Alexis Candelario-Santana, 42, was sentenced today to life in prison for murdering eight people and an unborn child and attempting to murder 19 others during a mass shooting at a Puerto Rico nightclub in 2009.
Acting Assistant Attorney General Mythili Raman of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division and U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez made the announcement.
“The horrifying massacre at La Tómbola came just nine months after Candelario-Santana’s release from prison for committing 12 murders. During his rampage, he brutally killed or injured dozens of other innocent victims, including children and the elderly,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Raman. “Our thoughts are with the victims and their families, and we hope that today’s life sentence brings some measure of comfort to them. As this prosecution and today’s life sentence shows, we will not waver in our commitment to bringing violent criminals to justice.”
“With the sentencing of this career criminal we have made our community a safer place. The U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue working along with other law enforcement agencies to prosecute criminals who deprive our communities of a peaceful and safe environment,” said U.S. Attorney Rodríguez-Vélez. “I commend our prosecutors and investigative agencies who have demonstrated, once again, that our efforts continue to provide positive results to the community.”
Candelario-Santana and his co-defendant David Oquendo-Rivas were convicted by a federal jury on March 8, 2013. Candelario-Santana was convicted of 28 counts of committing violent crimes in aid of racketeering activity, one count of racketeering conspiracy, nine counts of using a firearm in relation to a crime of violence, one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance and one count of possessing a firearm as a convicted felon. Oquendo-Rivas was convicted of 28 counts of committing violent crimes in aid of racketeering activity and nine counts of using a firearm in relation to a crime of violence. These offenses occurred on Oct. 17, 2009, in what became known as the “La Tómbola Massacre.”
Based on the government’s charging documents, only Candelario-Santana was potentially eligible for the death penalty. On March 23, 2013, the same jury that determined the guilt of Candelario-Santana and Oquendo-Rivas was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on the question of whether Candelario-Santana should be sentenced to death or life in prison. As a result, under the Federal Death Penalty Act, Candelario-Santana was required to be sentenced to life in prison.
According to the evidence presented at trial, from approximately 1993 through 2003, Candelario-Santana was a leader of the drug trafficking organization that operated principally in Sabana Seca, Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. The organization purchased drugs in bulk, processed and packaged the drugs, and sold them at Sabana Seca through numerous sellers, runners and enforcers under Candelario-Santana’s control. The organization sold crack, cocaine, heroin and marijuana, and members of the organization routinely possessed firearms to protect its drug points. In addition, the evidence introduced at trial established that, between 1995 and 2001, Candelario-Santana either personally killed, or ordered others to kill, 13 individuals whom he viewed as threats to his drug trafficking organization or as being disloyal members of the drug trafficking organization.
In approximately 2002, Candelario-Santana was arrested and charged in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico with numerous murders. Candelario-Santana was eventually convicted of 12 murders in the local courts, and was sentenced to a total of 12 years in prison. Sometime after Candelario-Santana’s arrest, co-defendant Carmelo Rondón-Feliciano took charge of the day-to-day operations of the organization, but Candelario-Santana continued to direct the organization from prison until approximately 2006, when he was marginalized by co-conspirator Wilfredo Semprit-Santana and Rondón-Feliciano. According to evidence presented at trial, Candelario-Santana was infuriated at being removed from power within the drug trafficking organization.
On Sept. 25, 2006, Rondón-Feliciano was arrested and charged in the District of Puerto Rico with federal drug trafficking crimes, for which he was eventually convicted. These charges stemmed, in part, from Rondón-Feliciano’s distribution of narcotics in Sabana Seca. After Rondón-Feliciano’s arrest, co-conspirator Semprit-Santana took charge of the organization.
In February 2009, Candelario-Santana was released from prison.
On Oct. 17, 2009, Semprit-Santana held the grand opening of a nightclub he had rented and refurbished called La Tómbola, located in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, complete with a popular live band and a festive Paso Fino horse parade, known as a “cabalgata.” The event was heavily attended, with families congregating inside and outside the establishment, most of whom had nothing to do with the drug trafficking organization and merely resided in the general area. At approximately 11:50 p.m., Candelario-Santana, co-defendant David Oquendo-Rivas, and others, all of whom were heavily armed, drove to La Tómbola. When they arrived, they immediately opened fire indiscriminately on all the patrons located outside, many of whom were women, children and elderly people. Candelario-Santana and Oquendo-Rivas stormed into the La Tómbola, and Candelario-Santana was heard to yell, “no one gets out alive,” as they opened fire on the people inside.
In all, eight people and an 8-month unborn child were killed as a result of the gunfire at La Tómbola, and 19 other victims were shot and injured. The individuals killed included Candelario-Santana’s godson, Rondón-Feliciano’s stepson, and Candelario-Santana’s cousin. The evidence introduced at trial demonstrated that 335 expended shell-casings were recovered from the La Tómbola crime scene. The ballistics evidence established that three AK-47-type assault rifles, one AR-15-type assault rifle, eight .9 mm semi-automatic pistols, three 40-caliber semi-automatic pistols, and two 45-caliber semi-automatic pistols were used in the attack.
Oquendo-Rivas is scheduled for sentencing on Sept. 20, 2013.
The case was investigated by the FBI and the Puerto Rico Police Department, with the collaboration of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; Instituto de Ciencias Forenses; and the Puerto Rico Department of Justice. The case was prosecuted by First Assistant U.S. Attorney María Dominguez-Victoriano and Assistant U.S. Attorney Marcela C. Mateo of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico and Trial Attorney Bruce R. Hegyi of the Criminal Division’s Capital Case Unit.