NEW YORK, USA -- A multi-agency operation on Tuesday morning resulted in the arrest and indictment of 13 members of a narcotics trafficking group charged with smuggling large amounts of narcotics from Puerto Rico through the US Mail for distribution in New York City.
The arrests are the result of a long-term wiretap investigation by DEA New York Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Strike Force Group Z-42 and the USPIS, which resulted in the seizure of over 21 kilograms of cocaine and heroin (46 pounds) with a combined street value of $4.5 million. Approximately $150,000 in cash, $70,000 in jewelry, a rifle and a stun gun were also seized.
Child's chest that concealed two kilograms of cocaine
An indictment filed by the Special Narcotics Prosecutor’s Office charges Bronx-based ringleader Ariel Lopez-Acosta and two Puerto Rico-based drug suppliers, Luis Melendez-Sanchez and Eliud Torres, with “Operating as a Major Trafficker” under New York State’s kingpin statute, which carries a possible life sentence.
On Tuesday morning, members of Strike Force Group Z-42, with assistance from the USPIS and the Clarkstown Police Department, arrested eight defendants in New York City, including five who reside in the Bronx and three in Manhattan. Two additional defendants from the Bronx and Maryland were previously arrested. Strike Force Group Z-42 is comprised of agents and officers from the DEA, the NYPD, ICE HSI and the New York State Police.
Alleged suppliers Melendez-Sanchez and Torres were arrested in San Juan, Puerto Rico onTuesday morning and will be the subject of extradition proceedings.
When agents and officers arrived to arrest Lopez-Acosta at his home in the Bronx, the ringleader unsuccessfully attempted to flee out the back carrying a bag of money. A court authorized search of the residence yielded approximately $100,000, along with $90,000 in jewelry, a Range Rover and a second vehicle, and small quantities of steroids.
At the outset of the investigation, members of Strike Force Group Z-42 identified Lopez-Acosta as a suspected Bronx-based narcotics trafficker. The scope of the investigation widened to include fellow distributors, kilogram-quantity customers, and two sources of supply in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
During the charged conspiracy, which ran from August 2015 to November 2016, Melendez-Sanchez and Torres arranged for the shipment of kilogram quantities of narcotics via the US Mail from Puerto Rico to individuals employed by Lopez-Acosta in New York City and New Jersey. Some of the parcels contained narcotics concealed inside boxes of exercise equipment and children’s toys.
In order to make payment for the narcotics, Lopez-Acosta allegedly provided cash to defendant Manuel Pimentel, who in turn arranged to deliver the money to Melendez-Sanchez and Torres in Puerto Rico.
Child's chest opened to show two kilograms of cocaine concealed inside
The indictment charges that US Mail parcels containing narcotics were received by Alfredo Mirla of the Bronx, Adan Castillo of Manhattan and another individual in South Amboy, N.J., who passed the narcotics along to Lopez-Acosta. Mirla was arrested on September 16, 2016, while receiving a package that contained two kilograms of cocaine and was shipped via US Mail to the Bronx.
USPIS inspectors were instrumental in identifying these individuals and seized packages containing nearly $3 million in cocaine. Through surveillance, phone calls, text messages and social media, members of Strike Force Group Z-42 further established connections between the packages of narcotics and Lopez-Acosta and his suppliers.
Once in possession of the narcotics, Lopez-Acosta, with assistance from defendant Miguel Angel Rizik, allegedly sold cocaine and heroin to narcotics distributors in New York City, Boston, Mass. and Maryland. Elvis Jimenez, Miguel Montero, Elvis Delacruz, Yovanny Reyes and Amauris Baez-Pena allegedly received narcotics from Lopez-Acosta for resale.
On July 28, 2016, Elvis Delacruz was arrested in possession of a kilogram of cocaine and a kilogram of heroin as he was travelling by bus from New York to Maryland. Delacruz had picked up the narcotics from Montero, who previously received the drugs from Lopez-Acosta.
In November, agents and officers learned that Lopez-Acosta was planning to smuggle some of his cash profits to the Dominican Republic through family members. Members of Strike Force Group Z-42 identified the flight itinerary for Lopez-Acosta’s wife, Rosanna Duran, who travelled from New York City to Miami and was stopped as she tried to board a plane to the Dominican Republic. A search of Duran and her co-travelers resulted in the seizure of $59,680 in cash.
This morning, during court authorized searches of residences in Manhattan and the Bronx, and a stash location in Yonkers, NY, agents and officers seized 4.5 kilograms of cocaine and a kilogram of heroin, a rifle, a stun gun, and drug paraphernalia, including a kilo press and packaging materials.
The charges and allegations are merely accusations and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.