DEA Arrests 38 in Canovanas, Puerto Rico
OCT 01 -- SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Last Friday, a federal Grand Jury in the District of Puerto Rico returned a six-count indictment, charging forty (40)defendants with federal drug trafficking and firearms offenses. This morning Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Carolina Strike Force agents arrested 38 members of the drug trafficking organization, which had operated since at least 2006 at the Public Housing Project Jesús T. Piñero and in other areas within and/or near the municipality of Canóvanas, announced Vito S. Guarino, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the DEA Caribbean Division and United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico, Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez.
The members of the drug trafficking organization are charged with violations of the Federal Controlled Substances Act, specifically: conspiracy to distribute crack cocaine, cocaine, marihuana, Oxycodone, commonly known as Percocet, and Alprazolam, known as Xanax, in the municipality of Canóvanas, Puerto Rico. The indictment also contains firearms violation charges and narcotics forfeiture allegations for five million dollars ($5,000,000). The arrest operation is still ongoing.
"Today the DEA joins forces with our Carolina Strike Force counterparts in removing this drug trafficking organization which for many years has been intimidating the citizens of the town of Canovanas with their violence and has been spreading the scourge of illegal drugs in this town and neighboring communities” said DEA Caribbean Division Acting Special Agent in Charge Vito S. Guarino. “DEA will continue supporting the U.S. Attorney's Project Safe Neighborhoods Strike Forces and HIDTA program with DEA’s unique expertise and resources to fight drug trafficking in every corner of the island. The partnership between DEA, HIDTA and the U.S. Attorney’s Project Safe Neighborhoods Strike Forces have proven to be an effective tool against violent crime”
“Since 2005, when the Strike Forces were formed to investigate and prosecute these matters, we have successfully dismantled drug trafficking organizations in all areas of Puerto Rico. The hard work and efforts of state and federal law enforcement agencies in the Carolina Strike Force Unit, prove that through collaboration we can and will eliminate all active and violent drug trafficking organizations in Puerto Rico,” said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez during a press conference today.
Ismael Heredia-Ortiz, aka “Isma,” “Gordo” and “Papa Smurf,” was the owner of the organization. He controlled and supervised the operations, purchased bulk amounts of narcotics and directed the packaging, transportation and sale of such narcotics. He also cooked the cocaine to convert it to crack cocaine, was an enforcer, and allowed and ordered members of the conspiracy to carry firearms in order to protect him and the organization. In November 2006, defendant Heredia-Ortiz, along with co-defendants  Joel Ramos-Santiago, aka “Joelo,” aka “Jota,”  Héctor Rivera-Febres, aka “Buby” and  Josean Domenech-Robles, aka “Josy” were indicted and arrested for arson of an apartment at the Public Housing Project Jesús T. Piñero. Shortly after coming into Federal custody on the arson charges, Heredia-Ortiz continued leading and operating the drug trafficking organization through individuals who worked for him as his supervisors. While in Federal custody, Heredia-Ortiz, and his wife, co-defendant  Gretchen Villafañe-Serrano, received a monetary weekly pension from the proceeds of the illegal sale of narcotics.
The forty (40) co-conspirators operated in different roles, in order to further the goals of the conspiracy, which included at least one (1) leader; six (6) supervisors and/or drug point owners; three (3) suppliers; ten (10) enforcers; nine (9) runners; twenty-nine (29) sellers; and ten (10) facilitators. One or more of those co-conspirators would hold more than one role within the conspiracy.
The investigation was part of the joint efforts of the Carolina Strike Force Team led by Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico and coordinated by Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Guillermo Gil-Bonar; working in conjunction with the DEA High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area (HIDTA) Fajardo Office. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) collaborated during the arrest operation. The Puerto Rico National Guard Counterdrug Support Task Force provided logistical support to the operation.
Penalties for the narcotics offenses alleged in the indictment range from ten (10) years to two terms of life imprisonment, and fines of up to four million dollars ($4,000,000.00). The case is being prosecuted by Carolina Strike Force Assistant United States Attorneys Mariana Bauzá-Almonte and Dina Ávila-Jiménez under the supervision of Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Guillermo Gil-Bonar. An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law.