But Hanshe said he has gotten nothing of substance from Assistant District Attorney Christiana McSloy or anyone else in the office. Prosecutors, however, say they are entitled to withhold some evidence for now to protect witnesses and the investigation. 

Hanshe this week filed a writ of habeas corpus in federal court, seeking to force Suffolk law enforcement to free Portillo, who is being held on bail of $200,000 cash or $400,000 bond. The writ also demands that prosecutors provide the evidence against Portillo or dismiss the charges.

"Everything they're doing is against the criminal procedure rules of the state of the New York, and the Constitution," Hanshe said. Portillo is being held without knowing the basis of the charges against him, he said.

Hanshe said he was aware that McSloy got a protective order signed by state Supreme Court Justice Fernando Camacho. Such orders typically allow prosecutors to delay turning over some evidence. Prosecutors sometimes seek such orders if they believe a defendant will try to harm a witness or a surviving target of a crime.

"Due to the sensitive nature of this MS-13 investigation, the district attorney’s office applied for a protective order for certain types of evidence that, if shared with the accused, could jeopardize ongoing MS-13 investigations," said Sheila Kelly, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office. "The court reviewed the people's filings and the judge issued a protective order postponing the disclosure of the evidence at this time. The defense's filing is nonsensical as the attorney was well aware that the judge has already granted this protective order.” 

But Hanshe said he wasn't served with the order, which he said prevents him from adequately defending his client.

Hanshe said he has not even seen the affidavits supporting the arrest warrant for his client.

In an earlier motion, Hanshe compared the behavior of the district attorney's office to authoritarian regimes where they "execute prisoners without due process." 

The indictment described Portillo as a local leader in the gang who got orders from El Salvador and relayed them to lower-ranking gang members to be carried out.

Hanshe has said his client is a clean-cut, hardworking landscaper who is married and the father of a young child.

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