SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – A federal indictment was unsealed today in the District of Puerto Rico charging twenty-nine defendants with racketeering—drug trafficking, money laundering, bribery, extortion, wire fraud, and murder—and firearms trafficking committed in furtherance of one of the oldest criminal enterprises in Puerto Rico, El Grupo de los 27, announced W. Stephen Muldrow, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. Since 1980, El Grupo de los 27, also known as Los 27, has engaged in criminal activity within and outside the prison system of the Puerto Rico Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (PR DOC) and the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP). On June 27, 1980, Luis Pinela-Pizarro, aka “Shino Pinela/Tio/Pai/El Viejo” and others founded Los 27. The enterprise’s primary purpose was to take control of the prisons to make money.
Los 27 made money from diverse crimes. The main sources of revenue for the enterprise were: drug trafficking in the PR DOC and the BOP; a tax they imposed on other inmates known as el incentivo when they introduced drugs into prison; and fraud and extortion through canteos. Los 27’s involvement in drug trafficking included the introduction and distribution of cocaine, heroin, marihuana, synthetic cannabinoids, Suboxone (buprenorphine/naloxone), crystal methamphetamine, alprazolam (Xanax), oxycodone (Percocet), and fentanyl. Members of Los 27 were able to introduce this contraband into the prisons with the help of corrupt PR DOC correctional officers, civilians who worked inside of the prison system, people who visited inmates, and persons who—from outside the prisons—threw drugs into the facilities (known as “pitcheos”), which were caught by members of the enterprise. Thirteen of the charged defendants were either drug suppliers or facilitators of the enterprise, some of them correctional officers, who, from outside of prison, played an instrumental role in ensuring the group’s success in the drug trade and canteos.
The canteos were the main source of income for the enterprise. In the canteos, Los 27 members used cellphones illegally introduced into prison to obtain money from people outside of prison by threatening and lying to them. Hundreds of Los 27 members located in different prisons received cell phones from their leaders. They then called people at random and used lies and threats to obtain money. In one day, a Los 27 member could obtain thousands of dollars from the canteos.
The organization generated millions of dollars from its involvement in crime. For this reason, the indictment includes a forfeiture allegation of $40,000,000 for money the enterprise made from racketeering.
Los 27 used violence including assaults, electrocutions, and murder to maintain discipline and control over the enterprise’s criminal activities and continue generating money. Members of the enterprise and their associates were expected to follow the rules of the enterprise. Failure to follow certain rules could be punished by death. According to the information contained in the indictment, on July 26, 2010, defendant Edgardo Rondón-Correa ordered the murder of Alexis Santiago-Montañez, a/k/a “Chanfle”. Leaders punished cooperation with law enforcement and killing other Los 27 members with death to maintain and increase the power of the enterprise.
Furthermore, to maintain and increase its power, Los 27 worked with people and gangs in the free community who were associated with the enterprise. Notably, members of the enterprise and their associates engaged in firearms trafficking to make sure that the gangs outside of prison that were affiliated with Los 27 would have the weapons they needed to maintain control of their drug trafficking activities.
The charged defendants include fourteen leaders of the enterprise and thirteen members of the enterprise’s outside-support system who acted as drug suppliers and facilitators. The defendants are:
- Luis Pinela-Pizarro, aka “Shino Pinela/Tio/Pai/El Viejo”
- Luis Soto-Solivan, aka “Joel Cabezón/Joel DLP”
- Edgardo Rondón-Correa, aka “Tribi/Pepa”
- Héctor Ramos-Rodríguez, aka “Cagari”
- Omar Bermúdez-Serrano, aka “Arrebati”
- Abimael Morales-Arvelo, aka “Abi”
- Ángel Gómez-Martínez, aka “Spaghetti”
- Juan Rodríguez-García, aka “Yito”
- Juan Peña-Delgado, aka “Mongui”
- David Torres-Cotto, aka “Coscu/Cantante”
- Javier Luciano-Cruz, aka “Coco”
- Alexander Millán, aka “Gago”
- Jeonell De Jesús-Torres, aka “Panda/El Oso”
- Irvin Torres-Meléndez, aka “Culson”
- Victor Elías-Boza, aka “Grilla”
- Jose Torres-Tañón, aka “Pajai”
- Sundry Ortiz-Brito
- Cinthia Caquías-Rodríguez
- Naomie R. Clavel-Nadal
- Grecia Salas-Cruz
- Johana Bermúdez-Rodríguez
- Stephanie Torres-Mora
- Michelle González-Roldán
- Yahaira Marrero-Santana
- Carmen Maldonado-Vázquez
- Waleska Santana-Hernández
- Carolina Torres-Tangarife
- Eddie William Pérez-Santiago
- Héctor Figueroa-Marbelt
This prosecution is the product of an FBI investigation with the collaboration of the Puerto Rico Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the Internal Revenue Service, the Puerto Rico Department of the Treasury (Hacienda), the U.S. Marshals Service, the Puerto Rico Police Bureau, and the San Juan Municipal Police.
“This indictment highlights the efforts of law enforcement authorities that targeted a large-scale prison gang involved in violent organized crime,” said W. Stephen Muldrow, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. “Recognizing and neutralizing these organizations is vitally important, and I must commend our local, state and federal law enforcement partners for their commitment to make our communities safer.”
“Today, the FBI San Juan Division, in coordination with the New York, Tampa and Boston Field Offices, as well as our local, state, and federal law enforcement partners, disrupted a violent criminal organization which operated from various prisons and struck fear into our communities. In doing so, we have returned some measure of peace and justice to the victims of their evil schemes,” said Joseph González, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI, San Juan Division. “The most egregious aspect of these crimes was that they were actively enabled by corrupt law enforcement officers who failed to uphold their oath to the people they were sworn to serve. That is unacceptable.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Victor O. Acevedo-Hernández is in charge of the prosecution of the case. If convicted, the defendants face up to life in prison.
This operation is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (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.