Attorney General Eric Holder Speaks at the Operation Guard Shack Press Conference
Good morning. Today I’m pleased to be joined by the
United States Attorney for the District of
This morning, federal agents in Puerto Rico began arresting 133 individuals – including more than 90 law enforcement officers – on charges that they participated in, or helped to facilitate, illegal drug transactions. The individuals targeted for arrest include 61 Puerto Rico Police Department Officers, 16 Municipal Officers, 12 Corrections Officers, one administrative examiner, one Social Security Administration employee, three Puerto Rico National Guard soldiers, two U.S. Army Officers, seven former law enforcement officers, and 30 civilians.
The defendants have been charged in 26 indictments and face charges including conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, attempt to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a drug trafficking offense.
These indictments are the result of 125
undercover drug transactions that FBI agents conducted across
The Justice Department’s commitment to rooting
out and eradicating corruption in our law enforcement ranks has never been
stronger. We are proud of the outstanding work
that was performed by the FBI, led by its San Juan Division. During the course of this two-year
investigation, the entire San Juan Field Office – which
includes 160 agents – directly participated or assisted in Operation Guard
Shack. Approximately 750 FBI personnel were
flown in to
I want to thank each of these agents, as well as the other investigators and law enforcement officials, and the many prosecutors, who contributed to Operation Guard Shack’s success.
More than three decades ago, I began my career in the Public Integrity Section. I know, firsthand, that advancing public corruption investigations and prosecutions is extremely difficult work. In these cases, the stakes are always high. Public scrutiny is intense. And the utmost professionalism is essential.
With Operation Guard Shack, the Department continues to build on its strong record of achievement in bringing public corruption cases. In fact, today’s arrests and indictments are the second major public corruption case brought by the Department this week.
On Monday, we announced the results of a public
corruption investigation in
This Department has one message for anyone willing to abuse the public trust for personal gain: you will be caught; you will be stopped; and you will be punished.
The Department of Justice is committed to holding those who swear to protect and serve their fellow citizens accountable. In our work to root out corruption and safeguard public resources, we will follow the facts where they lead, and we will do so without fear or favor.
Without question, today’s arrests will disrupt
drug trafficking operations in
To the people of
Puerto Rico, let me say that: As you continue your
fight against drug trafficking, violent crime, and corruption, we will continue
to stand with you. The vast majority of police officers
I’d now like to turn it over to U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez .
Office of Public Affairs
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Eighty-Nine Law Enforcement
Officers and 44 Others Indicted for Drug Trafficking Crimes in
WASHINGTON – Eighty-nine law enforcement officers and 44 others
The defendants face charges ranging from conspiracy to possess
with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, attempt to
possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, and use
of a firearm during the commission of a drug trafficking offense. The offenses
charged cover a period from in or about
The arrests today are the result of Operation Guard Shack, the
largest police corruption investigation in the history of the FBI. Close to 750
FBI agents were flown in to
"The Justice Department’s commitment to rooting out and eradicating alleged corruption in our law enforcement ranks has never been stronger," said Attorney General Eric Holder. "This department has one message for anyone willing to abuse the public trust for personal gain: you will be caught, you will be stopped and you will be punished."
The indictments unsealed today are the result of 125 undercover
drug transactions conducted by the FBI in several locations in
The law enforcement officers indicted today are from the following agencies: 60 defendants from the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD); 16 defendants from various municipal police departments; and 12 officers from the Puerto Rico Corrections Department. The remaining defendants include: three Puerto Rico National Guard soldiers; two U.S. Army officers; eight former law enforcement officers ; one administrative examiner in child support matters; one employee from the Social Security Administration; and 30 civilians.
"These indictments demonstrate the commitment of the
Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in
"Public corruption does not just strike at the heart of good government. It also jeopardizes the security of our communities and our nation," said FBI Executive Assistant Director Shawn Henry, Criminal, Cyber, Response and Services Branch. "It erodes public confidence and undermines the strength of our democracy. The FBI is fully committed to pursuing allegations of public corruption and we will work closely with the Department of Justice to bring charges when necessary."
