NBC 10 I-Team: FBI arrests importers, leaders of major heroin drug ring
Federal and Rhode Island investigators have arrested more than a dozen men and two women in a major narcotics bust involving a number of so-called stash houses in Rhode Island and Hartford, the NBC 10 I-Team has learned. Several of those arrested faced a federal judge on Wednesday.
Those arrested were tied to the "Valdez conspiracy", a heroin and cocaine drug ring led by Hector Valdez, Juan Valdez and Claudio Valdez, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office for Rhode Island.
The Valdez Drug Trafficking Organization (DTO), was a foreign importer of heroin into the state of Rhode Island, according to the court. One by one, 11 of those arrested in the bust, were brought in before Magistrate Judge Lincoln Almond in U.S. District Court in Providence.
The FBI's Safe Streets Task Force with assistance from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) Providence, Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations, Rhode Island State Police, and the Providence, Woonsocket, Central Falls and Cranston Police Departments and the Rhode Island Dept. of Corrections spent more than six months investigating a drug ring that was trafficking heroin, cocaine and fetanyl. The investigation resulted in 16 arrest warrants and the search warrants of eight homes in Cranston, Providence and Woonsocket.
Both Hector and Claudio Valdez, who prosecutors say are in the United States illegally after being deported and re-entering, were charged with felony offenses after a multi-agency investigation found the two and another brother, Juan Valdez, were leaders of a drug trafficking organization, Almond said during court proceedings. The two were charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs, cocaine, heroin (kilo or more) and unlawful use of cellphones in committing drug trafficking crimes. A kilo of heroin has a street value of approximately $60,000 to $70,000, law enforcement sources tell the NBC 10 I-Team.
The 185-page FBI affidavit includes a number of allegations and summaries including intercepted communications which implicate both men in drug conspiracy. All three men have prior criminal histories. Prosecutors said Hector Valdez has been in the drug dealing business since 2007. Juan Valdez, who has many aliases including "Orlando Robles, Edwin Garcia, Miguel Morillo, Canita, Cabezon and the Maestro," was deported from the United States on four occasions, most recently in January 2011. Juan has, however, reentered the country.
Both were ordered to remain detained at the Wyatt Detention Facility in Central Falls.
Two additional men, who were identified in court by their aliases "Compadre" and "Jovan," were arrested on drug trafficking charges. "Compadre" allegedly conspired to distribute cocaine and a kilo of heroin. He was also charged with illegal use of a communication facility - in this case a cellphone - to facilitate a drug offense -- a violation of federal criminal law. The charges were included in a FBI affidavit, which outlines an investigation into drug trafficking led by the Valdez brothers.
"Compadre" who also uses the name Hiram Modesto among other aliases, allegedly worked with Juan Valdez and distributed drugs from Hartford, Conn. "Jovan," who also goes by the name Juan Manel Batista conspired to distribute a kilo or more of heroin and using cellular phone communication to do so. "Compadre" was also involved in the Valdez conspiracy, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Gerard Sullivan.
Both were detained pending trial.
Tonya Croteau, 37, one of the two women arrested, was charged with conspiracy, criminal agreement to distribute heroin, unlawful use of cellphones for drug trafficking. Croteau was a primary drug runner and money courier, for the Valdez organization, Sullivan said. She was identified in a FBI affidavit in a number of instances and communications in moving drugs and money for the conspiracy. She was also charged with ordering and receipt of cutting agents for use with narcotics.
Croteau allegedly used lactose powder as a cutting agent. "If mixed with heroin, that represents 200 pounds of heroin," Sullivan told the court. Family members present in the courtroom were brought to tears after hearing the charges and the defense attorney's argument to release her on personal recognizance.
"The opioid epidemic is a scourge on our community and she has done a lot of harm to the community," Almond said. "The weight of evidence against her is strong. The fact that she abuses the drugs is against her."
Balancing that with the fact that she has phsyical and mental health issues and cooperated with law enforcement in helping them to move their investigation forward, Almond released Croteau on a $10,000 bond with a number of conditions, including the use of an electronic monitoring bracelet, drug testing and drug treatment.
Manuel Castillo and Wandy Diaz were charged conspiracy to distribute cocaine and one kilo or more of heroin and unlawful use of a cellphone to commit a crime. They were both ordered held.
Jennifer Perdomo, 41, was also charged with drug trafficking, which carries a mandatory 10 years sentence, for her alleged role in the Valdez drug conspiracy. Perdomo was recorded on a wiretap warning others allegedly involved in the drug conspiracy. Perdomo, who worked as a translator in the law office of John Cicilline, was arrested after investigators said she provided surveillance of law enforcement vehicles to others involved in the case. She also allegedly had license plates run, to identify law enforcement officials' vehicles.
Almond said Perdomo's actions of aiding and abetting the transport of drugs and running plates of suspected law enforcement was "very troubling." Perdomo, a first time offender, was released on $10,000 unsecured bond.
Jafar Munir was also arrested for his part in the conspiracy -dealing a small amount of heroin-- but the prosecution said he had a small part, compared to others, in the drug conspiracy.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Sullivan said Munir was a low-level dealer and had already spent 18 years at Massachusetts Correctional Institution – Cedar Junction on charges of rape and breaking and entering.
"He's a candidate for release," Sullivan told the court. Munir was released on $10,000 unsecured bond.
Luis Pellot, aka "Watchie" and also described as a lower level dealer, was heard saying he wanted to work for Hector Valdez and that he'd be a "good worker," a "trust-worthy worker."
An admitted heroin user, Pellot told investigators he was exploited by Hector Valdez.
The government also requested that Pellot be released. He was released on $10,000 unsecured bond.
Stay with NBC 10 News for more as details become available.