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27 arrested in Puerto Rico for drug trafficking, money laundering

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Twenty-seven suspected members of a drug trafficking organization were arrested on Thursday. The arrests are part of a joint investigation by the following law enforcement agencies: the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), and the Ponce Strike Force with the Puerto Rico Police Department (PRPD).

On Oct. 28, a federal grand jury indicted 34 individuals for their alleged conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute controlled substances.

Two defendants - Jose A. Rodriguez-Lespier, aka Topo; and Rolando Natal-Sabater, aka Rolo - face an additional charge under the statute for continuing a criminal enterprise.

According to the indictment, Rodriguez-Lespier and Natal-Sabater engaged in a continuing series of criminal violations from which they obtained substantial income and resources. At least five other individuals participated in these crimes, and occupied positions as organizer, supervisor, or other positions of management.

The indictment further alleges that the defendants laundered the illegal financial proceeds through their businesses' operations. They also used their commercial establishments to store, package and distribute controlled substances, and conduct meetings with their associates to further their drug trafficking activities.

"Drug trafficking organizations must be aggressively attacked and dismantled at every level - from the street dealer to the international supplier and drug lord," said Roberto Escobar-Vargas, special agent in charge of the ICE HSI office in San Juan. "Through the coordinated efforts of our federal, state and local law enforcement partners, we have effectively eradicated an organization responsible for bringing significant quantities of drugs into our communities."

If convicted, the defendants face a minimum of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison with fines of up to $4 million.

Rodríguez-Lespier and Natal-Sabater face a mandatory life sentence if found guilty of the continuing criminal enterprise charge.