111 Members of a Drug Trafficking Organization Indicted as a Result of Ponce Strike Force Investigation
JUN 13 --SAN JUAN, P.R. – On May 27, 2008, a federal Grand Jury in the District of Puerto Rico returned a seven-count indictment, charging 111 defendants with federal drug trafficking and firearms offenses. This morning, the Ponce Strike Force agents arrested 65 members of the drug an firearms trafficking organization, which had been established since 2003 at the Ernesto Ramos Antonini Public Housing Project, commonly referred to as “Pámpanos”, El Tuque Ward, Salistral Ward, and Rosaly Public Housing Project, all located within the Municipality of Ponce; and the Kennedy Public Housing Project, located within the Municipality of Juana Díaz. The arrest warrants were executed by more than 500 agents of the FBI, DEA, ICE, Puerto Rico Police (PRPD) Department and the Correction and Rehabilitation.
The indictment charges that since the year 2003, the members of the drug trafficking organization knowingly and intentionally possessed with intent to distribute and/or distributed controlled substances, to wit: in excess of fifty (50) grams of cocaine base, a Schedule II Narcotic Drug Controlled Substance; and/or in excess of one (1) kilogram of heroin, a Schedule I, Narcotic Drug Controlled Substance; and/or in excess of five (5) kilograms of cocaine, a Schedule II, Narcotic Drug Controlled Substance; and/or in excess of one hundred (100) kilograms of marijuana, a Schedule I, Controlled Substance; within one thousand (1,000) feet of the real property comprising a public or private elementary, vocational or secondary school, or housing facility owned by a public housing authority. All in violation of Title 21, United States Code, Sections 841(a)(1), 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, used and carried firearms, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Sections 924(o) and 2. The indictment also contains narcotics forfeiture allegations, pursuant to Title 21, United States Code, Section 853.
“This is the second largest indictment issued in the history of Federal District Court of Puerto Rico. Once again, the hard work and efforts of state and federal law enforcement agents who participate in the Ponce Strike Force and the FBI Safe Streets Task Force, have proven that through collaboration we can and will eliminate all violent drug trafficking organizations in the southern part of the island,” said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez during a press conference today. “We take this opportunity to thank the Administration of Public Housing in Puerto Rico for all their cooperation during this investigation; their assistance contributed to our success today.”
The indictment alleges that defendant José Caraballo-Torres, aka “Naito,” became the principal leader of the conspiracy, and he controlled, through co-defendants also acting as leaders, the drug distribution points located at Ernesto Ramos Antonini (Pámpanos) Public Housing Project, El Tuque Ward, Rosaly Public Housing Project, and Salistral Ward in the Municipality of Ponce, Puerto Rico, and Kennedy Public Housing Project, in the Municipality of Juana Díaz, Puerto Rico. He directly supervised the operations at the Ernesto Ramos Antonini (Pámpanos) Public Housing Project.
The leaders 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. The leaders of this organization would divide amongst themselves and their subordinates the proceeds of the drug trafficking sales. 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: thirteen (13) leaders; twenty (20) enforcers; fourteen (14) runners; fifty seven (57) sellers; one (1) supplier, one (1) gunsmith; and five (5) drug processors and facilitators.
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 Ponce Strike Force Assistant U.S. Attorney Jose Capó-Iriarte and Assistant U.S. Attorney Myriam Fernández under the supervision of Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Guillermo Gil-Bonar.
Criminal indictments are only charges and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.