Photo: Drug Seizure in Puerto Rico
One hundred fourteen individuals were indicted for drug trafficking by a federal grand jury on Monday as a result of a joint investigation by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD), and San Juan Municipal Police.
The individuals are charged in a nine-count indictment with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin, cocaine, marijuana, oxycodone (commonly known as “Percocet”) and alprazolam (commonly known as “Xanax”). Thirty are charged with using and carrying firearms during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime. One of those, José Herrera-Rodríguez, aka Cascote, is also facing two charges of possession of a firearm by a prohibited person, a convicted felon.
The object of the conspiracy was to distribute and supply controlled substances within the La Perla Ward housing project and to supply heroin to numerous public housing projects, municipalities and towns in Puerto Rico for significant financial gain. The defendants and their co-conspirators would purchase wholesale quantities of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, Xanax and Percocet in order to distribute the same in street quantity amounts at their drug distribution points. The leaders would routinely give out samples of new batches of heroin or cocaine to users in order to test the quality of the drug and promote the sale of the product.
The drug owners would often receive proceeds from the sale of specific controlled substances. These controlled substances were sold in distinctive baggies, vials or packaging, using stickers or brands, in order to identify and maintain control of the drugs disseminated at the drug distribution points. They would use their homes or rent “chalets” in La Perla Ward to process kilogram quantities of narcotics for street level sales. The members of the drug trafficking organization would use force, violence and intimidation in order to gain and maintain control of their drug points and in order to intimidate rival drug trafficking organizations and/or expand their drug trafficking activities.
The 114 co-conspirators had many roles in order to further the goals of the conspiracy, including: 17 leaders or “bichotes,” 16 drug point owners or “magnates,” enforcers, suppliers, runners, sellers, drug processors, facilitators and lookouts.
The indictment includes various forfeiture allegations. The narcotics forfeiture allegation includes $20 million and 50 properties located in La Perla Ward. The forfeiture allegations for the money laundering conspiracies include six properties located in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. The firearms forfeiture allegation includes 17 firearms: 12 handguns, four rifles, one shotgun and ammunition.
If convicted, the defendants face a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison, with fines of up to $8 million.