DEA Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Javier F. Peña (at the podium) responds to questions from the media during the news conference at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico. From L-R James Dinkins, ICE Executive Associate Director for Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and ICE HSI SAC Roberto Escobar listen to SAC Peña (at the podium) remarks..
(L-R) James Dinkins, ICE Executive Associate Director for HSI, Brigadier General Carlos Mena, Director of Criminal Investigations and INTERPOL Division of the Colombian National Police, ICE HSI SAC Roberto Escobar and DEA SAC Javier F. Peña discuss the progress of the arrest operation in Colombia. The Colombian National Police collaborated in the investigation and lead the execution of the arrests of seven Colombian based money launders targeted in the investigation.
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO — Twenty-three individuals were charged in five different indictments by a federal grand jury with conspiracy to commit money laundering, and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and import controlled substances, announced United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Caribbean Division, conducted the investigation under the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program. The Puerto Rico Police Department and the San Juan Municipal Police assisted during the arrest operation.
The first indictment alleges that, beginning on January 2007 and ending in or about January 2008, defendants Ricardo Betancourt-Muñoz, aka “Tommy,” José Ramon Parra-Botero, aka “Flecha,” William Garzon, aka “Wilo,” Carlos Maestre-Astacio, aka “Flechimono,” Manuel De Jesús Cedeño-Vilorio, Miguel Ángel Builes-Mejías, aka “Migue,” José Gómez-Cubero and José I. Valentin-López, aka “Negro,” conspired and engaged in financial transactions with proceeds generated by drug trafficking activities, in order to repatriate drug proceeds, which were located in the United States to Colombia, the source country of the narcotics, all for financial gain and profit. The forfeiture allegation involving the laundered drug proceeds in this case is in the amount of $877, 953.14.
The second indictment alleges that from January 2008 until February 2008, Cedeño-Vilorio, Maestre-Astacio, Luis Eduardo Pinzón-Mahecha, aka “Lucho,” Juan Aguilar-Morales, Juan Rafael Mota-Cedeño, aka “Sobrino,” and David Flores-Arriaga, aka “Cabezón,” engaged in conspiracies to possess with intent to distribute and import cocaine and heroin. The forfeiture allegation in this indictment is for $248,400.00.
The third indictment alleges that Roberto Méndez-Hurtado, aka “Pluma Blanca,” Luz Janet Díaz-Galeano, aka “La Mona,” Renaldo Zuñiga-Uribe, aka “Muelas,” Pinzón-Mahecha, Camilo Andrés Sánchez-Valenzuela, aka “Loro,” Miguel Hidalgo, Eric Hidalgo, Eddy De Los Santos and José Meléndez engaged in a conspiracy to commit money laundering. The forfeiture allegation involving the laundered funds is for $1,805,284.00. Defendants Méndez-Hurtado and De Los Santos are also charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and import cocaine. The forfeiture allegation for any property or proceeds derived from the sale of the narcotics is for $2,990,000.00.
The fourth indictment charges defendants Maestre-Astacio and De Jesús-Cedeño, along with Eliezer Roldán-Maldonado and Edgardo Rodríguez-Morales for their participation in a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, with a forfeiture allegation of $48,000.00.
ICE, DEA, PRPD Agents execute an arrest warrant at one of the arrest locations in Puerto Rico during OCDETF Operation Side Show targeting a Caribbean based money laundering cell of the Norte del Valle Cartel.
ICE and DEA special agents bring defendant to the prisoner processing location in San Juan. Seven arrests warrants were executed in Puerto Rico, one in St. Thomas, two in New York, one in Miami, seven in Colombia and five in the Dominican Republic as part of ICE, DEA OCDETF Operation Side Show.
The last indictment charges Aguilar-Morales and De Jesús-Cedeño, along with Ángel Morales-Rosario, for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and import cocaine beginning in June 2008 until October 2009.
Defendants will be arrested in Puerto Rico, Colombia and the Dominican Republic. The defendants arrested in Colombia and the Dominican Republic will be extradited.
“Due to the efforts of the federal and local law enforcement agencies we will prosecute these individuals who, while engaged in drug trafficking activities, also assisted drug traffickers in the financial end of their business. Without these financial transactions drug traffickers are unable to enjoy the profits of their illegal activities, this is a significant blow to those who assist in the concealment of drug proceeds” said US Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez.
"Our efforts along with our domestic and international law enforcement partners have crippled the narcotic and money laundering activities of the Norte del Valle Cartel,” said Roberto Escobar Vargas, special agent in charge of ICE Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) in Puerto Rico. “HSI will continue our relentless attack against this cartel, aiming to dismantle them and stop the violence they inflict on our communities."
“DEA’s unity of efforts with ICE and other regional law enforcement partners lead to the successful removal of this significant drug trafficking and money laundering Caribbean Cell of the Norte del Valle Cartel” said Javer F. Peña, Special Agent in Charge of the DEA in the Caribbean. “DEA will continue collaborating closely with ICE and our partners in an united front to continue our coordinated attack on all the drug trafficking and money laundering organizations in the Caribbean region”
If convicted, the defendants face a sentence of up to twenty years in federal prison for the money laundering charges, and up to life in prison for the drug conspiracy charges. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Myriam Y. Fernández, chief of the Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit.
Criminal indictments are only charges and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.