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Feds Arrest 37 Drug Traffickers In One Day, Some Still in Their Underwear!

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Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Velez

SAN JUAN – The Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) dismantled a drug trafficking organization responsible for the transportation of multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine and drug money between Puerto Rico and the mainland United States, according to U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Velez.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) is in charge of the investigation with the collaboration of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigations (ICE-HSI) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Rodríguez-Vélez said.

On September 30, 2015, a federal grand jury returned a three-count indictment charging 37 people with participating in a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and conspiracy to tamper with a witness.

The accused are: Luis Rivera-Ramos, aka “Luigi;” Rubén Barceló-Severino, aka “Chucky;” Jesús M. Vázquez-Rivera; Glarivy Rivera-Huertas; Luis Pintor; Antonio Llano-Mulley, aka “Pupolo;” Valeria Ramos-Ruiz; Ashley Flores-Carter; Kenneth Rivera-Ramos, aka “Gazu;” Kelvin Collazo-Rodríguez, aka “Pirulo;” Eddie Fernández-Ruiz; Carmen Yaritza Povez-James; Xavier Camacho-Valdés; Carmen Odalis Flores-Dávila; Valeria Mojica-De Jesús; José Burgos-Estrada; Joselyn Alicea-Villegas; David Reyes-Santiago; Deyaneira Reyes-Santiago; Kevin Reyes-Santiago; Jonathan Reyes-Santiago; Pedro Ramos-Ruiz; Lynn Ramos; Alba Torres-Suárez; Aníbal Torres-Pérez; Ayleen Santana-Gómez; Blanca Calo-Vázquez; Dariana Santiago-Falcón; Esteban A. Rivera-Guzmán; Gilberto Villegas; Joson F. Abreu; Jessica Martínez-Alfaro; Juan Figueroa-Cabrera; Kacsy Maldonado-Giegel; Liliana Geigel-Rivera; Llinozca Delgado-Ríos; and Nayad Pujols-Noboa.

The investigation leading to Wednesday’s arrests uncovered that members of this organization used drug “mules” to smuggle kilograms of cocaine hidden in suitcases on airplanes flying out of the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (LMMIA), the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. A drug mule is a person who transports illegal drugs by swallowing them in balloons or concealing them in a body cavity.

The kilos of cocaine were vacuum-sealed and pressed into the approximate width of a magazine and were then wrapped in carbon paper, according to Rodríguez-Vélez. The suitcases were altered to contain a hidden compartment in the bottom, where the kilograms of cocaine were concealed, she said. The suitcases typically contained two kilograms each and the mules would travel with one or two suitcases at a time.

The organization instructed the mules on how to handle law enforcement in the event that they were arrested for smuggling. The organization’s leadership would provide the mules with a story to tell law enforcement to lead them in the wrong direction and away from the organization. The organization also used intimidation and threats of violence to prevent the mules from cooperating with law enforcement.

“These arrests are a clear indication of the success of the OCDETF in the fight against drug trafficking. Today’s arrests dismantle an organization that coordinated not only the traffic of cocaine between Puerto Rico and the Continental United States, but also the movement of drug money, essential to the success of these illegal activities,” said Rodríguez-Vélez. “We will continue maximizing all of our combined resources to investigate and prosecute those who disregard our laws and try to smuggle illegal contraband into our jurisdiction.”

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Aaron Howell.

If found guilty, the accused face terms of imprisonment from 10 years to life. Criminal indictments are only charges and not evidence of guilt, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. A person is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty, it said.

The case was investigated by agents from the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) that investigates South American-based drug trafficking organizations responsible for the movement of multi-kilogram quantities of narcotics using the Caribbean as a trans-shipment point for further distribution to the United States. The initiative is composed of DEA, HSI, FBI, US Coast Guard, US Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico and PRPD’s Joint Forces for Rapid Action.

The Airport Investigations and Tactical Team (AirTAT) operates in the District of Puerto Rico as an OCDETF strategic initiative that is part of the National Airport Initiative. It is a multi-agency, co-located task force that includes DEA, HSI, FBI, USPIS, CBP – Office of Field Operations and ATF. AirTAT also works closely with the Police of Puerto Rico.

AirTAT’s mission is to identify, locate, disrupt, dismantle and prosecute TCOs and their operatives using the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport (LMMIA), the Fernando Luis Rivas Dominicci Airport (FLRDA) and airport peripherals as platforms to smuggle narcotics, weapons, human cargo, counterfeit documents, illicit proceeds and other contraband through these critical airport infrastructures.

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy is primarily known for his investigative reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands. A series of reports beginning in the 1990's revealed that there was everything from coliform bacteria to Cryptosporidium in locally-bottled St. Croix drinking water, according to a then-unpublished University of the Virgin Islands sampling. Another report, following Hurricane Hugo in 1989, cited a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) confidential overview that said that over 40 percent of the U.S. Virgin Islands public lives below the poverty line. The Virgin Islands Free Press is the only Caribbean news source to regularly incorporate the findings of U.S. Freedom of Information Act requests. John's articles have appeared in the BVI Beacon, St. Croix Avis, San Juan Star and Virgin Islands Daily News. He is the former news director of WSVI-TV Channel 8 on St. Croix.

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