41 Members of a Violent Gang Charged With Drug Trafficking and Firearms Violations in San Juan, Puerto Rico

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FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of Justice headquarters in Washington, D.C.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – On May 17, 2022, a federal grand jury in the District of Puerto Rico returned an indictment charging 41 violent gang members from the municipality of San Juan with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute, possession and distribution of controlled substances, and firearms violations, announced W. Stephen Muldrow, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Rico Police Bureau (PRPB), San Juan and Carolina Strike Forces were in charge of the investigation of the case, with the collaboration of the United States Marshals Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Homeland Security Investigations (ICE HSI).

“Last year we arrested Carlos Manuel Cotto-Cruz, aka “Wasa”, the leader of this violent organization. We continued to work non-stop to put an end to the organization’s violence, and today we have dismantled its drug trafficking activities,” said W. Stephen Muldrow, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. “This operation reflects the excellent collaboration between our state and federal law enforcement partners – coordinated through our OCDETF task force program.”

“It’s important to highlight that during today’s operation, we arrested various drug trafficking leaders in Puerto Rico,” said Joseph González, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI, San Juan Field Office. “We know this doesn’t mean our work is done, and what I want tom make clear is that we won’t stop.”

The indictment alleges that from 2016 to the date of the return of the indictment, the drug trafficking organization distributed heroin, cocaine base (commonly known as “crack”), cocaine, marihuana, Oxycodone (Percocet), Alprazolam (Xanax), and Buprenorphine (Suboxone) within 1,000 feet of the Vista Hermosa, Villa España, and Luis Lloréns Public Housing Projects, and other areas nearby. The object of the conspiracy was to operate a drug-trafficking organization to distribute controlled substances in many areas in the municipality of San Juan, and to ship narcotics to the Continental United States, for significant financial profit.

During the course of the investigation, members of the conspiracy received shipments of narcotics at the coastlines of Puerto Rico from vessels that had traveled from Venezuela and Dominican Republic. Members of the organization transported and distributed kilogram quantities of cocaine from Puerto Rico into the continental United States.

As part of the conspiracy, the co-conspirators used abandoned apartments in the Public Housing Projects to prepare the drugs for distribution at the drug points. They would also rent different properties or locations using home rental applications like AirBnb, in order to use them as stash places to store kilogram quantities of heroin, cocaine, crack, marihuana, U.S. currency, firearms, and ammunition in order to avoid detection from law enforcement.

The defendants acted in different roles in order to further the goals of their organization, to wit: leaders/suppliers, enforcers, runners, sellers, lookouts, and facilitators. The members of the gang used force, violence, and intimidation to maintain control of the areas in which they operated. They held meetings to discuss the operations of the drug-trafficking organization and to plan violent acts against members of their own gang or members of a rival gang. Twenty-six defendants are facing one charge of possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime:

            Carlos Manuel Cotto-Cruz, a/k/a “Wasa/Zion/Loco/Alto Rango/Ministro”

            Héctor Luis Santiago-Medina, a/k/a “Gordo Casco/El Incorregible”

            Luis Daniel García-Hernández, a/k/a “Luisda/Ele-D/El Enano”

            Jermaine Calderón-Echevarría, a/k/a “Jey/Jeso/Pupi”

            Victor Isaac Del Valle-Rivera

            José Luis Castro-Vázquez, a/k/a “Manota”

            Fabián Nieves-Rosales, a/k/a “Chino”

            Karem Lynette Varcárcel-Cruz, a/k/a “La Prieta”

            Pedro Alejandro Ocasio-Hernández, a/k/a “Chino”

            Giovanni Andrés Reyes-Cruz, a/k/a “Koala/Ken Y/El Animal/Koa”

            Luis Manuel Vega-Quiles, a/k/a “Luisma/Sangre”

            Gabriel Casanova-Yales, a/k/a “Gaby Luchy”

            Fernando Ian Canino-Ortiz, a/k/a “Ian”

            Carlos J. Santos-Díaz, a/k/a “Mambiche”

            Luis Miguel Muñóz-López, a/k/a “Chino/Chino Grillo”

            Luis Alberto Cintrón-Collazo, a/k/a “Pacho/El Negro”

            Pablo De La Cruz-Arias, a/k/a “Pablo El Diablo”

            Pedro Victor Nieves-Hernández, a/k/a “Pedrito”

            Mario Alexander Rivera

            Carlos A. Benítez-Rolón, a/k/a “Charlie/Charlie El Negro”

            Jesús David Maldonado-Morales, a/k/a “Chu/Chuito”

            Arsenio Laborde-Figueroa

            Juan Francisco Torres-Huertas, a/k/a “Cano/Canito/Jonathan”

            Julio Ángel Galarza-Rosado

            Alex Darnel Rodríguez-Huertas, a/k/a “Darnel”

            Lino Acosta-López

The other defendants are:

            Luis Manuel Ortiz-Romero, a/k/a “Yiyo”

            Luis Nike Santiago-Medina

            Juan Ruiz-Díaz, a/k/a “Pra Pra”

            Rubén Figueroa-Rodríguez, a/k/a “Rubén el Gordo”

            Yan Carlos De Jesús-Ortíz a/k/a “Cepi/Cepi El Escudo”

            Omar Quiles-Arce a/k/a “Tibu”

            Kevin Jomar Maldonado-Rosa

            Kristian Damián Martínez-Cruz

            Ángel Rafael Torres-Reyes, a/k/a “Mickey Wood”

            Orlando José Rodríguez-Lara, a/k/a “Trippy”

            Kibanielle Ichael Colón-Muñíz, a/k/a “Kiba/Kiva”

            Chris Anthony Jiménez-Ortiz

            Kenny J. Rodríguez-Rodríguez, a/k/a “Kencho/Kenny Kencho/Ian”

            Keyshla Michelle Rodríguez-Acevedo

            Kelvin Joel Torres-Flores

Defendants Héctor Luis Santiago-Medina and Keyshla Michelle Rodríguez-Acevedo are facing one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. According to court documents, the object of the conspiracy was to conduct financial transactions with the proceeds of drug trafficking to conceal and disguise the nature, location, source, ownership, and control of the proceeds. For example, they used the proceeds from the sale of the narcotics to purchase vehicles. At times they submitted false financial documents and made false statements to financial institutions to receive loans to purchase automobiles and paid the loans with the narcotics proceeds. They also registered the vehicles in the names of co-conspirators, but the vehicles were used by other individuals from the organization.

Assistant U.S. Attorney (AUSA) and Chief of the Gang Section Alberto López-Rocafort, Deputy Chief of the Gang Section, AUSA Teresa Zapata-Valladares, AUSAs Corinne Cordero-Romo and Pedro Casablanca, and Special AUSA R. Vance Eaton are in charge of the prosecution of the case. If convicted on the drug charges, the defendants face a minimum sentence of 10 years, and up to life in prison. If convicted of both the drug and firearms charges, the defendants face a minimum sentence of 15 years, and up to life in prison. All defendants are facing a narcotics forfeiture allegation of $58,151,800.

This prosecution is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) Strike Force Initiative, which provides for the establishment of permanent multi-agency task force teams that work side-by-side in the same location. This co-located model enables agents from different agencies to collaborate on intelligence-driven, multi-jurisdictional operations to disrupt and dismantle the most significant drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations.

An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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