Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Narcotics: 23 arrested for intent to distribute over 9,000 kilograms of cocaine, aboard American Airlines planes

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, Sept. 15 -- Twenty-three individuals were indicted on Sept. 9, 2009, by a federal grand jury and arrested today by Bayamon Strike Force teams, as a result of an investigation led by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), announced United States Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez during a press conference today. Agents from the Bayamon Strike Force, the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD) and the FBI participated during the investigation and arrests this morning.

The four-count indictment charges that the defendants, aiding and abetting each other, participated in a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute in excess of 9,000 kilograms of cocaine, aboard American Airlines commercial aircrafts.

The following defendants are employees of the airline: [1] Wilfredo Rodriguez-Rosado, aka "Mogoyo," aka "Pitin," aka "Mogo," aka "La Gorda;" [6] Manuel Santiago Alvarado, aka "Faria," aka "La Silla;" [7] Wilfredo Santiago Rios, aka "Wilo," aka "La Rubia;" [8] Jose D. Cordero San Miguel, aka "V-8," aka "La Prieta;" [14] Orlando Jimenez Torres, aka "Tony Finger," aka "Tita;" [15] Wilfredo Cancel Garcia, aka "Cancel;" [16] Roberto Rodriguez Cruz, aka "El Tibu," aka "Pucho;" [21] Jose M. Colon Martinez, aka "Many" and [22] Camilo Sanchez Rodriguez.

This drug trafficking organization, lead by defendant Wilfredo Rodriguez Rosado [1], began operating in or about 1999. Rodriguez Rosado recruited and organized a group of American Airlines employees to ensure that suitcases loaded with kilograms of cocaine were smuggled into American Airlines aircrafts and transported to different cities in the continental United States.

Count three charges four defendants with attempt to posses with the intent to distribute approximately 20 kilograms of cocaine in June 2009, a transaction which the defendants were unable to complete for reasons beyond their control. The $18 million forfeiture count includes the following properties: four residences in the municipality of Morovis; two residences in Bayamon; one residence in Barceloneta; one multi apartment complex in Morovis; two business establishments in Morovis; and one business establishment in Bayamon.

"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. The use of commercial aircraft to smuggle narcotics in and out of Puerto Rico, also creates a serious threat to our national security," said Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico.

"Today's arrests are an example of DEAs success in aggressively pursuing those criminal organizations which exploit vulnerabilities in our airports and recruit airline and other air transportation industry employees to facilitate their drug trafficking activities. With these arrests DEA closes another route for thousands of kilograms of cocaine to reach the United States or any other part of the world from Puerto Rico," said DEA Special Agent in Charge Javier F. Pena. "With the cooperation of the airline industry, the Puerto Rico Ports Authority and our law enforcement counterparts DEA will keep drug traffickers away from our airports. By denying the drug traffickers alternate smuggling routes, we disrupt the flow of drugs into Puerto Rico and discourage the use of the island as a transshipment point in the Caribbean."

"The lure of easy money through drug trafficking eventually only leads to time in prison, the seizure of unlawfully gained assets and property, as well as destroys the family nucleus," said Luis S. Fraticelli, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI-San Juan Field Office.

The case was investigated by the Bayamon Strike Force, lead by the DEA, the PRPD, and the FBI, and prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Olga Castellon and Special Assistant United States Attorney Rosaida Melendez.

If convicted, the defendants face a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison, with fines of up to $4 million. Criminal indictments are only charges and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty.

Source U.S. Department of Justice

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