Providence Couple Indicted for Trafficking Cocaine
PROVIDENCE, RI – A Providence couple has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges they allegedly participated in a conspiracy to smuggle significant quantities of cocaine from the Dominican Republic into Rhode Island. The indictment, returned on February 8, 2017, and unsealed by the Court on February 9, charges Victor Lopez, 42, and Johanna Liranzo, 37, with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute over 500 grams of cocaine and possession with the intent to distribute over 500 grams of cocaine.
The indictment is announced by United States Attorney Stephen G. Dambruch; Colonel Ann C. Assumpico, Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police; Shelly A. Binkowski, Inspector in Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS), Boston Division; and Michael S. Shea, Acting Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) for New England.
According to court documents, it is alleged that on January 22, 2018, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers conducting enforcement examinations of U.S. mail shipped from the Dominican Republic through the JFK International Airport Mail Facility discovered a heavily taped express mail parcel addressed to a residence in Providence, R.I. Inside the package, CBP officers discovered two metal cylinders. Agents drilled holes in the cylinders and found them to be tightly packed with a white powdery substance, which tested positive for cocaine.
On January 29, 2018, law enforcement agents and officers from the U.S. Postal Service and the Rhode Island State Police High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Task Force established surveillance of the Providence address to which the package was addressed for delivery. They also began surveilling a vehicle seen repeatedly driving around the area of the residence, which appeared to be employing counter-surveillance measures. The package was delivered to the residence by a USPIS Inspector, operating in an undercover capacity. It is alleged that the package was accepted by Johanna Liranzo.
About 90 minutes after the package was delivered, and while members of the HIDTA Task Force were executing a court authorized search of the residence, a separate team of HIDTA Task Force members located and stopped the vehicle seen employing counter-surveillance measures in the area of the residence. The driver of the vehicle, Victor Lopez, and a passenger, Johanna Liranzo, were detained pending the investigation. Liranzo was found to be carrying a key to a storage unit located in Pawtucket.
According to court documents, an HSI agent located the storage unit and obtained surveillance video from the storage facility. The video allegedly showed the same vehicle which was seen employing counter-surveillance measures in the area of the residence arriving and departing from the storage unit to which Lopez and Liranzo had keys. A narcotics detection dog gave a positive response to the presence of narcotics at the storage unit. A court authorized search of the storage unit by HIDTA Task Force members and USPIS agents resulted in the seizure of three metal cylinders, two of which were found to have drill holes placed in them by CBP officers in New York. Also seized from inside the storage unit were four compressed cellophane packages containing a total of more than a kilogram of cocaine. Law enforcement also seized personal papers belonging to Lopez and Liranzo.
An indictment is merely an allegation and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is entitled to a fair trial in which it will be the government’s burden to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
Victor Lopez has been detained in federal custody since his arrest and initial appearance in U.S. District Court on February 6, on a criminal complaint brought in this matter. He is scheduled to be arraigned on the indictment today. Johanna Liranzo was released on unsecured bond at her arraignment on Friday before U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Patricia A. Sullivan.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Zechariah Chaffee.