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Press Release

60 Members of a Violent Gang Charged With Drug Trafficking and Firearms Violations in Ponce, Puerto Rico

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – On May 22, 2024, a federal grand jury in the District of Puerto Rico returned an indictment charging 60 gang members from the municipality of Ponce with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, possession and distribution of controlled substances, and firearms violations, announced W. Stephen Muldrow, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. This investigation was led by Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Puerto Rico Police Bureau (PRPB), Ponce Strike Force, with the collaboration of the Puerto Rico National Guard Counterdrug Program, the U.S.  Marshals Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), CBP Air and Marine Operations, U.S. Border Patrol Tactical Unit (BORTAC), the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Puerto Rico Department of Treasury (Hacienda).

“Too many lives have been lost because of drug trafficking and the violence it causes. This indictment demonstrates our shared commitment to protect our communities,” said U.S. Attorney Muldrow. “This is the third multi-defendant gang takedown this month and underscores the unyielding resolve of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies in Puerto Rico to bring violent offenders to justice.”

“Guns, violence, drugs, and murders are the day to day of this organization. Ponce residents deserve peace, and our children deserve to play in a street free of drugs. HSI is committed to our community, and we will not tolerate this violent behavior in our island,” said Rebecca González Ramos, Special Agent in Charge of HSI.

“Today marks a pivotal moment in our ongoing efforts to dismantle violent drug trafficking organizations that threaten the safety and well-being of our communities. The arrest of approximately 60 individuals is a testament to the unwavering dedication and collaboration of federal and local law enforcement agencies,” said Denise Foster, Special Agent in Charge of DEA. “This operation not only disrupts a major criminal network, but also underscores our commitment to bringing justice and safety to the people of Ponce. We will continue to leverage our combined resources and expertise to combat drug trafficking and ensure the security of all our citizens.”

The indictment alleges that from 2016, the drug trafficking organization distributed cocaine base (commonly known as “crack”), heroin, cocaine, marijuana, and fentanyl within 1,000 feet of the Arístides Chavier Arévalo, Ernesto Ramos Antonini, Dr. Manuel de la Pila, Ponce Housing and Hogares de Portugués Public Housing Projects (PHPs), and other areas in and nearby the municipality of Ponce, Puerto Rico, all for significant financial gain and profit. The object of the conspiracy was the large-scale distribution of controlled substances and to distribute the same in street quantities amounts at their drug distribution points. Some of these narcotics would be sent illegally by mail to the continental United States using the U.S. Postal Service.

The investigation revealed that during the conspiracy the defendants and their co-conspirators would use force, violence, including murder and intimidation, against rival drug trafficking organizations and to discipline members of their own drug trafficking organization. Members of the organization would go to “war” with rival gangs, which included retaliatory shooting incidents that, at times, resulted in injuries and death.

The defendants acted in different roles to further the goals of the drug trafficking conspiracy, including as leaders, owners, enforcers, runners, sellers, and facilitators. The members of the gang used force, violence, and intimidation to maintain control of the areas in which they operated. Twenty defendants are facing one charge of possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. The defendants charged in the indictment are:

[1] Armando L. Alicea-Santiago, a.k.a. “La Mami/Ñañito”

[2] José A. Custodio-Colón, a.k.a. “Gilligan/El Viejo”

[3] Christopher Román-Medina, a.k.a. “Keke”

[4] Armando Ortiz-Meléndez, a.k.a. “Yokain”

[5] Nestor Murray-Valentino, a.k.a. “Valentino”

[6] Nicky Cosme-Rivera, a.k.a. “Mellao”

[7] Héctor Pacheco-Figueras, a.k.a. “La H”

[8] Joshua Almodóvar, a.k.a. “Mamaito”

[9] Orlando Coimbre-Echevarría, a.k.a. “Orlandito”

[10] Giovanni Vargas-Maldonado, a.k.a. “Jova/La J”

[11] Jon Alvarado-Hernández, a.k.a. “Jacob”

[12] Raymond Torres-Zayas, a.k.a. “Macho”

