WASHINGTON – Sixteen current and former Puerto Rico police officers have been indicted for their alleged participation in a criminal organization, run out of the police department, that used their affiliation with law enforcement to make money through robbery, extortion, manipulating court records and selling illegal narcotics.
Acting Assistant Attorney General David A. O’Neil of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez of the District of Puerto Rico and Special Agent in Charge Carlos Cases of the FBI’s San Juan Division made the announcement.
“The criminal action today dismantles an entire network of officers who, we allege, used their badges and their guns not to uphold the law, but to break it,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General O’Neil. “The indictment portrays a classic criminal shakedown, an organized crime spree of which the most experienced mafia family would have been proud. But the people wielding the guns and stealing the drugs here weren’t mob goodfellas or mafia soldiers – these were police officers violating their oaths to enforce the law, making a mockery of the police’s sacred responsibility to protect the public.”
“This is a troubling day for law enforcement in Puerto Rico. Officers who use their badges as an excuse to commit egregious acts of violence and drug trafficking are an affront to the rule of law,” said US Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez. “According to these allegations, the law enforcement officers charged today sold their badges by taking payoffs from drug dealers that they should have been arresting, extorting money, planting evidence and stealing from them, to mention a few of their crimes. They not only betrayed the citizens they were sworn to protect, they also betrayed the thousands of honest, hard-working law enforcement officers who risk their lives every day to keep us safe. We will continue to work with our local law enforcement partners to end this cycle of corruption and renew Puerto Rico’s trust in its police officers.”
“Today is a sad day for Puerto Rico, where a group of police officers allegedly disgraced their uniform and are a shame to the Police of Puerto Rico,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Cases. “They not only let their colleagues and family down, they let the citizens of Puerto Rico down.”
The indictment, returned yesterday by a federal grand jury in the District of Puerto Rico, includes 36 charges against the following individuals: Osvaldo Vazquez-Ruiz, 38; Orlando Sierra-Pereira, 37; Danny Nieves-Rivera, 34; Roberto Ortiz-Cintron, 34; Yovanny Crespo-Candelaria, 33; Jose Sanchez-Santiago, 31; Miguel Perez-Rivera, 34; Nadab Arroyo-Rosa, 33; Jose Flores-Villalongo, 52; Luis Suarez-Sanchez, 36; Eduardo Montañez-Perez, 29; Carlos Laureano-Cruz, 40; Carlos Candelario-Santiago, 46; Ruben Casiano-Pietri, 36; Ricardo Rivera-Rodriguez, 39; and Christian Valles-Collazo, 28. At the time of the crimes charged, Flores-Villalongo and Candelario-Santiago were sergeants with the Police of Puerto Rico (POPR); the others were police officers.
The first 13 defendants listed are charged with conspiring to violate the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act. Other charges against certain defendants include extortion and attempted extortion under color of official right, conspiracy to commit robbery and attempted robbery, illegal use and sale of firearms, narcotics trafficking, civil rights violations, theft of government property, and false statements to federal agents.
According to the indictment, the officers charged with RICO conspiracy were members of a criminal organization who sought to enrich themselves through a pattern of illegal conduct. The officers worked together to conduct traffic stops and enter homes or buildings used by persons suspected of being engaged in criminal activity to steal money, property and narcotics. The officers planted evidence to make false arrests, then extorted money in exchange for their victims’ release from custody. In exchange for bribe payments, the defendants gave false testimony, manipulated court records and failed to appear in court when required so that cases would be dismissed. The officers also sold and distributed wholesale quantities of narcotics.
For example, in April 2012, defendants Vazquez-Ruiz and Sierra-Pereira allegedly conducted a traffic stop in their capacity as police officers and stole approximately $22,000 they believed to be illegal drug proceeds. Vazquez-Ruiz later attempted to extort approximately $8,000 from an individual they believed to be a drug dealer’s accomplice in exchange for promising to release an alleged prisoner.
In another example, the indictment alleges that in November 2012, defendants Sierra-Pereira, Nieves-Rivera, Ortiz-Cintron and Valles-Collazo illegally entered an apartment and stole approximately $30,000, which they believed were illegal lottery proceeds.
The indictment charges that the defendants frequently shared the proceeds they illegally obtained and that they used their power, authority and official positions as police officers to promote and protect their illegal activity. Among other things, the indictment charges that they used POPR firearms, badges, patrol cars, tools, uniforms and other equipment to commit the crimes and concealed their illegal activity with fraudulently obtained court documents and falsified POPR paperwork to make it appear that they were engaged in legitimate police work.
The charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations. The defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The case is being investigated by the FBI’s San Juan Division. The case is being prosecuted by Trial Attorneys Brian K. Kidd, Emily Rae Woods and Menaka Kalaskar of the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and Assistant U.S. Attorney Mariana Bauza of the District of Puerto Rico.
Citizens of Puerto Rico with allegations of law enforcement corruption are encouraged to contact the FBI’s San Juan Division at (787) 754-6000.