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April 28, 2014San Juan, PRUnited StatesTransnational Gangs

Operation Root Canal nets 35 arrests for drug trafficking, possession of illegal arms

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Thirty-five alleged members of a drug trafficking organization were arrested Tuesday as a result of a law enforcement operation dubbed "Root Canal," a joint investigation led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

"This case exemplifies that those involved in the distribution of narcotics and other contraband will be vigorously investigated and prosecuted," said Angel M. Melendez, special agent in charge of HSI San Juan. "HSI thanks our local, state and federal law enforcement partners for their significant cooperation in dismantling this drug trafficking organization."

The indictment, handed down April 22 by a federal grand jury and unsealed Tuesday, charges 41 alleged members of a drug trafficking organization with conspiracy to knowingly and intentionally possess with the intent to distribute cocaine base (crack), cocaine and marijuana, all for significant financial gain and profit. The 35 arrests took place at the Nemesio Canales public housing project.

According to court documents, the organization established drug distribution points at the area known as "El Medio" which constitutes the basketball court, the gym and the administration office of the Nemesio Canales public housing project. Other places of drug distribution also included the areas between buildings 4, 5, 32, 33, 50, 51, 60 and 61 of the housing project. Some of the defendants would routinely possess, carry, brandish and use firearms to protect themselves and the drug trafficking organization from rival gangs.

The indictment alleges that some of the defendants and their co-conspirators had access to different vehicles in which they transported money, narcotics and firearms and that they used these vehicles to conduct drive by shootings and to go out and "hunt" rival gang members. Some of these vehicles were altered with hidden compartments to conceal drugs and firearms. The indictment further alleges that the 41 co-conspirators had many roles in order to further the goals of the conspiracy. The following are the roles as alleged in the indictment: nine leaders (drug point owners/administrators), one supplier, two enforcers, five runners, 18 sellers and six facilitators. Thirty-one of the defendants are facing one count of using and carrying firearms during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime.

This enforcement operation is part of HSI's Operation Community Shield, a global initiative in which HSI partners with existing federal, state and local anti-gang efforts to identify violent street gangs and develop intelligence on gang members and associates, gang criminal activities and international movements to arrest, prosecute, imprison and/or deport transnational gang members.

Since the inception of Operation Community Shield in February 2005, HSI special agents working in conjunction with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies across the nation have arrested more than 33,000 street gang members and associates linked to more than 2,600 different gangs. At least 43 percent of those arrested had a violent criminal history. More than 438 of those arrested were gang leaders, and more than 4,500 were MS-13 gang members or associates. Through this initiative, HSI has seized more than 5,615 firearms nationally.

The National Gang Unit within HSI identifies violent street gangs and develops intelligence on their membership, associates, criminal activities and international movements to deter, disrupt and dismantle transnational criminal gang operations by tracing and seizing cash, weapons and other assets derived from illicit activities.

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

Updated: 06/08/2015