Today we have announced charges against 16 police officers accused of running a criminal organization right out of the police department itself.
The majority of these officers are charged with racketeering crimes under the RICO Act – the same law used to prosecute mobsters and gang members. The criminal action today dismantles an entire network of officers who, we allege, used their badges and their guns not to uphold the law, but to break it. According to the indictment, these officers exploited the authority with which they were entrusted to steal, extort and sell drugs. They then concealed their crimes by trying to make it look as if it were all legitimate police work.
As charged in today’s indictment, these police officers abused the powers of their office to intimidate and extort people for their own profit. The officers conducted traffic stops and illegally entered the homes of suspected criminals, then stole their money and property, including illegal drugs. The officers then promised to arrange for the release of their victims from prison -- but only in return for cash bribes. This was a classic criminal shakedown, an organized crime spree of which the most experienced mafia family would have been proud. But the people wielding the guns and stealing the drugs here weren’t mob goodfellas or mafia soldiers – these were police officers violating their oaths to enforce the law, making a mockery of the police’s sacred responsibility to protect the public.
The Criminal Division of the Department of Justice is determined to root out corruption, wherever and in whatever form it may be found. The charges today are the result of the strong relationship between the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section, the United States Attorney’s Office here in Puerto Rico, and the FBI’s San Juan Division – as well as the Police of Puerto Rico, which has pledged its full cooperation in our investigation.
We know that corruption in local government, especially when perpetrated by police officers, strikes at the core of what holds a community together. We trust the police to take drugs off our streets, not steal them and sell them right back to street dealers. We trust the police to conduct traffic stops to protect public safety, not to shake people down. We trust the police to keep the peace, not add to the violence that too often plagues our communities.
Today’s arrests build on the Department of Justice’s extensive efforts to fight police corruption here in Puerto Rico and throughout the United States. In Operation Guard Shack, the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice have prosecuted 89 law enforcement officers and 44 others for accepting money in exchange for providing armed security to drug dealers. That operation was a resounding success in removing corrupt law enforcement officers from the police force.
But as today’s arrests and charges demonstrate, we must never rest in our efforts to root out corruption. When citizens can’t trust the very people whose mission is to uphold the law – when the person wearing Police of Puerto Rico on their back or on their badge is no different from the gangster down the street – everyone in the community suffers.
We are determined to repair that trust. And that is why we are calling on anyone who believes they may have been a victim of those charged today or of similar police corruption to come forward and work with us. Together, we can ensure that every officer lives up to the Police of Puerto Rico’s motto: Protection and Integrity.
No one – and certainly no one in law enforcement – is above the law. All of us standing here today will continue this fight against corruption, and we are committed to bring to justice those who would use their public authority to endanger the very people they pledged to protect.
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