Thirteen Members Of Pharmacy Burglary Ring Charged With Stealing And Distributing Millions Of Dollars’ Worth Of Prescription-Controlled Substances And Hundreds Of Thousands Of Dollars In Cash
Charges Are The Result Of A Joint FBI And NYPD Investigation Of More Than 125 Burglaries And Attempted Burglaries Of Pharmacies In Manhattan, The Bronx, Queens And Brooklyn Since 2010
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, George Venizelos, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), and Raymond W. Kelly, the Commissioner of the New York City Police Department (“NYPD”) announced today the unsealing of charges against 13 members of a burglary ring (the “Burglary Ring”) alleged to be responsible for more than 125 burglaries and attempted burglaries of pharmacies in Manhattan, the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn since 2010. BRYAN ALTAGARCIA, EDWIN ARAUJO, MARTIN AVALO, ALVARADO DOMINGUEZ, ALAN FELIZ, DAVID SANTIAGO, and CARLOS VALLEJO were arrested today in Manhattan and the Bronx, and are expected to be presented and arraigned in Manhattan federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge Michael H. Dolinger later this afternoon. MIGUEL ARAUJO was arrested today in Boston, and is expected to be presented and arraigned later this afternoon in federal district court in the District of Massachusetts. GUILLLERMO ARAUJO, JOSE GONZALEZ, and ESFRAIN SILVA are already in custody in connection with pending cases. Two other defendants, CHRISTIAN LORA and ANDY MACCOW, remain at large.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “As alleged, this group of defendants went to extreme lengths to break into pharmacies across New York City in order to feed their voracious appetite for cash and prescription drugs to peddle. This Office has zero tolerance for those who contribute to the growing prescription drug abuse epidemic, and thanks to our partners at the NYPD and FBI, this ring of alleged offenders has been apprehended and will be prosecuted.”
FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge George Venizelos said: “As alleged in the indictment, the defendants participated in a complex burglary scheme to steal controlled prescription drugs and money from numerous victim pharmacies. Allegedly using technology and physical surveillance to perpetuate their illegal activity, this band of thieves thought they could outsmart law enforcement. The defendants’ downfall was that they underestimated the dedication and commitment of the FBI’s Health Care Fraud Task Force and the NYPD. Using traditional investigative techniques and the defendants’ own technology against them, the FBI and its law enforcement partners put an end to their alleged criminal enterprise.”
NYPD Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said: “Criminals who exploit drug addiction for profit will be pursued and prosecuted as any perpetrator of more immediately devastating offenses. That these individuals are alleged to have used luxury vehicles – from multiple Mercedes-Benzes to a Bentley – purchased from the proceeds of their narcotics sales illustrates the scope of their activity. I commend the detectives in the NYPD’s Major Case Squad and Financial Crimes Task Force, and their partners in U.S. Attorney Bharara’s office on their work in stopping this operation.”
According to the Indictment filed in Manhattan federal court and other information in the public record:
ALTAGARCIA, EDWIN ARAUJO, GUILLERMO ARAUJO, MIGUEL ARAUJO, AVALO, DOMINGUEZ, FELIZ, GONZALEZ, LORA, MACCOW, SANTIAGO, SILVA, and VALLEJO were members of a sophisticated Burglary Ring that stole controlled prescription drugs with a street value in the millions of dollars, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.
The burglaries involved the entry and attempted entry into pharmacies through ceilings, walls, window bars, and doors. In some instances, the victimized pharmacies were in locations that provided cover for the defendants while they penetrated the exteriors of the pharmacies with crowbars, axes, and other tools. In others, the pharmacies were adjacent to commercial establishments that the defendants broke into and then used tools to enter the pharmacies through common walls.
The members of the Burglary Ring wore dark clothing, including hooded sweatshirts, masks, and gloves, and employed sophisticated planning and counter-surveillance techniques to avoid apprehension. They frequently circumvented or disabled burglar alarms and surveillance cameras. By communicating by cellphone with each other and with lookouts who were monitoring police scanners during the burglaries, they were able to escape the pharmacies with the stolen goods and cash before law enforcement was able to apprehend them.
The Indictment unsealed today is a result of a joint investigation by the FBI and NYPD that began in 2011 and continues. In addition to information provided by a cooperating witness who committed burglaries with various defendants, DNA evidence links AVALO, VALLEJO, and SILVA to three of the pharmacy burglaries, and cellphone data links various combinations of the defendants to more than 50 of the pharmacy burglaries. Through sophisticated analysis of cellphone information, law enforcement identified dozens of cellular telephones the burglars used during the burglaries. Extensive evidence demonstrates that the various defendants were the users of those cellphones during more than 50 of those burglaries. In addition, numerous photographs recovered from cellphones belonging to various defendants and searched pursuant to warrants depict the defendants holding large amounts of U.S. currency, wearing expensive jewelry, associating with one another, and possessing high-end luxury automobiles.
The Indictment seeks the forfeiture of several luxury cars used by the defendants to commit the burglaries and purchased with proceeds of narcotics trafficking, including a Bentley, which was captured on surveillance video being used by some of the defendants as a getaway vehicle during several recent pharmacy burglaries, and several Mercedes-Benz vehicles and a BMW.
In connection with the arrests today, the FBI and NYPD also executed search warrants on the residences of EDWIN ARAUJO on Wadsworth Avenue, AVALO on Saint Nicholas Avenue, DOMINGUEZ on West 188th Street, and VALLEJO on Audubon Avenue in New York, New York.
BRYAN ALTAGARCIA, 22, of the Bronx, New York; EDWIN ARAUJO, 30, of New York, New York; GUILLERMO ARAUJO, 24, of New York, New York; MIGUEL ARAUJO, 22, of the Bronx, New York; AVALO, 34, of New York, New York; DOMINGUEZ, 27, of New York, New York; FELIZ, 35, of New York, New York; JOSE GONZALEZ, 30, of New York, New York; CHRSTIAN LORA, 25, of New York, New York; ANDY MACCOW, 29, of New York, New York; DAVID SANTIAGO, 30 of New York, New York; SILVA, 20, of the Bronx, New York; and VALLEJO, 26, of New York, New York are each charged with one count of conspiracy to burglarize pharmacies of controlled substances, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. SILVA faces an additional penalty of up to 10 years in prison for committing this offense while on bail in another federal case. All of the defendants except SILVA are also charged with conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. In addition, EDWIN ARAUJO, GONZALEZ, and MACCOW are charged with witness tampering in connection with the beating of a cooperating witness in a federal case against SILVA, which carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
The charges against each defendant and the corresponding maximum potential penalties are outlined in the chart attached to this press release.
Mr. Bharara praised the efforts of the FBI's Health Care Fraud Task Force and the Bronx Major Case Squad of the NYPD. The New York FBI Health Care Fraud Task Force was formed in 2007 in an effort to combat health care fraud in the greater New York City area. The task force is composed of agents, officers, and investigators from the FBI, NYPD, the New York State Insurance Fraud Bureau, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Office of Personnel Management Inspector General, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, New York State Attorney General’s Office, New York State Office of Medicaid Inspector General, New York State Health and Hospitals Inspector General, and the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Mr. Bharara also thanked the Boston Field Office of the FBI for its assistance in locating and arresting MIGUEL ARAUJO.
The case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Organized Crime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jason A. Masimore and Russell Capone are in charge of the prosecution. Assistant U.S. Attorney Carolina Fornos of the Office’s Asset Forfeiture Unit is responsible for the forfeiture of assets.
The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.