Sixteen Former Puerto Rico Police Officers Plead Guilty to Running Criminal Organization from the Police Department
WASHINGTON—Sixteen former Puerto Rico police officers have pleaded guilty for their roles in a criminal organization run out of the police department. The officers used their affiliation with law enforcement to commit robbery and extortion, to manipulate court records in exchange for bribes, and to sell illegal narcotics.
Assistant Attorney General Leslie R. Caldwell of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez of the District of Puerto Rico and Special Agent in Charge Carlos Cases of the FBI’s San Juan Division made the announcement.
“These 16 police officers were charged with fighting crime, protecting lives and property, and improving the quality of life in Puerto Rico,” said Assistant Attorney General Caldwell. “Instead, they used their badges and guns to do the opposite, committing crimes, endangering lives, and stealing property under the veil of police authority. This prosecution demonstrates the Justice Department’s commitment to holding all criminals accountable—including those who wear a badge. We will use every tool at our disposal, including the RICO laws, to rid our communities of corruption.”
The following 13 defendants pleaded guilty to conspiracy to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act: Osvaldo Vazquez-Ruiz, 38; Orlando Sierra-Pereira, 37; Danny Nieves-Rivera, 35; Roberto Ortiz-Cintron, 35; Yovanny Crespo-Candelaria, 34; Jose Sanchez-Santiago, 32; Miguel Perez-Rivera, 35; Nadab Arroyo-Rosa, 33; Jose Flores-Villalongo, 52; Luis Suarez-Sanchez, 36; Eduardo Montañez-Perez, 29; Carlos Laureano-Cruz, 40; and Carlos Candelario-Santiago, 47. Three defendants, Ruben Casiano-Pietri, 36, Christian Valles-Collazo, 28, and Ricardo Rivera Rodriguez, 39, pleaded guilty to robbery and extortion charges. Several of the defendants also pleaded guilty to firearms charges in connection with the use of their police-issued firearms in furtherance of their crimes. At the time of their criminal conduct, Flores-Villalongo and Candelario-Santiago were sergeants with the Police of Puerto Rico (POPR), and the other defendants were police officers. Sentencing hearings are scheduled for December 2014.
According to court documents, over the course of the conspiracy, the officers worked together to conduct traffic stops and enter the homes of suspected criminals to steal money, property and drugs for their own personal enrichment. They planted evidence to make false arrests, and then extorted money from their victims in exchange for their release from custody. Additionally, in exchange for bribe payments, the officers gave false testimony, manipulated court records and failed to appear in court when required so that criminal cases would be wrongfully dismissed. The officers also sold and distributed wholesale quantities of narcotics.
As just a few examples of their criminal conduct, in April 2012, defendants Vazquez-Ruiz and Sierra-Pereira conducted a traffic stop in their capacity as police officers and stole approximately $22,000 they believed to be illegal drug proceeds. Vazquez-Ruiz later attempted to extort approximately $8,000 from an individual believed to be a drug dealer’s accomplice in exchange for promising to release a prisoner.
Further, in November 2012, defendants Sierra-Pereira, Nieves-Rivera, Ortiz-Cintron and Valles-Collazo illegally entered an apartment and stole approximately $30,000, which they believed were illegal lottery proceeds.
The defendants frequently shared with one another the proceeds they illegally obtained, and used their power, authority and official positions as police officers to promote and protect their illegal activity. Among other things, the defendants used POPR firearms, badges, patrol cars, tools, uniforms and other equipment to commit the crimes, and then concealed their illegal activity with fraudulently obtained court documents and falsified POPR paperwork that made it appear they were engaged in legitimate police work.
The case was investigated by the FBI’s San Juan Division, and prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Brian K. Kidd, Emily Rae Woods and Menaka Kalaskar of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mariana E. Bauzá of the District of Puerto Rico.