64 INDICTED: U.S.P.S. Has Been Delivering Illegal Drugs In PR and USVI Since 2010
SAN JUAN — Authorities dismantled a transnational drug trafficking organization that used the U.S. Postal Service to purchase and traffic drug shipments to and from Puerto Rico, highlighting how vulnerabilities in mailing services can help facilitate criminal activities.
Agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) arrested several alleged members of a transnational drug trafficking organization in Puerto Rico that used the US Postal Service to purchase and ship drugs, according to a U.S. Justice Department press release.
Authorities allege that since 2010, the network purchased and sold wholesale quantities of cocaine, heroin and marijuana while also selling smaller quantities of cocaine, crack cocaine and marijuana in Río Grande, a popular tourist destination in Puerto Rico’s northern coastal valley.
ICE spokesperson Iván Ortiz said that the network had links with criminal groups in Colombia and Mexico, but did not specify which ones, El Vocero reported. Shipments of heroin and marijuana were reportedly trafficked from Mexico to California using the postal agency while cocaine was trafficked from Colombia through the U.S. Virgin Islands by boat, El Nuevo Día reported.
Postal service employees were allegedly aware of the illegal shipments that were passing through the agency and would hold the packages in order for members of the group to pick them up or divert them to other members involved in the network, according to the press release.
In addition, police officers allegedly tipped off members of the network about police operations, interfered in investigations into the network and used their official positions to provide information to the network on how to avoid police detection.
A number of the group’s members were also charged with money laundering and possessing firearms that were allegedly used to intimidate rival drug trafficking organizations. Those charged could face up to life in prison if convicted.
The recent dismantling of a transnational drug trafficking organization that used the U.S. Postal Service highlights how vulnerabilities in mailing services, which have been increasingly documented across the Americas, can help facilitate criminal activities.
The United States’ postal agency, for example, has been at the heart of the country’s opioid crisis. International sellers of powerful synthetic opioids like fentanyl are using the U.S. Postal Service to ship these drugs to the United States. A recent report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations focusing on how to combat the opioid crisis found that the agency is failing to “recognize and prepare for” packages that contain illegal drugs like fentanyl.
Mailing services have long been a popular method used by criminal organizations to traffic drugs and other contraband due to the fact that they don’t run the risk of authorities stopping and arresting one of their members caught in the act of physically transporting the illicit goods. Postal service employees also don’t have the capacity to adequately inspect every shipment that passes through.
The U.S.P.S. is not the only mailing service to be exploited by criminal groups in Latin America.
Mexican criminal groups have in the past used their country’s public postal service to traffic drugs, weapons and contraband by using trucks bearing the same logo, among other techniques. Large quantities of drugs have also been trafficked through mail systems in Peru and Ecuador.