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Puerto Rico: 62 gang members charged

May 5, 2024

SAN JUAN, CMC – The United States Department of Justice (DOJ)  on Thursday said that a federal grand jury in the District of Puerto Rico on April 24 returned an indictment charging 62 violent gang members with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, possession and distribution of controlled substances, and firearms violations. 

“Thanks to the work of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), FBI, US Marshals Service (USMS), and our state and local partners, more than 60 alleged gang members have been charged and over US$72 million in drugs have been seized in this operation,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. 

“The residents of public housing projects deserve better than to be terrorized by violent drug trafficking gangs, and the Justice Department will be relentless in our efforts to dismantle the gangs that fuel violent crime and profit from poisoning our communities,” he added. 

“The allegations in today’s indictments tell a scary story about gang violence in these public housing communities,” said ATF Director Steven Dettelbach. “For all the innocent residents who are trying to raise healthy families in safe communities, law enforcement wants you to know that we are here for you. 

“Living in public housing cannot, and should not, mean being subjected to an atmosphere of gun violence and drug dealing around you and your family,” he added. “ATF’s number one priority is getting the worst criminals — the trigger pullers and drug dealers — off the streets. When rival gangs declare war on each other in the streets in any city, it is the innocent bystanders that suffer the greatest consequences. I want to commend all the ATF agents and our federal and local partners who worked tirelessly to make Arecibo and all of Puerto Rico a safer place.”

US Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow for the District of Puerto Rico said: “The arrests in this case underscore the resolve of the U.S. Attorney’s Office and its law enforcement partners to uphold the rule of law and bring to justice violent criminals who threaten our communities.

“The Justice Department remains steadfast in its commitment to dismantle criminal organizations, hold gang members accountable, and pursue justice for victims,” he added. 

“Through the relentless collaboration, between the DEA and ATF, state and federal partners have dealt significant blows to the violent drug trafficking organizations operating within the El Cotto public housing project,” said Special Agent in Charge Denise Foster of the DEA Detroit Field Office. “With over $72 million in street value narcotics seized and over 40 arrests made, our joint efforts underscore our unwavering commitment to dismantling criminal enterprises and safeguarding our communities.” 

According to the DOJ, the indictment alleges that, from 2014 through the present, the defendants worked as part of a drug trafficking organization (DTO) that distributed illegal drugs for significant financial gain and profit — including cocaine base (commonly known as crack), heroin, cocaine, marijuana, Oxycodone (commonly known as Percocet), Alprazolam (commonly known as Xanax), Clonazepam (commonly known as Klonopin), and Tramadol — all within 1,000 feet of the Ramón Marín Solá Public Housing Project (PHP), Trina Padilla de Sanz PHP, Manuel Zeno Gandía PHP, Bella Vista PHP, and La Meseta PHP, all five facilities owned by a public housing authority and collectively referred to as El Cotto. 

The charging documents further allege that the leaders of the DTO that operates within the five PHPs comprising El Cotto met regularly to discuss drug trafficking activities and prevent issues between the members of the organization. 

The indictment says the goal of the DTO was to maintain control of the drug trafficking activities within their territory by the use of force, threats, violence, and intimidation.

“The defendants acted in different roles to further the goals of the drug trafficking conspiracy, including acting as leaders, enforcers, runners, sellers, and facilitators,” the indictment says. 

If convicted on the drug trafficking charges, the defendants face a mandatory minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum penalty of life in prison, the DOJ said. 

It said 36 of the defendants also face one charge of possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. If convicted on the firearms charge, the defendants face a mandatory minimum of five years in prison and a maximum penalty of life in prison, to be served consecutively to any penalty imposed on the drug trafficking charges, the DOJ said. 

Upon conviction, it said all defendants are subject to a narcotics forfeiture allegation of US$72,868,600. 

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