The 61 indicted defendants from the Puerto Rico Police Department are: Omar Pérez Prado; Lt. Ángel Torres Figueroa; Carlos Fontanez Mercado, aka "Machazo;" Yacira Vélez Milian; Heriberto Cruz Vargas aka "Yopi;" Giovanni Cubertier Morales; Armando Valle Vicenty; Melvin Acevedo Hernández; Jeff Marrero Malpica; José Fuentes-Fuentes; Nelson Álvarez Mendoza; Obed Acevedo Ranero; Joel Hernández Hernández; David González Pérez; Israel Rullan Santiago; Eusebio Hernández Nieves; Xavier Álvarez Pérez; Ángel Acevedo Pérez, Ángel Rivera Ortiz, aka "Kento;" Samuel Acevedo Rivera; Pedro A. Morales Cintrón; Michael Forestier Figueroa; Juan Cruz Ramos, aka "Tito K9;" Jorge Rosado García; José R. Sánchez Quiñones; Rafael Figueroa Quiñones; Mayra Jiménez Pacheco; Juan D. Santiago Rosado; Rolando Nieves Valentin; Brenda Acosta Andújar; Javier A. Díaz Castro; Arnold E. Benítez Rivera; Rafael Rodríguez Valentin; Ramón Benítez Falcón; Carlos M. Méndez Pérez; Juan Hernández Vega; Daviel Salinas Acevedo; Pedro Ayala Rivera; Yamil M. Navedo Ramírez; Ivan Santiago-Cruz; Daniel E. Ocasio Figueroa; Rafael Bautista Santiago; Isaías Reyes Arroyo; Sgt. Luis E. Pérez Ortiz; Hector Hernández Aguilar; Karla M. Colón Bracero; Jim Santana Ramírez; Jayson Acevedo; José L. Salva Negrón; Milton L. Martínez Matos; Luis A. González Torres; Miguel Santiago Cordero; Alberto De La Rosa Reyes; José B. Vargas Torres; Hector López Terrón; Johanna Caraballo López; Silverio Vera Monroy; Juan Jusino Ramos; Raúl Vega Sosa; Jonathan Ortiz Muñiz; and Hector Olivero Alicea.Ricardo Vázquez (U.S. Army Recruiter); Rafael Ureña Rivera, aka "Indio (former PRPD);" and William Rivera García (former municipal officer).
The 16 indicted defendants who are municipal police officers are: Andy Alejandrino Sánchez; Arcadio Hernández-Soto; Raquel Delgado Marrero; Ángel L. Rivera Claudio; Joel Omar Aldarondo-Montalvo; Neftali Valentin-Fred; José O. Maldonado García; Luis Joel Avilés Rullan; Mark Anthony Ortiz; Luis Román Herrera; Gabriel Lozada Torres; Onel Saavedra González; Rose M. Serrano Vargas; Wilfredo González Lagares; Francisco J. Riesta Natal; and Jose Pérez Pérez.
The 12 indicted defendants who are officers in the Puerto Rico Corrections Department are:Christian Díaz Maldonado; Olvin García Huertas; José L. Román Méndez; Ruben Maldonado Torres; Radamés Cortez Ozoa; Carlos M. Rosado López; Omar Torres Ruperto; Carlos M. Linares Vega; Bernis González Miranda; José R. Bermúdez Quiñones; Joel Díaz Nieves; and Bernardo Cruz Trujillo.
The remaining 44 defendants are: Carlos Figueroa Cruz; Anthony Cruz; Miguel Sánchez Román (U.S. Army, former San Juan Municipal); Rodolfo E. Torres Negrón; Melquiades Álvarez Mendoza; Juan Carlos González Ortiz; Nelmic De La Cruz Raposo; Jesús LNU; Axel González Terron; Juan Cruz Tapia (Social Security Office); Edgar Rafael Rivera De Jesús (retired PRPD); Idanis García Morales (child support examiner); Christian Sotomayor Filomeno; Omar Cajigas; Abimael Hernández Rivera; Pedro González-Cruz; Rubin A. Maisonet De Jesús;Wayne Cedeño Amador; Josué Ramírez González; Oscar E. Ramos Rodríguez; Antonio L. Román Reyes; Yancy Toro Espiet; Alex O. Cordero Cortez, aka "Omar De La Cruz;" Luis Vélez-Concepción; Billy Hernández; Edward Quiñones (former PRPD); Christian A. Núñez-Reverón, aka "Kelvin Nuñez," Roberto Molina (retired PRPD); Francisco Manzano López (former PRPD); Abraham Sánchez (National Guard); Hector Hernández-Aldarondo; Rafael E. Pérez Rivera; Sgt. Abraham González Sánchez (National Guard); Wendell Rivera Ruperto, aka "Arsenio Rivera," (former PR Department of Corrections); David Maldonado (National Guard); Juan C. Ramos-Vargas, aka "Joseph Avilés;" Frederick Santos Ortiz, aka "Roberto Ortega;" Yoana Sierra Padilla (former PRPD); Julio Gómez-Lloréns; Ricardo Amaro-Santiago; Eliezer Pagán Medina; and Sgt.
If convicted the defendants are facing sentences ranging from 10 years, up to life in prison.
This case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Courtney Coker and Jacqueline Novas. The case is being investigated by the FBI San Juan Field Office.
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.
10-1124 / U.S. Attorney General
Police corruption undermines Puerto Rican drug war
BY FRANCES ROBLES
Every time law enforcement officers in Puerto Rico closed in on the island's most-wanted fugitive last year, drug trafficker Alex Trujillo skipped out just in time.
He was captured only after the joint federal and local task force hunting him down was cut in half to weed out suspected insider informants, Police Superintendent Pedro Toledo said.
And after investigators at Puerto Rico's Justice Department saw several drug stings flop last fall, prosecutors discovered a department employee who was tipping off drug dealers.
Aurea Teresa Cancio Nieves was caught on camera taking $1,500 from an undercover agent, court records show.
As Puerto Rico battles one of the highest crime rates in the United States and burgeoning drug trafficking blamed for about 700 murders a year, authorities are confronting another harsh reality: corruption.
