SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) special agents, working jointly with Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Puerto Rico Police Department, San Juan Municipal Police and the Directorate of Criminal Investigations and Interpol in Colombia, arrested 17 alleged members of the Caribbean cell of El Norte Valle Colombian drug cartel on Friday.
Those arrested Friday were among 23 individuals charged in five different indictments for drug trafficking and money laundering.
"Our efforts along with our domestic and international law enforcement partners have crippled the narcotic and money laundering activities of the Norte del Valle Cartel," said Roberto Escobar Vargas, special agent in charge of ICE HSI in Puerto Rico. "HSI will continue our relentless attack against this cartel, aiming to dismantle them and stop the violence they inflict on our communities."
According to the first indictment, beginning on January 2007 and ending in or about January 2008, Ricardo Betancourt-Muñoz, José Ramon Parra-Botero, William Garzon, Carlos Maestre-Astacio, Manuel De Jesús Cedeño-Vilorio, Miguel Ángel Builes-Mejías, José Gómez-Cubero, and José I. Valentin-López, conspired and engaged in financial transactions with proceeds generated by drug trafficking activities in order to repatriate drug proceeds in the United States to Colombia, the source country of the narcotics, all for financial gain and profit. The forfeiture allegation involving the laundered drug proceeds in this case is in the amount of more than $877, 0000.
The second indictment alleges that from January 2008 until February 2008, Cedeño-Vilorio, Maestre-Astacio, Luis Eduardo Pinzón-Mahecha, Juan Aguilar-Morales, Juan Rafael Mota-Cedeño, and David Flores-Arriaga, engaged in conspiracies to possess with intent to distribute and import cocaine and heroin. The forfeiture allegation in this indictment is for $248,400.
The third indictment alleges that Roberto Méndez-Hurtado, Luz Janet Díaz-Galeano, Renaldo Zuñiga-Uribe, Pinzón-Mahecha, Camilo Andrés Sánchez-Valenzuela, Miguel Hidalgo, Eric Hidalgo, Eddy De Los Santos and José Meléndez engaged in a conspiracy to commit money laundering. The forfeiture allegation involving the laundered funds is for $1,805,284. Méndez-Hurtado and De Los Santos were also charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and import cocaine. The forfeiture allegation for any property or proceeds derived from the sale of the narcotics is for $2,990,000.
The fourth indictment charges Maestre-Astacio and De Jesús-Cedeño, along with Eliezer Roldán-Maldonado and Edgardo Rodríguez-Morales for their participation in a conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, with a forfeiture allegation of $48,000.
The last indictment charges Aguilar-Morales and De Jesús-Cedeño and Ángel Morales-Rosario, for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and import cocaine beginning in June 2008 until October 2009.
"Due to the efforts of the federal and local law enforcement agencies we will prosecute these individuals who, while engaged in drug trafficking activities, also assisted drug traffickers in the financial end of their business. Without these financial transactions drug traffickers are unable to enjoy the profits of their illegal activities, this is a significant blow to those who assist in the concealment of drug proceeds" said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez.
Roberto Mendez, Renaldo Zuñiga Uribe, Miguel Hidalgo, Eric Hidalgo and Juan Rafael Mota Cedeño remain at large. Manuel De Jesús Cedeño-Vilorio and Jose Gomez-Cubero were murdered during two separate drug-related incidents.
If convicted, the defendants face a sentence of up to 20 years in federal prison for the money laundering charges, and up to life in prison for the drug conspiracy charges.