Operation 'Just Punishment' nets 38 arrests for drug trafficking, firearms violations
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 Thursday in the municipality of Cayey, as well as Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts and Florida, during an operation dubbed ‘Just Punishment’ that resulted in the arrest of 38 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 Jardines de Montellano and Luis Muñoz Morales public housing projects and the El Polvorin, San Cristobal and Cantera wards, all for significant financial gain and profit.
The indictment alleges, beginning in 2012, the organization established drug distribution points among several housing projects in the municipality of Cayey. Some of the defendants and their co-conspirators committed murders in order to maintain order and control of the drug trafficking operations. According to court documents, some of the defendants, while in prison, maintained contact by telephone with other members of the organization in the free community to control and coordinate drug trafficking activities. The co-conspirators sometimes referred to the drug trafficking organization as “The Punishers” and some of its members have tattoos of “The Punisher” logo to identify themselves as members of the organization. The indictment also alleges that members of the organization routinely used social media to post pictures of co-conspirators, communicate between themselves and promote their drug trafficking activities. They took photos and videos of themselves, their associates, vehicles, drugs, firearms and other drug trafficking related items.
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.
If convicted, those arrested for drug trafficking face a minimum sentence of 10 years and up to life in prison. Those arrested for drug trafficking and a firearms offense face a minimum of 15 years and up to life in prison.
HSI special 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 special 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.