U.S. Department of Justice
Peter F. Neronha
United States Attorney
District of Rhode Island
December 10, 2010
FEDERAL JURY CONVICTS THREE IN HEROIN SMUGGLING, DISTRIBUTION
AND MONEY LAUNDERING CONSPIRACY
7 charged in DEA Task Force investigation successfully prosecuted
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – A U.S. District Court jury today convicted Ervin Figueroa, 42, of Cranston, his brother, Elio Figueroa, 35, of Cranston, and a third man, Carlos R. Rodas of Guatemala for their roles in smuggling significant amounts of heroin into the United States from Guatemala, packaging and selling the drugs in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and laundering more than $100,000 in proceeds from the drug sales to Guatemala.
The defendants were members of a group of individuals that smuggled more than a kilo of heroin into the United States with the use of body couriers. The couriers swallowed latex wrapped heroin pellets prior to traveling from Guatemala, and then passed the heroin after arriving in Rhode Island.
The jury, after listening to more than six days of testimony, returned its verdicts after less than four hours of deliberations. The conviction of the three defendants today brings to seven the total number of individuals prosecuted in connection with this heroin smuggling, distribution and money laundering conspiracy.
The guilty verdicts were announced by U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha and Steven Derr, Special Agent in Charge of the New England Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha commented, “Today’s verdict demonstrates that, to the extent that drug trafficking organizations believe they can set up shop in our neighborhoods and destroy the quality of life for our citizens, they are wrong. I commend the members of the DEA Task Force for shutting down this heroin smuggling pipeline into Rhode Island and the team of prosecutors for successfully holding all seven defendants accountable for their actions.”
“Through the hard work of the DEA Task Force, this international heroin organization is no longer in business”, said Steven Derr, Special Agent in Charge of the New England Field Division of the DEA. “Heroin trafficking is the worst of the worst, preying on and sometimes creating an addict population which leads to other types of crimes. These convictions demonstrate the commitment of the DEA Task Force and the United States Attorney's Office to dismantle these groups and send the leaders to federal prison.”
In the summer of 2008, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Drug Task Force agents, through the use of wiretaps and other investigative techniques, conducted an investigation into the narcotics trafficking activities of a person identified as Jose A. Lazala. During the investigation into Lazala’s activities, numerous coconspirators and their roles in a drug trafficking conspiracy were identified. The Drug Task Force determined that Ervin Figueroa provided the group with the connection to the source of the supply of heroin in Guatemala, which was controlled in Guatemala by one of his brothers. Investigators determined that Ervin Figueroa and Jose Lazala distributed the heroin to customers in Rhode Island and elsewhere, and that Ervin Figueroa wired proceeds from the drug sales to his brother in Guatemala. Agents from the Drug Task Force arrested and charged seven individuals.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sandra R. Hebert, assisted by Assistant U.S. Attorney William J. Ferland, presented evidence to the jury that DEA Drug Task Force agents monitored hundreds of telephone conversations during which they heard Ervin Figueroa arrange several shipments totaling more than a kilo of heroin from Guatemala to Rhode Island by body couriers, including Carlos Rodas; the movement of the drugs and the defendants once the couriers and the heroin arrived in Rhode Island; and arrangements being made for payments for the drugs, including numerous wire transfers by Ervin Figueroa to his brother in Guatemala, totaling more than $100,000. Elio Figueroa acted as his brother Ervin’s assistant in numerous capacities, and was described at trial as Ervin’s “right hand man.”
The jury convicted Ervin Figueroa of one count of conspiracy to distribute or possess with the intent to distribute more than one kilogram of heroin; one count of possessing 100 grams or more of heroin with the intent to distribute; two counts of possession of heroin with the intent to distribute; one count of possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute; one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering and ten counts of money laundering.
Elio Figueroa was convicted of one count of conspiracy to distribute or possess with the intent to distribute more than one kilogram of heroin; and one count each of possessing 100 grams or more of heroin with the intent to distribute and possession of heroin with the intent to distribute.
Carlos Rodas was convicted of one count of conspiracy to distribute or possess with the intent to distribute more than one kilogram of heroin and two counts of possession of heroin with the intent to distribute.
Jose Lazala pleaded guilty in October 2009 to conspiracy to distribute or possess with the intent to distribute more than one kilogram of heroin and firearms charges. He was sentenced to 122 months in federal prison. Three other defendants have pleaded guilty in the case and have been sentenced to federal prison or are awaiting sentencing.
U.S. District Court Judge William E. Smith, who presided over the trial, scheduled sentencing hearings for Ervin and Elio Figueroa, and Carlos Rodas on March 25, 2011.
The DEA Drug Task Force, comprised of agents and law enforcement officers from the DEA, ATF, IRS, ICE, Rhode Island State Police, and Cranston, East Providence, Pawtucket, Providence, Newport, Warwick and Woonsocket police departments, was assisted in the investigation by the Massachusetts State Police.