11 arrested in RI in heroin trafficking probe

Posted May 14, 2012, at 9:15 p.m.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Eleven people have been arrested as part of an investigation into heroin trafficking into the state by what prosecutors say is a Dominican organization with ties to Mexican drug cartels, federal authorities announced on Monday.

Authorities carrying out search warrants and making arrests last Thursday and Friday seized more than 3 kilos of heroin worth more than $1 million, about 200 grams of cocaine, approximately $450,000 in cash, high-end jewelry, five firearms and a dozen vehicles, prosecutors said. Four of the seized firearms were loaded, and several of the seized vehicles included secret storage areas for hiding drugs, authorities said.

The 11 people arrested have been ordered detained in Rhode Island by a federal judge, prosecutors said. The investigation, which began eight months ago, continues, they added.

“Simply put, we took the wheels off a significant drug trafficking organization,” said Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston field office.

Authorities said search warrants and arrest warrants were carried out in Providence, Cranston, North Providence, Pawtucket and West Warwick.

U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha declined to identify what Mexican cartels were tied to the local drug operations but said the organization’s reach extended throughout New England.

“Last week’s arrests demonstrate that international drug trafficking organizations have a very long reach,” he said. “Where there is money to be made, they will operate. Rhode Island is no different in that regard than anywhere else. Yet wherever and whenever they operate, we will hit back hard.”

Jose Dume Jr., a 27-year-old from Cranston, faces the most charges, including 10 counts of heroin distribution and two counts of possession of a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, prosecutors said. His attorney did not immediately return a message on Monday.

A confidential source cooperating with the investigation told authorities that Dume is a high-level heroin distributor who employs various runners to distribute drugs on his behalf, according to an affidavit written by FBI special agent Richard Claflin and filed in court.

Authorities also arrested a man described as Dume’s heroin runner, Esteven Benzan, and another man described as his cocaine runner, Dewrys Marte Valerio. Benzan, 25, faces eight counts of heroin distribution, and Valerio, 26, faces two counts of heroin distribution and two counts of cocaine distribution. Messages were left for lawyers for the men, who are from Providence.

Agent’s searching Dume’s home found a loaded 9 mm Luger semi-automatic pistol under his bedroom pillow, about $10,000 and a closed-circuit surveillance system, an affidavit said.

Dume lives with Leopoldo Nunez, who was arrested at their home. Nunez, 24, was found with a loaded Sig Sauer .380 semi-automatic handgun in the cocked position, an affidavit said. He is charged with possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense.

Nunez’s lawyer, William T. Murphy, said he will plead not guilty and seek bail.

Four people were arrested last Thursday at an apartment in a rural section of West Warwick, where agents seized approximately $300,000 in cash, more than 2 kilos of heroin, nearly a quarter of a kilo of cocaine, four vehicles and high-end jewelry, prosecutors said. Miguel Angel Colon, 21, Vlady Tejada, 31, Manuel Valdez, 21, and Geovannie Nieves, 29, face heroin and cocaine charges.

The FBI had been looking for Tejada since 2007 on crack cocaine charges, authorities said.

While agents were in the apartment, Colon, of Cranston, said he worked as a money and drug runner for Nieves, according to an affidavit. Colon said Nieves received 5 to 7 kilograms of heroin every six weeks from a supplier in Mexico, the affidavit said.

Colon’s lawyer, Joseph J. Voccola, said he was waiting on prosecutors to turn over evidence.

“He realizes it’s a serious case,” Voccola said.

Nieves acknowledged receiving heroin from a Mexican supplier and using Colon as a runner, the affidavit said. He described Valdez as a friend who was assisting him, it said.

Tejada, who lives in Providence, took a bag of cash to the house to pay for heroin he had already received, according to an affidavit.

Valdez’s lawyer declined to comment. Messages were left for lawyers for Tejada and Nieves.

A man from Hazelton, Pa., also was among those arrested. He was charged with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin.

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