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Leader of Puerto Rican major drug trafficking organization sentenced to life in prison

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The leader of a major drug trafficking organization arrested during the execution of Operation Grayskull by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison by U.S. District Judge Carmen Consuelo Cerezo.

Ismael Vazquez-Larrauri, 39, of Cayey, Puerto Rico, was found guilty June 15 of conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute heroin, cocaine, cocaine base and marijuana within public housing projects and schools.

HSI special agents, working jointly with federal, state and local law enforcement partners, conducted simultaneous enforcement actions Aug. 25, 2008, in an operation dubbed Operation Grayskull in the Puerto Rican municipalities of Cayey, Salinas, Guayama, Coamo, Santa Isabel and Jayuya that resulted in the arrest of 64 individuals allegedly involved in a drug trafficking conspiracy. Vazquez-Larrauri, the leader of the organization, remained fugitive but was subsequently arrested May 1, 2009.

According to the Aug. 5, 2008, indictment, which charged 71 individuals for drug trafficking, the object of the conspiracy was to purchase wholesale quantities of heroin, cocaine, marijuana, Oxycodone (Percocet) and Alprazolam (Xanax) for distribution at several public housing projects in Cayey and at drug distribution points in the municipalities of Salinas, Coamo, Santa Isabel, Guayama and Jayuya, all for a significant financial gain and profit.

The indictment further alleges that some of the cocaine purchased was cooked in order to make cocaine-based crack that was later distributed, along with heroin, cocaine and marijuana, in small bags at the drug selling points. The leaders of the organization divided the proceeds of the drug trafficking sales among themselves and their subordinates.

The 71 individuals charged had different roles in the conspiracy, such as leaders, suppliers, runners, enforcers and facilitators to further the goals of the conspiracy. The charging document also alleges that some of the co-conspirators used residences in order to package and conceal the controlled substances as well as the materials to process the contraband.

"The importation of illegal narcotics into the United States is a very serious crime and the unscrupulous persons involved will not receive reprieve from law enforcement," said Angel Melendez, acting special agent-in-charge of HSI San Juan. "In our efforts to keep drugs off the streets of Puerto Rico, we will continue using all of our resources to identify and dismantle drug trafficking and money laundering organizations that operate within our jurisdiction."

ICE encourages the public to report suspected weapons and narcotics smuggling, and related information by calling at 1-866-DHS-2ICE. For more information, visit www.ice.gov.