SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents on Wednesday arrested Eliezer Delgado-Ramos, 44, and Julio E. Melendez-Rivera, 25, both of Fajardo, Puerto Rico, and Inocencio Santana-Nieves, 29, of Las Piedras, Puerto Rico, and on Friday, arrested Raymond Gonzalez-Mercado, 33, of San Juan, and seized more than 1,000 kilograms of cocaine with an estimated street value of approximately $26 million.
"Through these arrests and seizures we are sending a clear message Puerto Rico will not be a safe haven for criminals looking to ship drugs into Puerto Rico and the United States," said Roberto Escobar-Vargas, special agent in charge of the ICE HSI in San Juan. "ICE and its federal and local partners are committed to working together to stop the flow of illegal narcotics into Puerto Rico."
"The investigation into the illegal activities of this drug trafficking organization continues. We commend ICE HSI and Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD) for their successful operation and prompt arrest of these individuals. We will continue our efforts to eradicate drug trafficking in our communities and will not allow drug smugglers to import drug shipments into our jurisdiction," said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez.
According to the indictment, from April 11 until April 29, Delgado-Ramos and Melendez-Rivera met with an individual in order to request assistance in bringing 1,000 kilograms of cocaine from the Dominican Republic into Puerto Rico as part of their drug trafficking activities. Delgado-Ramos offered to pay the amount of $750,000 to the individual for his assistance in transporting the cocaine into the United States.
On May 1, during a sea transfer, four foreign nationals provided the individual hired by Delgado-Ramos and Melendez-Rivera with 38 bales containing 1,068 kilograms of cocaine.
On May 4, Delgado-Ramos, Melendez-Rivera and Santana-Nieves were arrested by ICE HSI special agents and PRPD officers after they arrived in Salinas, Puerto Rico, in order to meet and receive the cocaine shipment as previously agreed upon. An additional individual, Gonzalez-Mercado, awaited them to assist in the subsequent distribution of the cocaine.
On May 6, Gonzalez-Mercado, was also arrested by PRPD officers after a high speed chase.
The United States seeks to forfeit the amount of money representing the value of the property involved in the offense which ascends to $25,632,000.
If convicted, the defendants face a sentence of up to life in prison. The ICE HSI investigation continues.