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DEA Investigation Results in 114 Individuals Indicted for
Drug Trafficking in Old San Juan’s La Perla Ward

DEA special agents enter a residence in La Perla to execute an arrest warrant. DEA and PRPD agents execute a search warrant at a residence in La Perla. DEA special agents enter La Perla Ward in Old San Juan, PR to execute arrests warrants.
DEA special agents enter a residence in La Perla to execute an arrest warrant.
DEA and PRPD agents execute a search warrant at a residence in La Perla.
DEA special agents enter La Perla Ward in Old San Juan, PR to execute arrests warrants.

SAN JUAN, P.R. – A federal grand jury indicted 114 individuals on June 27 as a result of an investigation lead by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), with the collaboration of Immigration and Customs Enforcement-Homeland Security Investigations (ICE), Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Bureau (ATF) and the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD), United States Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez announced today. The defendants are charged in a nine-count indictment with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin, cocaine, marijuana, oxycodone (commonly known as Percocet) and alprazolam (commonly known as Xanax). Count five charges 30 defendants with using and carrying firearms during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime. Defendant José Herrera-Rodríguez, aka “Cascote” is also facing two charges of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, a convicted felon.

(L-R) PRPD LT Digno Cartagena and DEA SAC Javier F. Peña supervise the progress of the arrest operation near La Perla ward in Old San Juan, PR.
(L-R) PRPD LT Digno Cartagena and DEA SAC Javier F. Peña supervise the progress of the arrest operation near La Perla ward in Old San Juan, PR.

The object of the conspiracy was to distribute and supply controlled substances within La Perla Ward, and to supply heroin to numerous public housing projects, municipalities and towns within Puerto Rico for significant financial gain. The defendants and their co-conspirators would purchase wholesale quantities of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, Xanax and Percocet to distribute the same in street quantity amounts at their drug distribution points. The leaders would routinely give out “samples” of new batches of heroin or cocaine to users in order to test the “quality” of the drug and promote the sale of the product.

The “drug owners” would often receive proceeds from the sale of specific controlled substances. These controlled substances were sold in distinctive baggies, vials or packaging, using stickers or brands in order to identify and maintain control of the drugs disseminated at the drug distribution points. They would use their homes or rent “Chalets” in La Perla Ward to process kilogram quantities of narcotics for street level sales. The members of the drug trafficking organization would use force, violence and intimidation in order to gain and maintain control of their drug points and in order to intimidate rival drug trafficking organizations and/or expand their drug trafficking activities.

The 114 co-conspirators had many roles, in order to further the goals of the conspiracy, including 17 leaders/“bichotes,” and 16 drug point owners/magnates, enforcers, suppliers, runners, sellers, drug processors, facilitators and lookouts.

Young student in uniform buying drugs in La Perla

The indictment includes various forfeiture allegations. The narcotics forfeiture allegation includes a sum of money of $20 million and 50 properties in La Perla Ward. The forfeiture allegations for the money laundering conspiracies include 6 properties in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. The firearms forfeiture allegation includes 17 firearms: 12 handguns, 4 rifles, 1 shotgun and ammunition.

“This violent organization was supplying and selling heroin, cocaine, marihuana, Percocet and Xanax, not only to the people in La Perla, but to people living in different municipalities, minors and tourists. Today we have put an end to their criminal activities,” said Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. “These traffickers will not be allowed to walk our streets and live among our neighborhoods, and we will not tolerate the seepage of drug-related violence in our communities. We are committed to disrupting their operations and will concentrate our efforts to stop them from committing their day-to-day criminal activities.”

“DEA’s commitment to rid our communities of the scourge of drugs in a strong alliance with our state, local and federal partners is unequivocal,” said Javier Peña, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Caribbean Division. “Today’s operation in La Perla and throughout the San Juan Metro Area and neighboring towns is part of our efforts to take the communities away from the control and intimidation of drug traffickers and give the control back to the residents.”

The chief of Police, José Figueroa Sancha, said that “this operation is a joint effort of state and federal law enforcement agencies in order to stop crime in Puerto Rico and disarticulate drug related gangs. The public safety of our communities is our main concern, and everyone’s responsibility. Puerto Rico’s Police Department continues to unite efforts in the fight against crime, but at the same time teach our new generations the importance of dignity and respect, all which will conclude in a law and order society.”

This case is part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCEDTF). It was investigated by DEA, ICE, ATF and PRPD, and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys George A. Massucco-La Taif and Miryam Fernández, Chief of the Money Laundering and Forfeiture Unit.

If convicted, the defendants face a minimum of ten years imprisonment and a maximum of life imprisonment, with fines of up to $8 million. Criminal indictments are only charges and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.