Drug Enforcement Administration

New York

James J. Hunt, Special Agent in Charge

February 08, 2017

Contact: Erin Mulvey

Phone Number: (212) 337-3900

13 Arrested In Scheme To Smuggle Narcotics From Puerto Rico To New York Via The U.S. Mail: Over 45 Pounds Of Cocaine And Heroin Seized

Drugs concealed in boxes of children’s toys and exercise equipment

NEW YORK -   - A multi-agency operation this morning resulted in the arrest and indictment of 13 members of a narcotics trafficking group charged with smuggling large amounts of narcotics from Puerto Rico through the U.S. Mail for distribution in New York City.  James J. Hunt, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’(DEA) New York Division, Bridget G. Brennan, New York City’s Special Narcotics Prosecutor, Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark, New York City Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill, Angel M. Melendez, Special Agent in Charge of U.S. Immigration Customs (ICE) Homeland Security (HSI) New York, George P. Beach II, Superintendent of the New York State Police, and Philip R. Bartlett, Inspector in Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection (USPIS) New York Office jointly announced the arrests and charges today.
 

The arrests are the result of a long-term wiretap investigation by DEA New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force Group Z-42 and the USPIS, which resulted in the seizure of over 21 kilograms of cocaine and (46 pounds) with a combined street value of $4.5 million. Approximately $150,000 in cash, $70,000 in jewelry, a rifle and a stun gun were also seized.

An indictment filed by the Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s Office charges Bronx-based ringleader Ariel Lopez-Acosta and two Puerto Rico-based drug suppliers, Luis Melendez-Sanchez and Eliud Torres, with “Operating as a Major Trafficker” under New York State’s kingpin statute, which carries a possible life sentence. Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark applied for the eavesdropping warrants.

This morning, members of Strike Force Group Z-42, with assistance from the USPIS and the Clarkstown Police Department, arrested eight defendants in New York City, including five who reside in the Bronx and three in Manhattan. Two additional defendants from the Bronx and Maryland were previously arrested. Strike Force Group Z-42 is comprised of agents and officers from the DEA, the NYPD, ICE HSI and the New York State Police. Arraignments are scheduled for today before Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Bonnie G. Wittner.

Alleged suppliers Melendez-Sanchez and Torres were arrested in San Juan, Puerto Rico this morning and will be the subject of extradition proceedings.

When agents and officers arrived to arrest Lopez-Acosta this morning at his home at 1203 Nelson Avenue in the Bronx, the ringleader unsuccessfully attempted to flee out the back carrying a bag of money. A court authorized search of the residence yielded approximately $100,000, along with $90,000 in jewelry, a Range Rover and a second vehicle, and small quantities of steroids.

At the outset of the investigation, members of Strike Force Group Z-42 identified Lopez-Acosta as a suspected Bronx-based narcotics trafficker. The scope of the investigation widened to include fellow distributors, kilogram-quantity customers, and two sources of supply in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

During the charged conspiracy, which ran from August 2015 to November 2016, Melendez-Sanchez and Torres arranged for the shipment of kilogram quantities of narcotics via the U.S. Mail from Puerto Rico to individuals employed by Lopez-Acosta in New York City and New Jersey. Some of the parcels contained narcotics concealed inside boxes of exercise equipment and children’s toys. 

In order to make payment for the narcotics, Lopez-Acosta allegedly provided cash to defendant Manuel Pimentel, who in turn arranged to deliver the money to Melendez-Sanchez and Torres in Puerto Rico.

The indictment charges that U.S. Mail parcels containing narcotics were received by Alfredo Mirla of the Bronx, Adan Castillo of Manhattan and another individual in South Amboy, N.J., who passed the narcotics along to Lopez-Acosta. Mirla was arrested on September 16, 2016 while receiving a package that contained two kilograms of cocaine and was shipped via U.S. Mail to the Bronx.

USPIS inspectors were instrumental in identifying these individuals and seized packages containing nearly $3 million in cocaine. Through surveillance, phone calls, text messages and social media, members of Strike Force Group Z-42 further established connections between the packages of narcotics and LOPEZ-ACOSTA and his suppliers.

