Members of a Drug Trafficking and Firearms Organization Indicted by the San Juan Strike Force
|U.S. Attorney’s Office June 12, 2009|
SAN JUAN, PR—On June 11, 2009, a federal Grand Jury in the District of Puerto Rico returned a nine-count indictment, charging 58 defendants with federal drug trafficking and firearms offenses. This morning, strike force agents arrested 40 members of the drug trafficking organization, which had been established since 2006 at the Jardines de Campo Rico Public Housing Project and the Berwind Towers, located the Municipality of San Juan. The arrest warrants were executed by approximately 450 law enforcement agents. This is an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCEDTF) investigation and the agencies that participated are the FBI Safe Street Task Force, which is comprised by FBI, Puerto Rico Police Department, San Juan Municipal Police, U.S. Attorney’s Office, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development - Office of Inspector General (HUD-OIG), ATF and DEA.
The indictment charges that since the year 2006, the members of the drug trafficking organization knowingly and intentionally possessed with intent to distribute and/or distributed crack, heroin, cocaine and marijuana; within one thousand (1,000) feet of the real property comprising a housing facility owned by a public housing authority and/or a head start program. All in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Sections 841(a)(1),(b)(A)(iii), 846, and 860. The indictment further alleges that some of the defendants aiding and abetting each other, in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime, unlawfully possessed firearms, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 924(o). The indictment also contains narcotics forfeiture allegations for $10,000,000 (ten million dollars), pursuant to Title 21, United States Code, Section 853.
It was also revealed during the investigation that some of defendants would threat of violence, to extort weekly payments from managerial employees of the North Constructors Group in exchange for ensuring their security, of the company’s employees, construction materials, and the company’s continued operation.
“Since November 2006, when the Strike Force teams began these types of investigations and arrest operatives, 999 individuals have been indicted. Today we add 58 more defendants, and we guarrantee you that the law enforcement agencies, federal as well as local, will continue working together so we can return the respect and peace the communities in Puerto Rico deserve,” said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez during a press conference today.
The indictment alleges that defendant Marcelino Salazar-Lopez, aka “Audi,” aka “El Father,” became the principal leader of the conspiracy, and he controlled, through co-defendants acting as supervisors, the drug distribution points located at the Jardines de Campo Rico Public Housing Project, Monte Hatillo Housing Projects and the Berwind Towers.
The leader of the drug trafficking organization would oversee a group of co-defendants managing the drug distribution activities at the numerous drug points under their control. There were two supervisors that assisted the leader by overseeing the sales of heroin, crack cocaine, cocaine and marijuana at the drug point. As supervisors, they were empowered to act and represent the leader when the leader was absent. Some of the co-conspirators would routinely possess, carry, brandish and use firearms to protect themselves and the drug trafficking organization. Some of the co-conspirators would use violence, force and intimidation in order to gain or maintain control of the drug trafficking operations. The co-conspirators operated in different roles, in order to further the goals of the conspiracy, to wit two (2) supervisors; three (3) suppliers; nineteen (19) drug owners; five (5) enforcers; thirteen (13) runners; twenty-nine (29) sellers; and thirty-eight (38) facilitators.
The investigation was part of the joint efforts of the San Juan Strike Force Team led by Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, and coordinated by SAUSA Guillermo Gil; working in conjunction with the FBI Safe Streets Task Force led by Luis Fraticelli, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development - Office of Inspector General (HUD-OIG), FBI, San Juan Division; Jose Figueroa-Sancha, Superintendent, Police of Puerto Rico (PRPD); and the Secretary of Justice for the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Antonio Sagardía.
“After a three year joint investigation, today's arrests have dismantled a violent gang and drug trafficking organization which was operating in and around the Jardines de Campo Rico Public Housing Project,” said Luis Fraticelli, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI-San Juan Field Office. "Furthermore, members of this violent gang are suspected of committing several murders in the San Juan metropolitan area."
“HUD-OIG asks the public to report fraud, theft or public corruption involving HUD-funded programs, like for example those used for the administration and renovation of public housing projects. This information can be confidentially reported to HUD-OIG local office at (787) 766-5868,” said Special Agent-in-Charge Timothy Mowery, Florida/Caribbean Region.
Penalties for the narcotics offenses alleged in the indictment range from ten (10) years to life imprisonment, and fines of up to four million dollars ($4,000,000.00). The case is being prosecuted by San Juan Strike Force Assistant U.S. Attorneys Dina Ávila-Jiménez and Mariana Bauzá, under the supervision of Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Guillermo Gil.
Criminal indictments are only charges and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.