[13] Eduardo Aponte Torres, a.k.a. “Edu/Menor/Bubu”

[14] Luis Laboy-Nadal, a.k.a. “Marlon/Mailon”

[15] Juan Limardo-Meléndez, a.k.a. “Jonny”

[16] José Méndez-Morales, a.k.a. “Hugo Boss/Gordo”

[17] Bryant Santiago-Ramírez, a.k.a. “Bryant”

[18] Edgargo Caraballo-Echevarría, a.k.a. “La J”

[19] Jomar Irrizarry-Sarriera

[20] Norberto Martinez-Castro, A/K/A Berto/Bertito/Enano,

[21] Eduardo Negron-Perez, A/K/A Bebo,

[22] Adam Maldonado-Santuche,

[23] José Vázquez-Vargas, a.k.a. “Gordo Janet”

[24] Kelvin Almodóvar-Toro, a.k.a. “Calvo”

[25] Jaime Padilla-Gómez, a.k.a. “Jimito”

[26] Rafael Alers-Ortiz, a.k.a. “Memin”

[27] José A. Custodio-Flores, a.k.a. “Gele”

[28] Jai López-Díaz, a.k.a. “Chai”

[29] Luis J. Alvarado-De La Cruz, a.k.a. “Joel”

[30] Joshua Rodríguez-Cortez, a.k.a. “Medusa/Versace”

[31] Vilma J. Vázquez-Vargas, a.k.a. “Janet”

[32] Jay Pages-Pacheco

[33] Héctor J. Orengo-Torres, a.k.a. “Javi”

[34] Ramón Echevarría-Caraballo, a.k.a. “Árabe”

[35] José Rodríguez-Casiano, a.k.a. “Jon Z”

[36] William González-Maldonado, a.k.a. “Casqui”

[37] Miguel Ortiz-González, a.k.a. “Saca Mostro”

[38] Jonathan Vázquez-Bota, a.k.a. “Mama Deo/Jona”

[39] Wilson Berríos-Flores, a.k.a. “Panda”

[40] Neftaly Rivera-Santiago, a.k.a. “Taly”

[41] Miguel Alexander-Báez, a.k.a. “Yoyo”

[42] Kevin Cosme-Rivera

[43] Josué Pérez-Torres, a.k.a. “Aguja”

[44] Ángel Santana-Pacheco, a.k.a. “Goldo”

[45] William Ramos-Rivera, a.k.a. “Willy”

[46] Alexis Aponte-Negrón

[47] Coral González-Bacenet

[48] Anthony Limardo-Mercado, a.k.a. “Mariachi”

[49] Arturo De Lahongrais-Emmanuelli

[50] Silverio Yoguez-Mercado, a.k.a. “Gringo”

[51] Jovelyn Marquez-Ruiz, a.k.a. “La Flaca”

[52] Manuel Alicea-Alicea, a.k.a. “Alicea”

[53] Wanda Vargas-Álvarez

[54] Jaime Méndez-Ortiz, a.k.a. Jimmy

[55] Ángel Mercado-Acabeo, a.k.a. “Cano/Canito”

[56] Ilia Martínez-Pagán, a.k.a. “Coral/Charlot”

[57] Jayson Camacho-Rodríguez

[58] María Mercado-Crespo, a.k.a. “Luly”

[59] Jadira Báez-Flores

[60] José Cambrelen-Pabón, a.k.a. “Buba”

Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) and Chief of the Gang Section Alberto López-Rocafort; Deputy Chief of the Gang Section, AUSA Teresa Zapata-Valladares; AUSAs R. Vance Eaton and Héctor Siaca Flores are in charge of the prosecution of the case. If convicted on the drug charges, the defendants face a minimum sentence of 10 years, and up to life in prison. If convicted of both the drug and firearms charges in Count Seven, the defendants face a minimum sentence of 15 years, and up to life in prison. All defendants are facing a narcotics forfeiture allegation of $123,662,000.

This prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States by using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach that leverages the strengths of federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies against criminal networks.

An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.


Updated May 23, 2024

Drug Trafficking
Firearms Offenses
Press Release Number: 24-037