A 15-month investigation into drug trafficking and money laundering in New London County culminated Wednesday with a massive drug enforcement operation that resulted in more than 100 arrests and the "dismantling" of two major drug operations that stretched from the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico to Connecticut.
"Basically, what we have here is two organizations that were involved with heroin smuggling, cocaine smuggling and trafficking," said Bruce M. Foucart, special agent in charge of Homeland Security Investigations in New England, during a press conference at Camp Niantic. "They pretty much made this area a gateway for their illegal poison. The fact is that we dismantled them. We have taken them down."
Two years ago, Foucart said, the agency decided it needed to combat drug trafficking in the region. He said the goals were to identify and dismantle the leadership of narcotics organizations; identify assets connected to money laundering; and address the increase in drug-related violence in New London County, including shootings, robberies, assaults and murders.
David B. Fein, U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut, said the defendants are responsible for a large percentage of the heroin and cocaine available on local streets.
More than 700 law enforcement officers fanned out across New London County, New York, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico as the raids began at 6 a.m., he said.
The investigation into the overlapping drug trafficking began in August and continued "around the clock" with the use of wiretaps, physical surveillance, controlled purchases and tracking the flow of illegal funds.
"This long-term and far-reaching investigation demonstrates federal, state and local enforcements' resolve, commitment and dedication to work together across state borders to combat the scourge of drug trafficking and money laundering," Fein said.
He said 20 people from Connecticut, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Puerto Rico were charged with federal offenses in connection with the distribution of heroin, and 35 were charged with federal cocaine distribution offenses. They were presented in federal court in New Haven on Wednesday.
He said the government is seeking pretrial detention of the vast majority of the defendants who, if convicted, face a minimum of five or 10 years of imprisonment.
Foucart said some of those arrested were gang members.
"Today, the tides have turned," he said. "The people of Connecticut and ultimately New England are safer from the inevitable violence that drug trafficking brings."
Fein said the investigation revealed that Luis Ariel Capellan Maldonado, also known as "Ariel," regularly obtained kilograms of heroin from the Dominican Republic and worked with several individuals to distribute the drug out of his apartment on Hawthorne Drive in New London.
Capellan Maldonado allegedly supplied customers with raw heroin, often in quantities of 50 to 150 grams. He also had access to kilograms of cocaine and sometimes supplied cocaine to wholesale distributors in New London.
Capellan Maldonado also allegedly coordinated the shipment of heroin, and sometimes cocaine, via human couriers from the Dominican Republic who swallowed the drugs before boarding flights to the United States. He also obtained heroin from sources in New York City and Rhode Island, police said.
Capellan Maldonado routinely sent thousands of dollars in drug proceeds back to the Dominican Republic, his native country, police said.
One of Capellan Maldonado's associates, Enrique Luciano, also known as "Ipi," of New London, allegedly supplied wholesale quantities of heroin and cocaine to Miguel Morales, also known as "Neow," of New London and to others who distributed heroin and cocaine to wholesale distributors and street-level sellers in and around New London, police said.
Fein also said that Pedro Rivera, also known as "Cheito," of Groton, allegedly obtained kilograms of cocaine regularly from sources in Puerto Rico. Rivera's trusted associate, Luis Zayas, also known as "Guichan," of Waterford, also was involved in the procurement of cocaine, he said. Rivera, Zayas and their associates allegedly used a variety of methods to transport the cocaine from Puerto Rico to the United States, including the U.S. mail.
Pedro Rivera and Zayas supplied other individuals, including Frankie Rivera, who allegedly used his business, PR Speedshop on Westwood Avenue in New London, to sell cocaine to street-level customers, Fein said.
The investigation also identified Juan G. Cheverez, also known as "Guinchi," of Groton as a narcotics trafficker who allegedly received kilograms of cocaine in the mail from Axel Matta Figueroa, also known as "Joelito," in Puerto Rico. At times, Cheverez also allegedly obtained cocaine from Zayas. Cheverez allegedly was assisted by others with distributing cocaine around New London and transporting money to Puerto Rico.
The investigation also found that Oscar Valentin, also known as "Tato," of New London and his employees allegedly sold narcotics supplied by Rivera and others to customers from a garage Valentin managed at the intersection of Walker and Bristol streets in New London.
The enforcement operation is being headed by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations. Assisting were the U.S. Attorney's Office; New London State's Attorney's Office; U.S. Secret Service; U.S. Postal Inspection Service; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; Drug Enforcement Administration; U.S. Customs and Border Protection-Office of Air and Marine; U.S. Marshals Service; state police; and the New London, Norwich, Waterford, East Lyme, Groton Town, Groton City and Putnam police departments.
Ross Feinstein, spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said that while the department is an arm of ICE, which deals with immigration and customs, this operation strictly is part of its customs operation, which deals with all sorts of crime, including drug smuggling. He said the sweep has nothing to do with immigration.
Feinstein said four helicopters were used in the operation, three from Customs and Border Protection and one from state police.
Law enforcement officials from Groton, New London, Norwich and Waterford and state police also attended the press conference.
Speaking at the conference were Chief State's Attorney Kevin Kane; Steven Hughes, special agent of the U.S. Secret Service New York field office; New London Police Chief Margaret Ackley; and Norwich Police Chief Louis J. Fusaro.
"I believe that this is the way to have huge outcomes in combating these type of organized crime operations," Fusaro said. "No one agency is able to do it because they don't stay in any one location. They spiderweb, as you can see from the locations from where the arrests were made."
"This sends a very, very, very clear message to those trafficking in illegal drugs. ... New London is no longer your port of call,'' Mayor Daryl Justin Finizio said Wednesday during a press conference outside his City Hall office.
Finizio also praised Ackley and Deputy Chief Peter Reichard for their leadership during the yearlong investigation.