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Press Release

Individuals Previously Convicted of Violent Crimes and Gun Offenses Among Seventeen Charged in Operation Rhode Runner

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, District of Rhode Island

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – More than a dozen individuals previously convicted on violent crime charges, including firearm, robbery, assault, assault with intent to commit murder, and domestic violence charges, are among seventeen individuals charged in federal court as the result of a five-month FBI Safe Street Task Force, DEA, and Providence Police Narcotics Bureau Project Safe Neighborhoods investigation into a wide-ranging street-level drug trafficking conspiracy. At least nine of the individuals are currently on Rhode Island state probation.

 On Thursday, 250 members of federal, state, and local law enforcement, including four SWAT teams, fanned out in Providence, Cranston, Pawtucket, Woonsocket, North Smithfield, Fall River, Taunton, and Kissimmee, FL, with sixteen federal arrest warrants for individuals named in an indictment unsealed in U.S. District Court today. A seventeenth individual was arrested and charged by way of a federal criminal complaint. Agents and officers also executed fourteen court-authorized search warrants.

To date, the investigation, dubbed Operation Rhode Runner, has resulted in the seizure of more than three kilos of cocaine, 750 grams of fentanyl, 1,500 fentanyl pills disguised as Percocet, 500 grams of crack cocaine, and $100,000 in cash.

“The U.S. Attorney’s Office is committed to using all of the tools available to reduce violent crime and make our streets safer. The illegal narcotics trade drives violence; thanks to this investigation a drug trafficking conspiracy has been dismantled, and defendants who have been previously convicted of numerous violent crimes are again in custody,” stated Acting U.S. Attorney Richard Myrus. “We truly appreciate the tireless work of the FBI task force, the DEA, the Providence Police, and all of our other law enforcement partners, which culminated in today’s flawlessly executed operation.”

"Today's takedown has removed a significant number of drug traffickers--the majority of whom are convicted felons with violent criminal histories--from our streets. There's no question our communities are much safer now. We believe this crew's constant churn of drug transactions has kept Rhode Island flush with dangerous and deadly narcotics that have endangered our neighborhoods for quite some time," said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division. "Operation Rhode Runner is just another example of how the FBI and our law enforcement partners are working together to remove the most significant drivers of violent crime from our communities.  We want drug traffickers and violent offenders to know that we fish with a spear and not a net, and we are focused on them."

“Illegal drug distribution ravages the very foundations of our families and communities here in Rhode Island,” said DEA Special Agent in Charge Brian D. Boyle.  “Let these arrests serve as an example to those who distribute poisons like fentanyl and cocaine, that DEA will aggressively pursue and hold you accountable.  This investigation demonstrates the strength and continued commitment of our law enforcement partners in Rhode Island.”

“This long term and large-scale interstate narcotics operation has resulted in the removal of high level, career criminals from the streets and should act as a deterrent to individuals who continue to participate in the distribution of lethal drugs such as fentanyl and cocaine, as in this case,” said Colonel Hugh T. Clements. Jr.   “Distribution of illegal narcotics continues to plague urban communities and we will continue to be vigilant in the apprehension of criminals working within these groups, and ensure they are prosecuted to the highest extent of the law.   “I commend the members of the Providence Police Narcotics Bureau and our law enforcement partners for their efforts and information sharing throughout this investigation, showing once again their commitment to ridding our streets of deadly narcotics, potentially saving the lives of many.”

This case is being prosecuted as part of the joint federal, state, and local Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts.  PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime.  Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them.  As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.

The cases are being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Stacey P. Veroni, with the assistance of Assistant U.S. Attorneys Christine D. Lowell and Sandra R. Hebert.

Acting United Sates Attorney Myrus thanks the FBI, DEA, and Providence Police Department for leading this investigation; the United States Postal Inspection Service for their invaluable assistance throughout the investigation; and the United States Marshals Service, Rhode Island State Police, Cranston, Central Falls, Fall River, North Smithfield, Pawtucket, Portsmouth, Warwick, West Warwick, and Woonsocket Police Departments for their assistance with today’s arrests and the execution of search warrants; and the Rhode Island Department of Corrections with prisoner transport.



Victor Aponte Cirino, 22, Taunton, MA

Pending in RI state court: Possession w/intent to distribute ounce to a kilo of cocaine

Ramon Barriera, 50, Providence (career offender currently on state probation)

Previous convictions: 2004 - Drug trafficking (2), carrying a firearm during commission of a violent crime; 2014, 2015 – Drug trafficking

Miguel Colon, 35, Providence (currently on state probation)

Previous convictions: 2016 - Possession of a firearm, drug trafficking (4)

Rafael Cruz, 72, Providence (career offender)

Previous convictions: 1988, 2008, 2014 Drug trafficking; 2002 Felony assault

Juan Gonzalez, 44, Providence (currently on state probation)

Previous convictions: 2004, 2015, 2020 - Drug trafficking; 2020 - Felony assault (firearm), domestic assault by strangulation

Nelson Hazin, 53, Providence

Previous convictions: 1999 (2), 2007, 2015 - Drug trafficking; 2010 Possession of a firearm after conviction of a violent crime

Anthony Lacoste, 30, Woonsocket (currently on state probation)

Previous convictions: 2011 - Breaking and entering; 2013, 2014 - Felony assault, carrying a firearm w/out a license

Jonathan Masa Gonzalez, 21, Providence

No criminal record

Ricardo Martinez, Jr., 34, Providence (currently on state probation)

Previous convictions: 2006, 2009, 2013, 2020 - Various drug and drug trafficking charges

William Mendez, 46, Cranston (career offender currently on state probation)

Previous convictions: 1995, 2008, 2014 - Drug trafficking; 2002 - Assault with intent to murder, breaking and entering; 2008 Carrying a firearm during the commission of a violent crime

Maria Ortiz-Nieves, 40, Providence

No criminal record

Kevin Restrepo, 30, Providence and Kissimmee, FL (currently on state probation, bail violator)

Previous convictions: 2007 - Felony assault & conspiracy; 2009 Drug possession; 2013 (various dates) - assault, domestic violence, first-degree robbery, discharge of a firearm during the commission of a violent crime

Pending cases in RI state court:  Assault w/dangerous weapon – firearm (2), carrying a pistol without a license (2); discharge of a firearm from a motor vehicle creating substantial risk of death (2); discharge of a weapon while committing a crime of violence (2); conspiracy to possess a pistol without a license (2); possession of a firearm after conviction of a felony (2); discharge of a firearm in a compact area.

Karla Rivera Rosa, 31, Fall River, MA

Pending drug trafficking case in Massachusetts (cocaine and oxycodone)

Felix Robles, 60, Providence (career offender)

Previous convictions: 2006, 2007, 2009 - Drug Trafficking

Juan C. Rodriguez, 35, Providence (currently on state probation)

Previous convictions: 2005 (2), 2007, 2014  - Various drug and drug trafficking charges

Charles Sims, 57, Providence

Previous convictions: 1984 - Robbery; 1985, 1992 (2), 2001 - Breaking and entering, assault; 1986 -  escape, assault by an inmate; 1989 - escape; 1996 - Inciting a riot (ACI); 2006 - Drug trafficking

Juan Betancourt Sosa, 26, New Bedford (career offender currently on bail)

Previous conviction: 2021 – Carrying a pistol without a license; Pending cases in RI state court: Possession of a pistol without a license, possession w/intent to distribute one ounce to one kilo of cocaine


Jim Martin
(401) 7095357

Updated September 16, 2021

Project Safe Neighborhoods
Press Release Number: 21-104