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05/24/2011

Former Massachusetts police officer named in federal indictment

BOSTON - Federal law enforcement authorities partially unsealed an indictment Tuesday naming 18 individuals, including a former police officer from Watertown, Mass., with drug, extortion and money laundering charges in a case investigated jointly with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

Roberto Velasquez-Johnson, also known as "George Diamond," a former officer with the Watertown Police Department, was among those indicted after federal agents executed multiple search warrants in Watertown and Waltham, resulting in the seizure of more than $700,000 in U.S. currency, seven kilograms of gold bars, 80 pounds of marijuana, four weapons, and several vehicles.

It is alleged that beginning in February 2010, federal agents began a drug trafficking investigation of an international marijuana smuggling organization using warehouses in Massachusetts and elsewhere to offload and distribute large quantities of pure, hydroponically grown marijuana. The investigation allegedly led agents to individuals in Watertown and surrounding locations involved in the distribution of marijuana and Oxycodone pills.

According to a federal affidavit, the investigation involved wiretaps that began in August 2010, and ended on April 20, 2011, with the arrest of nine of the defendants. It is alleged that more than $2.7 million in drug proceeds were seized in Newton and Bedford in October 2010.

The investigation also alleged that Safwan Madarati, also known as "Sammy," and Karapet Dzhanikyan, also known as "Garo," obtained information about the home addresses of two local police officers and were observed by federal agents casing the residences of the officers in an apparent attempt to "send a message." Both were arrested later that day.

Several other acts of extortion are alleged, including the role of Madarati, Hagop Sarkissian, also known as "Jack," and Ronald Martinez in an extortion at a jewelry store in Newton, Mass., on March 17, 2011. Investigators also probed the role of Madarati, Martinez, and Sanusie Mo Kabba in the extortion of an individual in Watertown to collect a drug debt.

Investigators allege former Watertown police officer Velasquez-Johnson conspired with Madarati to impede, impair and obstruct the lawful functions of the ICE HSI-led investigation. The indictment alleges that the officer warned Madarati about an ongoing investigation, and provided him with the home addresses of the two local officers so that he could intimidate them.

 The indictment further alleges that when Velasquez-Johnson was questioned by federal agents, he provided materially false statements regarding his contacts with Madarati.

The following individuals have been arrested and charged with conspiracy to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana, Oxycodone, and cocaine:

Safwan Madarati, 36, Watertown; Vartan A. Soukiasian, 35, Watertown; Hagop N. Sarkissian, 46, Weston; Antranic Idanjian, 45, Waltham; Robert Johnson, 21, Stoneham; Sanusie Mo Kabba, 26, Stoughton; Jeffrey Spinks, 53, Bolyston; Karapet Dzhanikyan, 31, Watertown; Victor Loukas, 43, Watertown; and Manuel Khandjian, 36, Los Angeles, Calif. If convicted of the charges, they face up to life in prison to be followed by five years of supervised release and a fine of up to $4 million.

Madarati, Sarkissian, Kabba, and Martinez are also charged with conspiracy to collect debt by extortionate means. If convicted of the charges, they face up to 20 years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release and a fine of up to $250,000.

Madarati, and Soukiasian are charged with maintaining a place for drug purposes. If convicted of the charges, they face up to 20 years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release and a fine up to $500,000.

Madarati and Velasquez-Johnson are also charged with conspiracy to defraud the U.S., and, if convicted, face up to five years in prison to be followed by three years of supervised release and a fine up to $250,000.

Velasquez-Johnson is charged with making a materially false statement and faces up to five years in prison to be followed by 3 years of supervised release and a fine up to $250,000 if convicted.

Madarati is charged with conspiracy to launder monetary instruments and faces up to 20 years in prison to be followed by 3 years of supervised release and fine up to $500,000, or twice the value of the laundered funds if convicted.

U. S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz, Bruce M. Foucart, special agent in charge, ICE HSI in Boston, Steven W. Derr, special agent in charge, Drug Enforcement Administration, (DEA) in Boston, and Colonel Marian McGovern, superintendent, Massachusetts State Police, made the announcement and acknowledged the assistance provided by the Watertown Police Department.

The case was investigated by the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force of the Boston Strike Force. The case will be prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil J. Gallagher, Jr., of Ortiz' Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force Unit.

The details contained in the indictment and affidavit are allegations. The defendants are presumed to be innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.