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50 charged in huge multi-state marijuana trafficking ring

NEW YORK - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Office of Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) uncovered a huge, multi-state marijuana trafficking ring. The trafficking operation transported tons of marijuana from Florida and California to the greater New York City area from the early 1990s to 2010.

Today, Preet Bharara, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York; James T. Hayes, Jr., special agent in charge of ICE HSI in New York; John P. Gilbride, special agent in charge of the New York Division of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA); Bridget G. Brennan, special narcotics prosecutor for the City of New York and Rose Gill Hearn, commissioner for the New York City Department of Investigation (DOI) announced the arrest of dozens of individuals involved in the marijuana trafficking ring. They also noted that more than 50 individuals have been charged.

During a long-term proactive investigation dubbed "Operation Green Venom," federal and local law enforcement officers working with the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York and the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor for the City of New York ("Special Narcotics") used more than 20 separate federal and state wiretaps to infiltrate drug trafficking crews that controlled the importation and distribution of marijuana throughout the greater New York City area. Since July 2008, law enforcement has seized more than $1.85 million in marijuana proceeds and more than 225 pounds of marijuana linked to this organization.

"These criminal organizations have allegedly dominated the illegal marijuana market in New York City for almost 20 years," said ICE HSI Special Agent in Charge James T. Hayes, Jr. "The high profile stature of some of the alleged members of these organizations is especially troubling. Just as these organizations relied on each other to expand their illicit business and fuel the growth of their drug distribution network, ICE HSI will continue to partner with our federal, state and local law enforcement brethren to cripple those same networks."

Those arrested include: Kareem "Biggs" Burke, a founder of Roc-A-Fella Records, and Matthew "Magazine Guy" Stang, an advertising representative for High Times magazine. The leader of the organization, Manuel Geovanny Rodriguez-Perez, also known as "Manny," "Shorty" or "Rodriguez," was also arrested.

The defendants are expected to appear in Manhattan federal court later this afternoon. Several court-authorized search warrants have been executed New York, New Jersey and Florida in connection with these arrests.

Rodriguez-Perez is the alleged leader of this marijuana-trafficking operation. He allegedly imported tons of marijuana into New York City during the past two decades. He was also the primary participant in more than 10 telephone calls intercepted during the investigation. He discussed discussing violent acts, including his threat to "hunt" a customer who was late paying for marijuana.

The indictment also charges marijuana "brokers" who assembled drugs in Florida and individuals that transport it to New York and elsewhere. Brokers include: Jesus Sanchez, Daniel Fernandez, and Miguel "Manganzon" Cerda. Individuals who prepare the marijuana for transportation include: Jose Betancourt, Arturo "La Vieja" Mena-Sifonte, Osmel Vazquez-Perez, also known as "Come Pizza" or "Omel." Drivers who transport the marijuana include: Adel "Adel Santana" Santana-Zamora, Idael "Fidel" Mena-Hernandez and Javier Falcon.

The complaint charges a total of 40 defendants, including: Kareem "Biggs" Burke, a founder of Roc-A-Fella Records, Matthew "Magazine Guy" Stang, an advertising representative for High Times magazine, and members of three separate "cells" that distribute marijuana in New York City and New Jersey. The Rodriguez Cell was controlled by Rodriguez-Perez. The Pena Cell was controlled by brothers, Ariel "Bin"or "Vin" Pena and Kenneth "Kool Breeze" Pena. The Jimenez-Perez/Delgado Cell was controlled by Richard Jimenez-Perez, also known as "Milton Delgado" or "Javier Ramirez-Santiago."

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Amie N. Ely, Daniel P. Chung and Sarah E. Mccallum will prosecute the case arising from "Operation Green Venom." The charges contained in the indictment and the complaint are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.