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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Authorities arrest 22 in drug gang crackdown in island’s southwest

By The Star Staff

Federal and state authorities on Wednesday arrested 22 alleged members of a criminal organization operating in the southwestern coastal region of Puerto Rico, according to a federal grand jury indictment.

Last Wednesday, March 22, a federal grand jury in the District of Puerto Rico returned a six-count indictment charging 22 individuals with drug trafficking in the municipalities of Sabana Grande, San Germán, Lajas and Cabo Rojo.

The indictment alleges that from 2019 to the date of the return of the charges, the drug trafficking organization distributed heroin, crack cocaine, regular cocaine, marijuana, Fentanyl, Tramadol, Oxycodone (Percocet), and Alprazolam (Xanax) in the Majinas Ward, Las Guaras Ward, Cerro Gordo Ward, and José A. Castillo public housing project (PHP) in the municipality of Sabana Grande. They also distributed drugs in the Sabana Eneas Ward in San Germán, Sabana Yeguas Ward in Lajas; Parabueyon Ward in Cabo Rojo and nearby areas for significant financial gain and profit.

“The charges, in this case, reflect the Justice Department’s commitment to dismantling drug trafficking organizations that sow violence and fear in our communities,” said W. Stephen Muldrow, United States attorney for the District of Puerto Rico.

Added FBI Special Agent in Charge Joseph González: “When I first came to San Juan, I said that violent crime would be our top priority. Today, I want to thank my FBI Aguadilla Team for helping me make good on that promise.”

As part of the conspiracy, the members acted in different roles to further the conspiracy’s goals, including serving as leaders, enforcers, runners, sellers and facilitators, according to the indictment. The defendants had access to other vehicles they used to transport money, narcotics, and firearms. They offered delivery services to their clients; they would meet up with clients in parking lots or wherever convenient for them.

The gang members used force, violence and intimidation to maintain control of the areas in which they operated. Twenty-one defendants are also facing a charge of possession of firearms in furtherance of a drug trafficking crime. The defendants are:

José Alberto Pagán Casiano, a/k/a “Pito Cansio;” Víctor Galindo Padilla, a/k/a “Junito;” John M. Hernández Méndez, a/k/a “El Buster;” Terril Rivera Calder, a/k/a “TJ;” Julio Argenis Figueroa Martínez, a/k/a “Argenis;” Renty A. Areizaga García; Alexander Rivera Casiano, a/k/a “Papal;” Gustavo González González, a/k/a “Gotay/GTA/Negro/Tavo; ” Christian Belén Silva, a/k/a “Belén;” Michael Nazario Rivera, a/k/a “Michael Bolso/El Pri;” Yomvier Torres Ruiz; Jaime Rodríguez Juliá; Víctor Casiano Alameda, a/k/a “Junito;” Rodney A. Santiago Ramírez; Gabriel Olmeda Mercado, a/k/a “Rasta;” Justin Carlo Padilla, a/k/a “Donald Trump;” José M. Rodríguez Torres, a/k/a “JM;” Alex Ramírez Sánchez, a/k/a “Pote;” Axel Vélez Denizac, a/k/a “Axel el Enano;”

Shariel Mercado González; Yehudy Toro Vargas; and Francisco Ayala Vega, a/k/a “Cabra/Sico.”

If convicted, the defendants face a minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum sentence of life in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The FBI and the Puerto Rico Police Bureau Aguadilla Strike Force are in charge of the investigation, with the collaboration of Homeland Security Investigations, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the United States Postal Inspection Service, Internal Revenue Service, the United States Marshals Service, the Mayagüez Strike Force and Mayagüez Homicide Division, and the Mayagüez District Attorney. The arrest operation is part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force program.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Corinne Cordero Romo from the Gang Section is in charge of prosecuting the case.

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