OPERATION JOINT VENTURE
CATAÑO, Puerto Rico – The first Caribbean Mobile Enforcement Team (MET) deployment resulted in the total dismantling of a violent drug trafficking organization (DTO) which for years kept under siege the residents of the Coquí Public Housing Project in the municipality of Cataño, Puerto Rico (PR), a small community across the bay from PR Capital, San Juan. The PR Police Department (PRPD) Superintendent, retired FBI Supervisory Special Agent Pedro Toledo and the Hon. Roberto Sanchez-Ramos, PR’s Justice Secretary-designee hailed the MET deployment as historical for Puerto Rican law enforcement authorities and justice system. For Caribbean Division (CD) Special Agent in Charge (SAC) Jerome M. Harris, this successful first Caribbean MET deployment demonstrates DEA historical strong partnership with the PRPD and the PR Department of Justice (PRDOJ) and our firm commitment with making Puerto Rican communities safer and promoting a drug free environment for our children and future generations. The Caribbean MET is composed of DEA, PRPD, and PRDOJ’s Special Investigations Bureau (SIB) agents.
Operation Joint Venture targeted the DTO directed by Gilberto SANTIAGO-Reyes, alias Gilberto El Pollo (Gilbert, The Chicken) crimes related to drug trafficking in the Cataño, PR area. During the course of the investigation SANTIAGO-Reyes was murdered by rival drug gangs. El Coquí Public Housing Project has been a focal point of violence over the last several months. The DTO had establishes several drug distribution points and stash locations within the complex which operated 24 hours. The DTO had effectively seized control of the access and exit to the area by keeping lookouts posted trough the complex which maintained counter surveillance for law enforcement presence and reported law enforcement presence via radio and cellular phone communications to the DTO leaders. Through intimidation and violence this DTO coerced honest citizens residing at the project into allowing drug trafficking sales and storage from their apartments and prevented them form seeking help from the authorities. PRPD estimated that the drug activities of this organization generated $5,357 daily, which is equivalent to $37,500 weekly, $150,000 monthly and $1.8 million yearly The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s OIG also provided invaluable support to Operation Joint Venture. The Caribbean MET was augmented by agents from PRPD’s Drugs, Narcotics and Vice Division detailed to DEA for Operation Joint Venture.
For the first time in PR history an investigation directed by a federal law enforcement agency results in charges brought under the Puerto Rican controlled substances and organized crime laws and will be prosecuted at the local courts. In addition, PRPD agents used a new approach to narcotics investigation by focusing in gathering evidence to support charges for violations to the PR Organized Crime Law. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of PR (USAO/DPR) Law Enforcement Coordinating Committee (LECC) recommended to the Governor of PR, the Hon. Anibal Acevedo-Vila, that the PRPD and the PRDOJ’s Special Investigations Bureau (SIB) take advantage of the several sections of the PR Organized Crime Law and as well as the PR Controlled Substances Law related to the crimes of conspiracy and continued criminal enterprise sections, which are not being routinely used by local prosecutors.
The LECC advised Governor Acevedo-Vila that these sections of the PR laws could be effective tools to attack entire drug trafficking and organized crime organizations on the island, rather than just charging each individual with mere single possession with the intend to distribute and distribution charges. In turn the Governor pledged all the resources available from the PR government to help the federal law enforcement agencies in PR carry out their investigations. Governor Acevedo-Vila asked U.S. Attorney and Secretary-designee Sanchez-Ramos, despite some major differences between the local and federal criminal procedures and laws, to explore the possibility of prosecuting cases investigated by federal agencies which may not meet the USAO/DPR thresholds or where the Commonwealth penalties are stiffer, to be charged under the PR laws and prosecuted in PR courts.
As a result of the LECC recommendations an agreement between the Hon. H.S. Garcia, U.S. Attorney for the District of PR and Secretary Sanchez-Ramos allowed the PR Department of Justice (PRDOJ) Organized Crime Division’s Special Prosecutors be in charge of the prosecution. The Caribbean MET provided PRPD with access and extensive training in the use of sophisticated investigative technology in the CD. This allowed PRPD agents gather additional evidence which traditionally has not been available to local prosecutors. The PRDOJ Organized Crime Special Prosecutors were successful in charging the SANTIAGO-Reyes DTO with crimes which are not traditionally brought to local courts such as conspiracy, continued criminal enterprise and organize crime
The idea of a Caribbean MET originated in May of 2004 from a suggestion made by Congressman Mark Green, from Missouri, to Governor Acevedo-Vila, then Resident Commissioner from Puerto Rico and Member of Congress. Governor Acevedo-Vila was seeking additional resources from Congress to help PR fight the increased violence associated with drug trafficking. Congressman Green advised the then Resident Commissioner that the DEA MET program had been an effective and successful mechanism in fighting drug trafficking and violent drug related crimes across the Nation. Congressman Green, then Vice Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security, joined Governor Acevedo-Vila in asking DEA to study the establishment of a MET in PR to serve the Caribbean. During her visit to PR in May of 2004, Administrator Karen Tandy met with then Resident Commissioner and now Governor Anibal Acevedo-Vila and amongst numerous topics discussed the MET program. On August of 2004 Administrator Tandy informed Governor Acevedo-Vila that a DEA MET had been approved for PR.
The following individuals were arrested as a resutl of Operation Joint Venture:Luis O. PEREZ-Gonzalez
Jose L. RIVERA-Gomez
Ramon L. MORALES-Narvaez
Johnny J. GONZALEZ-Gonzalez
Angel M. SIERRA-Rodriguez
Miguel A. GONZALEZ
Michael J. COUVERTIER-Fernandez
The charges were presented before the Honorable Raquel Irnada, Superior Court Judge, Bayamon, PR Judicial District. The case will be prosecuted by Assistant District Attorney Gilberto Vila-Perez of the PRDOJ Organized Crime Division.
All defendants are presumed innocent until found guilty after jury or bench trial as per Commonwealth of Puerto Rico laws and rules of criminal procedure