BOSTON — A Puerto Rican man was sentenced today in federal court in Worcester for his role in a wide-ranging fentanyl, heroin, crack and cocaine trafficking conspiracy.
Rafael Hidalgo Rodriguez, 34, of Ponce, Puerto Rico was sentenced by U.S. District Court Judge Timothy S. Hillman to 68 months in prison and four years of supervised release. On December 2, 2021, Rodriguez pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute 280 grams or more of cocaine base and 500 grams or more of cocaine.
According to court documents, following a fatal fentanyl overdose in September 2018, law enforcement began an investigation into a drug trafficking organization (DTO) led by co-conspirators Pedro Baez and Anthony Baez that distributed cocaine, heroin and fentanyl in the Fitchburg area.
Through a series of court-authorized interceptions of phones used by the DTO and its suppliers, surveillance and controlled purchases, Rodriguez was identified as the source of the DTO’s cocaine and crack cocaine supply chain. Rodriguez, who was based in Puerto Rico, mailed packages containing cocaine to Rhode Island and Massachusetts. During the investigation, a package Rodriguez mailed to Massachusetts was seized which contained two kilograms of cocaine, as well as a package destined for Rodriguez in Puerto Rico that contained $65,000 in cash.
Over the course of the investigation, over 1.8 kilograms of a heroin and fentanyl mixture, over 3.6 kilograms of cocaine and over 50 grams of crack cocaine, as well as a stolen, loaded handgun, drug manufacturing equipment and over $376,000 was seized. Rodriguez distributed between three and a half and five kilograms of cocaine.
Rodriguez was charged along with 17 others in July 2020. Rodriguez is the seventh defendant to be sentenced in the case. Co-defendants Amanda Ford, Branny Taveras and Hector Matos have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. In December 2020, Anthony Baez was sentenced by Judge Hillman to 13 years in prison and five years of supervised release Pedro Baez pleaded guilty on Feb. 2, 2021 and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 17, 2022. The remaining defendants have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
United States Attorney Rachael S. Rollins; Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Boston Division; Commissioner Carol Mici of the Massachusetts Department of Correction; and Colonel Christopher Mason, Superintendent of the Massachusetts State Police made the announcement today. The Fitchburg Police Department, U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Lunenburg Police Department also provided valuable assistance. Assistant U.S. Attorney Alathea Porter of Rollins’ Narcotics & Money Laundering Unit prosecuted the case.
The operation is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) Strike Force Initiative, which provides for the establishment of permanent multi-agency task force teams that work side-by-side in the same location. This co-located model enables agents from different agencies to collaborate on intelligence-driven, multi-jurisdictional operations to disrupt and dismantle the most significant drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations.
The details contained in the indictment are allegations. The remaining defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.