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23 Members of a Violent Gang Charged with Drug Trafficking and Firearms Violations in Yauco, Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – On September 14, 2022, a federal grand jury in the District of Puerto Rico returned an indictment charging 23 violent gang members from the municipality of Yauco with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and possession with intent to distribute controlled substances, as well as firearms violations, announced W. Stephen Muldrow, United States Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), and the Puerto Rico Police Bureau (PRPB), Ponce Strike Force, led the investigation, with assistance from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the United States Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), and the U.S. Marshals Service (USMS).

“Today’s arrests reflect the unwavering commitment of the U.S. Department of Justice and its law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute those who fuel violence in our streets through illegal drug trafficking activities” said W. Stephen Muldrow, U.S. Attorney for the District of Puerto Rico. “I commend the hard work of the agents and prosecutors who worked tirelessly on this investigation to make our community safer.”

“HSI San Juan remains committed to work side by side with our state and federal law enforcement partners to dismantle criminal organizations,” said Iván Arvelo, Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations. “This investigation is the direct result of multiple law enforcement entities working together towards a safer Puerto Rico.” 

The indictment alleges that from 2019 until the date of the return of the indictment, the drug trafficking organization distributed cocaine base (commonly known as “crack”), heroin, cocaine, and marihuana within 1,000 feet of the Santa Catalina Public Housing Project. The object of the conspiracy was the large-scale distribution of controlled substances in the municipality Yauco for significant financial gain and profit.

The 23 defendants acted in different roles to further the goals of their organization, including as leaders, drug point owners, suppliers, runners, enforcers, sellers, facilitators, and lookouts. Nine of the defendants are also facing a charge of possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. The members of the drug trafficking organization routinely possessed, carried, brandished, and used different types of firearms, including modified automatic firearms and high-capacity rifles.

As part of the conspiracy, the defendants and their co-conspirators established a drug distribution point that would move within different areas inside the public housing projects to avoid police detection, including the basketball court and a tree in front of the old school inside the Santa Catalina PHP. Sometimes the defendants moved the drug point to the third floor of a building and dispatched the controlled substances from a balcony using a rope down to the first floor to avoid law enforcement detection.

Members of the organization would steal cars and use them to further their drug trafficking activities like transport money, narcotics, and firearms. The members of the gang used force, violence, and intimidation to maintain control of the areas in which they operated. They often abducted and assaulted rival drug traffickers, as well as members of their own drug trafficking organization, to intimidate and maintain control of the drug trafficking operation.

The defendants charged are:

Jesús Manuel Castro-Oliveras, a.k.a. “Chuy/Chui”

Giovanni Joel Vargas-Maldonado, a.k.a. “Giova, Jova, La J”

Carlos Irving Caraballo-Rodríguez, a.k.a. “Coco/Vizco”

Ángel Osvaldo Pietri-Velázquez, a.k.a. “Chuleta”

Dayan Joel Caraballo-Ortiz, a.k.a. “Jowel/Joel”

José Ramón Cannizaro-Burgos, a.k.a. “Monchito”

Luis Antonio Irizarry-Albino, a.k.a. “Luisito”

Isaías Manuel Rivera

Irving Joel Torres Pacheco

Jean Carlos Ayala-Morales, a.k.a. “Flaco”

Ángel Edid Vélez-Echevarría, a.k.a. “Gordo Ángel/Hammer”

Néstor Rodríguez-Echevarría, a.k.a. “Tito”

Steven Vélez-Echevarría, a.k.a. “Steven”

Jean Carlos Cabello-Maldonado, a.k.a. “Pikin”

José Ángel Velázquez-Seda, a.k.a. “Tito Chuleta”

Richardson Enoc Cordero-Gallardo, a.k.a. “Richard”

Alejandro Martín Borrero-Rodríguez, a.k.a. “Alejandro”

Kevin Joel Bermúdez-Torres

Daniel Pérez

Liz Marie Rosado-Vélez, a.k.a. “La Gorda”

Benjamín Vélez-Rodríguez, a.k.a. “Benji”

Manuel De Jesús Castro-Peña, a.k.a. “Manolo/Manuel De-Jesús-Castro”

Harvey Ramírez-Pérez

All the defendants are facing a narcotics forfeiture allegation of $10,501,050.

Assistant U.S. Attorney and Chief of the Gang Section Alberto López-Rocafort, Deputy Chief of the Gang Section, AUSA Tereza Zapata-Valladares, Special AUSAs Cristina Caraballo and R. Vance Eaton are in charge of the prosecution of the case. If convicted on the drug charges, the defendants face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years, and up to life in prison. If convicted of both the drug and firearms charges, the defendants face a mandatory minimum sentence of 15 years, and up to life in prison.

This case is part of an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF) operation. OCDETF identifies, disrupts, and dismantles the highest-level criminal organizations that threaten the United States using a prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency approach. Additional information about the OCDETF Program can be found at https://www.justice.gov/OCDETF.

An indictment is merely an allegation and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

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