About 100 police officers are currently under investigation, and 75 others have been convicted in federal court in the past five years, law enforcement officials said.
The Puerto Rican attorney general's office has 17 open cases against members of the police department.
As a hub for cocaine and heroin arriving from Colombia on the way to mainland U.S. streets, Puerto Rico is so steeped in drug corruption that even a top prosecutor was accused of accepting a Mercedes Benz from a known dealer.
The U.S. government estimates that 20 percent of the cocaine from Colombia passes through the Caribbean.
''We have had officers using police cars to escort drug dealers, and we have arrested officers selling weapons to undercover agents,'' Toledo said.
``We have many honest, hard-working officers, but some violate their oath. We have to get rid of them. We are not going to cover up corruption.''
Between 1993 and 2000, the Puerto Rico Police Department expelled 1,000 police officers on a variety of criminal charges, Toledo said.
But he stressed that there are about 20,000 officers across the island of 4 million people -- one of the world's highest police-per-capita ratios -- making the corrupt officers a comparatively small minority.
In November, two officers assigned to the Arecibo station on the north coast were sentenced to 65 years in prison for protecting cocaine shipments. Another got 40 years.
In 2001, 32 officers were arrested in the biggest police corruption case in the island's history, dubbed ''Operation Lost Honor.'' Officers were accused of using their patrol cars to protect cocaine shipments.
In 2004, 16 officers, including two women, were charged with conspiring to sell drugs in ''Operation Dark Justice.'' In yet another police corruption case, ''Blue Shame,'' prosecutors publicly complained that they suspected judges involved in the case were corrupt.
''This is not something new,'' said Luis S. Fraticelli, special agent in charge of the FBI's San Juan office. ``This has has been going on in Puerto Rico as long as I can remember.''
In the 1970s, he said, corruption was so rampant that some officers were charged with murder.
''We have had undercover agents pose as drug traffickers who hire corrupt police officers to protect shipments of 30 kilos,'' Fraticelli said in a recent interview.
``To protect that shipment from point A to point B, one trip is $4,000. If it's five cops, you're talking $20,000.
``If we offered enough, they used their police uniforms and their patrol cars to protect that load.''
Law enforcement authorities say while it's likely that most drug dealers here have a police officer on the payroll, the corruption does not appear to be organized or to reach police brass.
Police Association President José Rodríguez said ''98 percent'' of police officers were honest, and that the department leadership publicizes isolated corruption cases in order to cover up its lack of progress in the fight against crime.
''There are corrupt police in Puerto Rico, but not as much as other cities in the United States,'' Rodríguez said.
``These cases are not so frequent, despite our low pay. We are the lowest paid police officers in the entire country.''
Officers make about $26,400 a year, said Rodríguez, a police captain in Carolina, a municipality near San Juan.
He added that in Puerto Rico, sergeants supervise 35 to 30 patrol officers, compared to an average of 10 in the United States.
''It's impossible to have effective control,'' he said.
Toledo said the island's police department plans to raise the minimum hiring age from 18 to 21 and beef up its screening process to include polygraphs. But he and other authorities agreed that to stop corrupt police, they have to stop drug trafficking. And to do that, they must largely rely on federal agencies because local police are prohibited by law from tapping phone lines, using body recorders or holding suspects without bail.
U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez said her office has lowered the threshold for the cases federal prosecutors will take.
Her office now regularly files gun possession charges and drug cases for low quantities of cocaine in the quest to crack down on street-level drug peddlers.
''I was local assistant D.A. for 10 years. I got to know a lot of officers; their commitment is extraordinary,'' she said. ``The vast majority -- vast majority -- are good, decent officers.
This is not an indictment of the police force. It's an indictment against members who misuse their positions.''
Law enforcement agencies have formed joint strike forces, which are beginning to show reductions in crime in the pilot cities where they were launched.
''The issue is not the police. The issue is drug trafficking,'' she said. ``We have a drug trafficking problem and a violent crime problem. The murder rate is very high.''
In 2006, 736 people were murdered in Puerto Rico, a rate about three times higher than the U.S. mainland's average. By July 15 of this year, 365 people had been murdered.
The year started out with an explosion of violence attributed to a power vacuum left when notorious drug trafficker José ''Coquito'' López Rosario was gunned down last summer, and the rival dealer who allegedly ordered him killed, Alex Trujillo was finally captured.
When López Rosario was killed, authorities began investigating his ties to three local senators, one of whom brought López along on a series of prison inspections.
Although he was arrested many times, his cases always fell apart in court, said Sergio Rubio Paredes, head of the Puerto Rico Justice Department's organized crime division.
A justice department top prosecutor lost his job when accused of accepting a Mercedes Benz from López.
Although he was cleared of wrongdoing, his contract was not renewed. ''Coquito had a lot of connections,'' Toledo said, ``including judges.''
López had friends in the police department, too, the superintendent said: His mom provided free catering to police holiday parties.
''We need to attack the roots of the problem,'' Rubio said. ``In Puerto Rico, we have proven that hiring more police does not work.''