- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 13, 2017

Stash houses rented by friends. Cars with hidden compartments to hold drugs. Stolen identities used to make fake IDs.

The intricacies of a drug trafficking ring that distributed large amounts of heroin and cocaine across the Northeast were on full display in court documents detailing the investigation of the three illegal immigrants charged with running the operation.

The three men, brothers hailing from the Dominican Republic, had all previously been arrested on drug-related charges and had each been deported. But in recent years, prosecutors say, they built up a drug-trafficking organization that relied on suppliers in Mexico and the Dominican Republic and distributed the drugs to dealers across Rhode Island, Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Authorities arrested 15 people this week suspected of being part of the drug trafficking ring, including the three brothers — Hector Valdez, 47, Claudio Valdez, 44, and Juan Valdez, 50. Nine of the defendants charged were identified as Dominican nationals, most living in the U.S. using purportedly stolen identities. Immigration detainers have been filed against them.

A 191-page affidavit filed by an FBI agent in support of the arrests indicates that the men were under surveillance for at least seven months, during which time authorities tapped their phones, followed and photographed their movements, coordinated drug buys with confidential sources, and even dug through trash outside of some of the suspected stash houses.

Over the course of six months, two confidential sources participated in 32 controlled buys exchanging more than $43,000 for 120 grams of cocaine, 645 grams of heroin, and 273 grams of the opioid fentanyl.

Authorities said the group operated out of several stash houses rented by associates. Drugs were transported for drop offs in vehicles that had built-in compartments or in rented vehicles. The court records indicate the three brothers all had fraudulent driver’s licenses that used the stolen identities of Puerto Rican men.

The Justice Department highlighted the bust as an example of the kinds of cases it seeks to prioritize under Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who just this week announced a new focus on prosecutions involving people in the United States illegally who engage in crime.

“The President has made the dismantlement and destruction of drug cartels a top priority, and cases like these are integral in that effort,” Mr. Sessions said in a statement released Thursday. “When law enforcement — federal, state and local — work together like these partners in Rhode Island, we will be one step closer to fulfilling this goal and protecting our communities.”

Wiretaps in the case captured day-to-day conversations about the drug business, including disputes over prices and quality of the drugs being supplied.

During one exchange between Juan Valdez and a mid-level dealer, he lamented receiving a shipment of heroin that was a lighter color than past shipments, indicating that buyers were wary of purchasing it because they thought it was actually fentanyl and not heroin, the court documents state.

At various points, the dealers became paranoid about surveillance by law enforcement, dropping old cell phones and purchasing news ones.

At one point the court documents state that Claudio Valdez became concerned about a vehicle seen following him and asked his girlfriend to reach out to her friend for a “check” of the car’s license plate to see if it was registered or might be an undercover officer’s car. The car was in fact a surveillance vehicle watching members of the drug organization.

While the court documents do not detail how the drugs were brought to the U.S., they do indicate that suppliers included a Dominican source called The Maestro and a Mexican drug trafficking organization known as The Doctor. On at least one occasion, dealers drove to New York to pick up heroin shipments.

The others charged as part of the investigation are Vladimir Arias, Manuel Castillo, Alexandra Garcia, Tanya Croteau, Jennifer Perdomo, Juan Bautista, Jafar Munir, Edgardo Romero, Louis A. Pellot, Ramon Guzman, Wandy Diaz and a 36-year-old man whose identity investigators are still working to confirm.

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