NBC 10 I-Team: Family caught allegedly mailing cocaine from Puerto Rico to RI
PROVIDENCE, R.I. —
Federal authorities arrested a number of family members after a near year-long investigation found they were involved in a drug conspiracy to distribute drugs, according to a 29-page affidavit filed in federal court.
Hector M. Martinez-Garcia, Jose Martinez, Maritza Torres and Jeanlee Figueroa were arrested on April 12 after an investigation by members of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and HITDA (High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area) task force uncovered evidence that they used the U.S. Postal Service to receive packages of cocaine sent from Puerto Rico, then distribute it.
Martinez, Torres and Figueroa all faced a federal judge on Tuesday for their alleged involvement in the receipt and distribution of drug packages connected with a number of addresses in the cities of Providence, Pawtucket and Central Falls.
Cocaine sealed, delivered
Between March 2015 and April 10, 2017, a total of 195 packages were shipped to eight addresses suspected of receiving drug packages from Puerto Rico, according to the affidavit. Each of those packages had the same return address in Puerto Rico, weighed the same and were all sent in the same priority mail envelopes.
Through surveillance, investigators linked Torres with William Gonzalez, who was arrested in August 2016 for possession of 102 grams of cocaine found in his car and another 800 grams in his home, (with a potential street value of $72,000 sources tell the NBC 10 I-Team). The two were seen picking up packages from a Providence post office just two weeks before Gonzalez’ arrest. Gonzalez is now serving 12 years of a 25-year sentence.
According to the affidavit, once arrested, Maritza Torres admitted to picking up parcels at the Olneyville Post Office a number of times and receiving packages at her Providence apartment on at least two occasions.
Assistant U.S. Attorney William Ferland asked Magistrate Judge Patricia Sullivan not to release Torres saying she received packages of cocaine as her part of a drug conspiracy, provided false information showing a lack of respect for the law and defrauded the U.S. Housing Authority which provided her with Section 8 housing.
“She is being evicted from her Section 8 housing, she doesn’t have stable housing, she has a very troubling mental health status,” Ferland told Sullivan. “This is an individual who is not stable, not reliable.”
The “most troubling events” during the investigation involving Torres was her status as a foster parent, according to Ferland, who said detectives observed Torres receive, then give one of the alleged packages containing cocaine to a child at the home.
“She turns to the young child and hands one of the packages to her and off the child goes with the package,” Ferland said. “That is an inherently dangerous activity that she engaged in.”
Ferland told the court he was not sure whether the child was in state care. The Rhode Island Department of Children Youth and Families told the NBC 10 I-Team Torres was a kinship foster care provider from March 20 through to April 11. Kinship refers to care of children by relatives or close family friends.
“She is no longer a caregiver and is not a licensed foster parent,” DCYF Spokeswoman Kerri White told the NBC 10 I-Team.
Melissa Larsen, Torres’ attorney, said her client does not have a history of drug abuse or violence and questioned the government’s allegation that Torres knew she was handing a package containing drugs to a child.
“If the child was put in jeopardy… I can’t imagine agents sitting by and watching that occur without interruption,” Larsen told the court. “My defendant was fully cooperative when arrested and admitted to receiving foreign packages and admitted to picking up packages at the Olnyville Post Office and admitted she collected $100 to receive packages at her home.”
The government argued that Torres was a flight risk because – based on the penalties if convicted– she faces a minimum of five years’ imprisonment and if the government is “able to extrapolate the amount of cocaine” – she may face a minimum of 10 years to life.
Torres was released on $10,000 unsecured bond and supervised release with a number of conditions including seeking mental health treatment, finding a job, not leaving the state, refraining from drug use and possessing a gun.
Torres, who must wear an ankle monitor, has a curfew and must remain in her son’s home from 8 p.m. to 7 a.m. She also must undergo drug testing.
A family affair
Two of Torres’ family members also appeared before a federal judge on Tuesday.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ferland said the drug conspiracy was a “family affair.” “They are all related by way of marriage or blood,” Ferland told the court.
Jose J. Martinez (Torres’ common law husband), also faced the judge on Tuesday for his alleged involvement in the conspiracy.
The A PO Box at the Olneyville Post Office was opened in April 2011 under the name of Jose J. Martinez. A total of six packages addressed to Martinez and Torres were delivered to the PO Box and to an address where the two resided, according to investigators.
Martinez was also released on a $10,000 unsecured bond and released with similar conditions as Torres. However, he does not have a curfew, nor does he need to receive a mental health evaluation.
Jeanlee Figueroa, Torres’ niece, was also involved, according to investigators.
According to the affidavit, Figueroa told the inspector she knew cocaine was in the packages and had been receiving the drug -filled packages prior to Gonzalez’ arrest in August 2016. Figueroa was paid $100 per package and reached out to her aunt’s contact looking for additional work, said the affidavit.
Figueroa also faced a federal judge on Tuesday. She too was released on $10,000 unsecured bond and a number of conditions.
Torres’ brother-in-law, Hector Martinez-Garcia faces a federal judge later this week.
The arrests came on the same week 15 people were arraigned in federal court after agents busted a drug trafficking ring spanning three states.