Crackdown on gangs dedicated to carjacking, stealing vehicles and selling weapons nets 18
By The Star Staff
A confidential investigation carried out by the Puerto Rico Police Bureau and the island Department of Justice culminated in the early hours of Thursday, with the arrest of 18 people and the filing of 75 criminal charges against the members of four gangs dedicated to armed car theft (carjacking), vehicle theft and transfer of weapons that operated in 10 municipalities on the island.
“These individuals violently appropriated citizens’ property and were evading the law for some time,” Justice Secretary Domingo Emanuelli Hernández said at a press conference. “But the joint and strategic work of the prosecutors of the Organized Crime Division and police agents managed to stop these groups that have made crime a profession. After an extensive investigation, we have the evidence to prosecute them beyond a reasonable doubt. The time has come for them to answer for their crimes before justice.”
The charges were presented by prosecutors Diannete Aymat Frías and Liza Morales Jusino, from the Justice Department’s Division to Combat Organized Crime and Drugs, in the judicial centers of San Juan and Bayamón, where bails were set for the defendants at the sum of $5.8 million. In addition, the attorney for Minor Affairs of San Juan, Ivelisse Maldonado Muñoz, filed an offense against a minor, against whom she has an arrest warrant.
The investigation, led by the Police Bureau’s Stolen Vehicles Division and the aforementioned division of the Justice Department, lasted nearly two years and resulted in the identification of four criminal organizations responsible for carjackings and a large portion of the vehicles stolen in the 10 municipalities, as well as their respective leaders, who were arrested. The detainees are between 17 and 51 years old. In the raid, six rifles and 12 pistols were also seized and 15 vehicles reported stolen or carjacked, which were used to commit crimes, were recovered. Additionally, in the process of serving the arrest warrants, five cars were seized, along with chargers, ammunition and various controlled substances for distribution, including cocaine, heroin and marijuana.
“We have dealt a great blow to the theft of motor vehicles on the island,” Police Commissioner Antonio López Figueroa said. “The illegal trade in stolen vehicles, and the illegal possession and sale of firearms by organized groups and individuals have no place in our society. The activities of these gangs harm citizens, businesses, the economy and public safety and in the vast majority of cases, they are linked to other criminal activities.”
According to the investigating agents, two of the dismantled groups had links with each other and sometimes worked in coordination. One of them, which operated in the areas of San Juan and Caguas, was directed by Karla Verdejo Cardona (alias Loco). She had been prosecuted at the federal level and is currently serving a probationary sentence for carjacking. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) collaborated in this investigation, which led to the arrest of Verdejo Cardona.