Once in possession of the narcotics, Lopez-Acosta, with assistance from defendant Miguel Angel Rizik, allegedly sold cocaine and heroin to narcotics distributors in New York City, Boston, Mass. and Maryland. Elvis Jimenez, Miguel Montero, Elvis Delacruz, Yovanny Reyes and Amauris Baez-Pena allegedly received narcotics from Lopez-Acosta for resale.

On July 28, 2016, Elvis Delacruz was arrested in possession of a kilogram of cocaine and a kilogram of heroin as he was travelling by bus from New York to Maryland. Delacruz had picked up the narcotics from MONTERO, who previously received the drugs from Lopez-Acosta.

In November, agents and officers learned that Lopez-Acosta was planning to smuggle some of his cash profits to the Dominican Republic through family members. Members of Strike Force Group Z-42 identified the flight itinerary for Lopez-Acosta’s wife, Rosanna Duran, who travelled from New York City to Miami and was stopped as she tried to board a plane to the Dominican Republic. A search of Duran and her co-travelers resulted in the seizure of $59,680 in cash.

This morning, during court authorized searches of residences in Manhattan and the Bronx, and a stash location in Yonkers, N.Y., agents and officers seized 4.5 kilograms of cocaine and a kilogram of heroin, a rifle, a stun gun, and drug paraphernalia, including a kilo press and packaging materials.

“They tried to stay under the radar by sending small loads in the regular mail to smuggle millions of dollars’ worth of illegal drugs into New York City,” Hunt stated.  “Due to law enforcement’s collective resources and investigative skills, this drug trafficking organization was swiftly detected and dismantled.”

Brennan thanked her office’s Special Investigations Bureau, Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark, members of the DEA New York Strike Force Group Z-42, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the Clarkstown Police Department.

“These traffickers brazenly relied on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver millions of dollars of cocaine from Puerto Rico to the New York metropolitan area, concealing it in toys and exercise equipment.  The defendants will soon discover that the widespread distribution of deadly narcotics has severe consequences, as the organization heads face life sentences if convicted of top charges,” said Brennan. “I thank our law enforcement partners for their vigilance and tenacity in apprehending 13 members of this widespread criminal organization.”

“Today, more than ever, local and federal law enforcement must work together,” Clark said. This investigation shows how the Bronx District Attorney and the Special Narcotics Prosecutor can eradicate a drug organization through a seamless working relationship.”

“Our investigation uncovered a drug smuggling operation that was pumping many kilos of cocaine and heroin from Puerto Rico into New York City,” said O’Neill. “Today, 13 defendants are charged, with dozens of additional pounds of narcotics seized. I want to thank the NYPD’s law enforcement partners for their work on this investigation, the arrests and the prosecutions that are to come.” 

“Using the U.S. Postal Service to deliver $3 million dollars’ worth of drugs into the New York area, these individuals believed that by hiding cocaine in boxes of children’s toys, they would be able to evade law enforcement,” said Melendez. “These arrests show that no matter how clever individuals think they are when it comes to smuggling drugs in the mail, sooner or later that knock on the door won’t be the mailman.”

"The arrests and indictments of these individuals send a strong message that the New York State Police, along with our other law enforcement partners, will remain vigilant in our efforts to stop the trafficking of illegal narcotics into our communities,” added Beach. “Due to the hard work and cooperation between state, federal and local law enforcement, we have disrupted a major drug trafficking operation that threatened the safety and security of our neighborhoods. Together, we will continue to aggressively target and pursue criminals who bring dangerous drugs into our communities and who profit at the expense of our citizens."

“The audacity of these individuals to use the U.S. Mail to traffic illegal narcotics is disturbing,” added Bartlett. “One should never underestimate the power of collaboration. Through the collaborative efforts of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, these criminals will now answer for their crimes. Cases like these embolden Postal Inspectors and their law enforcement partners to maintain the vigilant fight against illegal narcotics and criminal enterprises, keeping our communities and families safe.”

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’(DEA) New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force is comprised of agents and officers of the DEA, the New York City Police Department, Immigration and Customs Enforcement - Homeland Security (HSI), the New York State Police, the U. S. Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and (ATF), the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Marshal Service, New York National Guard, the New York Department of Taxation and Finance, the Clarkstown Police Department, U.S. Coast Guard, Port Washington Police Department and New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision. The Strike Force is partially funded by the New York/New Jersey High Intensity Drug Trafficking (HIDTA), which is a federally funded crime fighting initiative.

The charges and allegations are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.

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