SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), working jointly with other federal and local law enforcement agencies, conducted simultaneous takedowns Wednesday in the municipality of Mayagüez and Kissimmee, Florida, during an operation dubbed ‘8 Ball’ that resulted in the arrest of 44 individuals for their alleged participation in a drug trafficking and illegal firearms conspiracy.
According to the indictment, those arrested conspired to knowingly and intentionally possess with intent to distribute cocaine, crack, marijuana, Percocet and Xanax, all within 1,000 feet of the real property comprising the Columbus Landing Public Housing Project.
The indictment alleges, beginning in 2010, the organization established drug distribution points among several housing projects in the municipality of Mayagüez. The 44 co-conspirators allegedly acted in different roles such as suppliers, drug-point owners, runners, sellers and facilitators in order to further the goals of their organization.
Some of the defendants allegedly would routinely possess, carry, brandish and use firearms to protect themselves and the drug trafficking organization from rival gangs. Twenty-two of the defendants are facing one count of using-and-carrying firearms in relation to a drug trafficking crime.
If convicted, those arrested face sentences of 10 years to life in prison for the narcotics violations and up to 20 years for the money laundering violations.
The defendants charged with drug trafficking face a minimum sentence of 10 years up to life in prison. Those charged alone with possessing a firearm after being convicted of a felony crime face a maximum term in prison of 10 years.
HSI agents enforce a wide range of criminal statutes including Title 18 and Title 19 of the U.S. Code. These statutes address general smuggling issues as well as customs violations. ICE also enforces Title 21, which covers the importation, distribution, manufacture and possession of illegal narcotics.
HSI agents have extensive knowledge of the border environment and techniques employed by smuggling organizations to transport contraband into the United States. This expertise has been gained through years of experience in conducting undercover operations, utilizing confidential informants, special enforcement operations and conducting contraband smuggling investigations.
The methods used by smuggling organizations are always changing and through continued training, the use of emerging technologies and dedication, ICE has maintained its expertise in disrupting and dismantling these criminal organizations.