Thirty-Four Individuals Indicted for Drug Trafficking in the Municipality of Ponce Forfeiture Allegation of $75 Million
|U.S. Attorney’s Office November 04, 2010|
SAN JUAN, PR—On October 28, 2010, a federal grand jury indicted 34 individuals as a result of an investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Ponce Strike Force with the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD), announced today United States Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez. The defendants are charged in a five-count indictment with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances and forfeiture allegations for $75 million and properties.
Defendants José A. Rodríguez-Lespier, aka “Topo,” and Rolando Natal-Sabater, aka “Rolo,” are facing another charge, under the Continuing Criminal Enterprise statute, Title 21, United States Code, Section 848. From in or about the year 2000, these two defendants engaged in a continuing series of violations from which they obtained substantial income and resources, along with at least five other persons, with respect to whom the defendants occupied a position of organizer, supervisor, or any position of management.
The indictment further alleges that it was part of the manner and means of the enterprise that the defendants would launder the illegal financial proceeds through the operation of their businesses. They would also use their commercial establishments for the purpose of storing, packaging, and distributing controlled substances, and conducted meetings with their associates furthering their drug trafficking activities.
“We have dismantled the largest organization supplying narcotics in the area of Ponce. The leaders of this organization, if convicted, will spend the rest of their lives in prison. Federal and state law enforcement agencies will continue their joint investigations and prosecutions of drug trafficking organizations in every town in Puerto Rico, and those accused under the continuing criminal enterprise statute will never return to harm our communities. We will not rest until our citizens can live in peace in a drug free environment,” said Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico.
"Today's arrests are a powerful strike which removes from circulation a drug trafficking organization with several years of supplying drugs, and as suppliers, they ensured local drug traffickers had a sustained supply of illegal drugs for sale in southern Puerto Rico," said Luis Fraticelli, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI-San Juan Field Office.
“DEA continues to aggressively target those drug trafficking organizations smuggling multi kilogram quantities of cocaine into the island as part of our efforts to reduce the availability of illegal drugs in Puerto Rico,” said Javier F. Peña, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Caribbean Division. “This joint OCDETF operation between DEA, FBI, ICE, NIE, and PRPD has decimated one of the most significant cocaine smuggling and distribution criminal organizations in Southern Puerto Rico.”
"Drug trafficking organizations must be aggressively attacked and dismantled at every level—from the street dealer to the international supplier and drug lord,” said Roberto Escobar-Vargas, special agent in charge of ICE’s Office of Homeland Security Investigations in San Juan. “Through the coordinated efforts of our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, we have effectively eradicated an organization responsible for bringing significant quantities of drugs into our communities."
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney José Capó Iriarte.
If convicted, the defendants face a minimum of 10 years’ imprisonment and a maximum of life imprisonment, with fines of up to $4 million. Defendants Rodríguez-Lespier and Natal-Sabater are facing a mandatory life sentence if found guilty of the continuing criminal enterprise charge.
Criminal indictments are only charges and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.