FBI dismantles powerful Puerto Rico drug group
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The FBI said Tuesday that is has dismantled a powerful drug trafficking organization in Puerto Rico with ties to the U.S. and the Dominican Republic that generated more than $100 million in revenue.
The 27 suspects indicted are accused of conspiring to import cocaine from the Dominican Republic into Puerto Rico to sell it on the U.S. mainland and in Puerto Rico’s northern and central regions. The revenue was then used to buy boats, cars and businesses, according to the indictment.
“They are one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful, organizations in Puerto Rico and probably the Caribbean in the last 20 years,” Carlos Cases, Puerto Rico-based FBI special agent in charge, said in a phone interview.
Previous leaders and associates of the group include convicted drug dealer Jose Figueroa Agosto, once dubbed the “Pablo Escobar of the Caribbean,” and Angel Ayala Vazquez, once considered Puerto Rico’s top drug dealer and sentenced to life in prison in December 2011.
The suspects are accused of moving at least 9,000 kilograms (19,800 pounds) of cocaine from May 2005 to June 2010, and of sending at least $8 million in cash to the Dominican Republic aboard a private yacht, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Among those indicted is Edgar Collazo Rivera, a well-known businessman who owns a transportation and garbage collection company that has several contracts with the government of Puerto Rico and various municipalities, U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez said. She said Collazo is the owner of the yacht and faces money laundering charges.
It was unclear if Collazo has a lawyer. A woman who answered the phone at his company said she didn’t have any information. She wouldn’t give her name.
FBI spokesman Moises Quinones said at least 18 of the 27 suspects had been arrested in Puerto Rico and in states including Texas, Florida and California.
The arrests come a few days after the Department of Homeland Security has announced a campaign to target high-level drug traffickers following a three-month street operation in Puerto Rico to gather intelligence. The crackdown is part of a federal operation that began in July 2012 to reduce the smuggling of drugs and weapons, among other things. Agents so far have seized a total of 53,000 pounds (24,000 kilograms) of drugs and confiscated hundreds of firearms.