63 Individuals Indicted For Drug Trafficking In The Municipality Of Ponce
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez announced the indictment and arrest of 63 defendants charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, and distribution of controlled substances. Today, DEA agents and officers of the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD), the agencies in charge of the investigation, executed the arrest warrants with assistance from ATF, FBI, the Puerto Rico Bureau of Special Investigations and the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
The indictment, handed down March 6, 2014 by a federal grand jury and unsealed in federal court today, charges 63 individuals with conspiracy to knowingly and intentionally possess with intent to distribute cocaine base (crack), heroin, cocaine, marihuana, Oxycodone (commonly known as Percocet) and Alprazolam (commonly known as Xanax), all within 1,000 feet of the real property comprising the La Ceiba Public Housing Project and other areas nearby in the Municipality of Ponce, Puerto Rico, all for significant financial gain and profit.
The indictment alleges that beginning in 2003, the organization operated several drug points located within La Ceiba Housing Project. Some of the defendants would routinely possess, carry, brandish and use firearms to protect themselves and the drug trafficking organization from rival gangs. The leaders would supply the firearms to their coconspirators.
The 63 co-conspirators had many roles in order to further the goals of the conspiracy. The following are the roles as alleged in the indictment: two leaders; four drug point owners; six enforcers; five administrators; 12 runners; 26 sellers; and 11 facilitators. All defendants are facing a forfeiture allegation of ten million dollars.
It was further part of the manner and means of the conspiracy that facilitators would act as intermediaries in drug sale transactions when clients did not want to go into the housing project. At times, taxi cabs would be used to transport organization members, narcotics and firearms to and from the La Ceiba Public Housing Project.
As part of the manner and means of the conspiracy: armed individuals that were not residents of La Ceiba were brought into La Ceiba by the leaders, administrators and drug point owners to provide security and protection from rival gangs.
“Violent drug trafficking gangs should know that we are determined to break their grip on communities, and that they will face severe penalties for their crimes,” said Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. “Federal and local law enforcement agencies remain committed to using every tool available to attack these criminal organizations, and to reduce gang violence and bring narcotics and firearms violators to justice.”
“DEA and the Police of Puerto Rico again join forces in support of the US Attorney’s Office Violent Crime Initiative to help eradicate violent drug trafficking organizations intimidating and affecting the quality of life of the law abiding citizens of the City of Ponce,” said Vito Salvatore Guarino, Special Agent in Charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), DEA Caribbean Division. “Our joint efforts with the Police of Puerto Rico Strike Forces and the U.S. Attorney’s Office will continue across the Island as we continue bringing to justice other violent drug trafficking organizations regardless in what part of the island they operate.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Teresa Zapata is in charge of the prosecution of the case. If convicted the defendants face a minimum sentence of 10 years up to life in prison. Indictments contain only charges and are not evidence of guilt. Defendants are presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.