Members and associates of a Puerto Rico-based drug cartel have been indicted by a federal grand jury in an international scheme to smuggle cocaine into the United States and transport illicit drug profits back to Puerto Rico, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said Wednesday.
Two indictments named 45 suspected drug cartel members and associates, accused of conspiring to possess with the intent to distribute cocaine, aiding and abetting each other, and violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO).
The suspected cartel members and their associates are charged with engaging in drug distribution and criminal acts principally out of the Luis Munoz Marin International Airport in Carolina, Puerto Rico, from 2010 to May 2012 when it is alleged they carried cocaine in backpacks, bags or hidden on their person while driving official work vehicles into the airport through secured entrances.
Once in the secured areas, the indictments said, the cartel members transferred the cocaine to couriers inside designated restrooms, who then boarded flights departing for the United States.
“Americans have a right to expect the highest integrity from those they entrust with their safety, and DEA is committed to protecting that trust,” said DEA Deputy Administrator Thomas M. Harrigan. “Today’s arrests at one of the nation’s busiest airports reflect our relentless commitment to working with our partners to aggressively fight drug trafficking, not only at our nation’s points of entry, but at source, transit and arrival zones throughout the world.”
One indictment accused 25 suspected cartel members of transporting large sums of drug proceeds in the form of U.S. currency from the continental United States to Puerto Rico. The indictment said some of the illicit cash was used to purchase vehicles, which were regularly used to further the criminal enterprise.
The second indictment charged 20 cartel members for aiding and abetting each other, and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute in excess of nearly 20,000 pounds of cocaine aboard American Airlines commercial aircraft.
That indictment said suspected cartel member Wilfredo Rodriguez-Rosado recruited and organized associates to package, transport and deliver suitcases loaded with cocaine to the American Airlines cargo area at Marin airport. It also said he recruited and organized a group of the airline’s employees to ensure that those suitcases were smuggled into aircraft destined for Miami, Orlando, Fla., and Newark, N.J.
“The United States Attorney’s Office, along with our state and federal law enforcement counterparts, will continue investigating and prosecuting drug-trafficking organizations which use our island as a trans-shipment point for drugs to the U.S. mainland,” said Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez, U.S. attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. “The use of commercial aircraft to smuggle narcotics in and out of Puerto Rico, also creates a serious threat to our national security.”
The suspected cartel members face a minimum term of 10 years to life in prison if convicted.
The case was investigated by the DEA, the Puerto Rico Police Department and the FBI, with help from the San Juan Municipal Police. The two separate cases are being prosecuted by assistant U.S. attorneys Olga Castellon, Mariana Bauza and Maritza Gonzalez, and assistant U.S. attorneys Brian Kidd, Sean Torriente and Justin Martin.
“The defendants in this investigation not only utilized their positions and security access to smuggle large quantities of illegal narcotics, but they also compromised the safety and security at one of the Caribbean’s most vital airports,” said Pedro Janer, the DEA’s acting special agent in charge of the agency’s Caribbean Division.
”DEA will continue to dismantle these organizations that think they can blatantly use legitimate entities to carry out their smuggling operations,” he said.