- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2000

A task force of more than 300 U.S. drug agents swept through several cities in Puerto Rico Thursday to arrest 40 members of a violent cocaine and heroin smuggling operation responsible for more than 30 killings over the past year.

The arrests, part of an investigation known as "Operation Chupa Cabra," culminated a nine-month undercover probe by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration that targeted members of the notorious Miguel O'Connor-Colon drug-trafficking organization.

Sixty gang members were named in a sealed federal grand jury indictment handed up June 30 in U.S. District Court in San Juan. Twelve separate search warrants were issued for Thursday's raids. Twenty ring members remained at large late Thursday, but additional arrests were expected.

"Today's arrests illustrate effective cooperation between law enforcement," said Attorney General Janet Reno is a statement. "The collaborative effort demonstrated during this operation sends a strong message to those who choose to engage in trafficking that their illegal operations will not be tolerated."

Also involved in the lengthy probe were the FBI, the U.S. Marshal's Service, the U.S. Customs Service, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the U.S. Coast Guard and Puerto Rican police.

The DEA undercover investigation began in October 1999 after agents said Miguel O'Connor-Colon, 30, who is known as "Chupa Cabra" (or "evil goat"), had taken control of a notorious drug-distribution center in Barriada Ferran, Puerto Rico. He took over the operation after Tomas Arroyo-Colon was arrested on drug-trafficking charges.

Michael S. Vigil, head of the DEA office in San Juan, said the O'Connor-Colon gang "caught the eye" of agents because of the tremendous profits it was generating at numerous distribution points on the island and because of the "blatant level of violence" associated with the gang, including the assassination of rival gang members in public executions.

More than 30 killings have been attributed to the O'Connor-Colon organization over the past 12 months as a direct result of the battle over territory, Mr. Vigil said.

"There is no doubt this was the most violent organization we have seen in Puerto Rico over the past 10 years and the arrests will mean a significant drop in both the distribution of drugs and in the level of violence," said Mr. Vigil. "They were not afraid to machine-gun people in public places, shooting some of their victims as many as 100 times, and many in the community did not feel safe."

Until Thursday's arrests, Mr. Vigil said the O'Connor-Colon organization was known to supply approximately 20 drug-distribution points around the south-central area of Puerto Rico. The organization maintained control of the drug centers through its open use of violence.

He said cocaine and heroin were shipped into Puerto Rico from Colombia via twin-engine aircraft that conducted air drops over international waters to waiting high-speed boats. The cocaine arrived in Puerto Rico either directly from Colombia or through the Dominican Republic.

Mr. Vigil said each of the 20 drug-distribution centers produced daily drug sales of between $20,000 and $50,000 and that 40 percent of the drugs were being sold to buyers in Puerto Rico. The other 60 percent, he said, was shipped via airplane to several major U.S. cities, including Boston, New York, Chicago and Miami.

He said no one was injured during the arrests, although the two sons of Angela Ayala, arrested by the DEA in 1997 on smuggling charges and now serving a life sentence, briefly fought with officers. Brian Lee Perez-Ayala, 20, and Danny Perez-Ayala, 21, were top officers in the O'Connor-Colon organization, he said.

"We will respond above and beyond the call of duty to rid Puerto Rico of drug trafficking and related violence," said Mr. Vigil. "Its citizens are deserving of this tireless effort."

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