United States and Colombian Law Enforcement Authorities Execute Simultaneous Arrests in Puerto Rico, Florida and Colombia Dismantling International Drug Trafficking and Money Laundering Organization
This morning, U.S. federal agents in coordination with Colombian law enforcement authorities simultaneously executed arrest warrants in Puerto Rico, Florida and Colombia, dismantling an international drug trafficking and money laundering organization responsible for the importation of multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine into the United States and the laundering of millions of dollars in drug proceeds, U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez of the District of Puerto Rico announced today.
Last month, a federal grand jury in the District of Puerto Rico returned a 23-count indictment charging 29 individuals with numerous violations to federal narcotics and money laundering laws. The charges include conspiracy to import controlled substances, conspiracy to possess controlled substances, conspiracy to launder monetary instruments and substantive counts of money laundering and international money laundering. The indictment also contains a forfeiture allegation for the proceeds obtained as a result of the organization’s illegal activities.
The individuals named in the indictment are Carlos A. Segura-Galvis, Adolfo León García-Sierra, Jair Eudoro Ramírez-Díaz, Roque Caballero-Caballero, Hugo Ocampo-Gutierrez, Mireya Cabra-Traslaviña, Elkin Meléndez-Santiago, Gamalier González-Maldonado, Giovanni Cosme-Fernández, Eduardo Esteras-Rosado, José O. Medina-Nery, Hugo Enrique Romero-Vargas, Edison Miranda-Angulo, Noe Carbajal, Felipe Francisco De La Plaza, Edwin Lozada-Flores, Miguel Vargas-Roa, Ricardo Rodríguez-Rodríguez, Jorge Villarran-Romero, Francisco Otero-Retamar, Miguel A. Lebrón-Hernández, Eldin Meléndez-Santiago, Ángel M. Sierra-Rivera, Bergman Santiago-Contes, José Martínez-Meléndez, Flor Marina González-Rojas, Geovanny Mosquera-Vanegas, Yurgen Gabriel Álvarez-Gutierrez and Brian Montalvo-Tolentino.
Nine of the 29 defendants, Adolfo León García-Sierra, Jair Eudoro Ramírez-Díaz, Roque Caballero-Caballero, Hugo Ocampo-Gutierrez, Mireya Cabra-Traslaviña, Hugo Enrique Romero-Vargas, Flor Marina González-Rojas, Geovanny Mosquera-Vanegas and Yurgen Gabriel Álvarez-Gutierrez, will be extradited from Colombia to stand trial in the District of Puerto Rico.
The investigation leading to today’s arrests uncovered that from November 2010 through September 2012, members of this drug smuggling and money laundering organization operating in Colombia were sending kilogram quantities of cocaine to Puerto Rico using go-fast vessels. Members of the organization in Colombia and Puerto Rico would coordinate the maritime transportation in the following way: the vessels would depart from the northern part of Venezuela and would meet other vessels departing from Puerto Rico to receive the drugs at a pre-arranged point, approximately 100 nautical miles south of Puerto Rico. On some occasions, the vessels coming from Venezuela would travel directly to the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, to deliver the drugs to individuals that were waiting for the drugs at shore. The drugs would be briefly stored in Vieques until the same was transported into the main island of Puerto Rico through the Fajardo-Vieques ferry. On some occasions the organization also used cargo containers and other type of vessels to smuggle cocaine and heroin into Puerto Rico.
It was also part of the modus operandi of this organization to require that members of the organization in Puerto Rico would travel to Venezuela and other places and remain there during the drug smuggling ventures to act as a personal guarantee, also known as “fiscales,” for the payment of the controlled substances smuggled into Puerto Rico.
Once the drugs were smuggled into Puerto Rico, members of the organization operating in the Barrio Obrero ward of Santurce and other parts of the San Juan, Puerto Rico, metropolitan area would receive the drugs and distribute it in Puerto Rico for financial gain. A portion of the drugs would be further transported to New York for further distribution and additional financial gain. Once the drugs were distributed, members of the organization would reap the profits from the sale of the controlled substances and would wait for instructions from Colombia on how to send the proceeds of their illegal drug trafficking business back to Colombia.
The organization would repatriate their illegal proceeds through wire transfers to banking institutions in Panama and China, Western Union transfers to individuals in Colombia and Peru and by the use of couriers traveling to Puerto Rico from Colombia, Venezuela and/or Florida to receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in bulk cash.
The investigation also revealed that the organization used threats, intimidation and acts of violence, including kidnappings, to collect debts for the controlled substances smuggled into Puerto Rico.
Today’s arrests are the result of a long-term investigation led by special agents from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), in San Juan as part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) program. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation’s illegal drug supply.
“These arrests are a clear indication of the success of the OCDETF program in the fight against drug trafficking,” said U.S. Attorney Rodríguez-Vélez. “Today’s arrests dismantle an organization that coordinated not only the traffic of drugs within Colombia and the United States, but also the movement of drug money, which is essential to the success of these illegal activities. Among the individuals to be extradited from Colombia are drug owners, a maritime transportation coordinator, a money broker and enforcers for the drug trafficking organization. Two of the individuals named in this indictment have been listed as regional priority targets of the OCDETF program and are now behind bars facing long terms of imprisonment. We will continue maximizing our multi-agency efforts and will combine resources to investigate and prosecute those who disregard our laws and try to smuggle drugs into our jurisdiction.”
“This case exemplifies that those involved in the distribution of narcotics and other contraband will be vigorously investigated and prosecuted,” said Special Agent in Charge Ángel M. Meléndez of HSI San Juan. “Drug trafficking organizations must be aggressively attacked and dismantled at every level - from the street dealer to the international supplier and drug lord. Through the coordinated efforts of our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, we have effectively eradicated an organization responsible for bringing significant quantities of drugs into our communities.”
The defendants are facing terms of imprisonment from 10 years to life for the narcotics violations and up to 20 years for the money laundering violations. Criminal indictments are only charges and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Carlos R. Cardona for the District of Puerto Rico.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Puerto Rico gratefully acknowledges the assistance of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of International Affairs, the office of the Judicial Attaché of the U.S. Embassy in Colombia, HSI special agents in Bogota, Colombia, and Colombian law enforcement authorities for their assistance and support provided in this case.