Dominican police dismantle international narco-trafficking ring
By Dialogo October 05, 2012
SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic – An “enormous” criminal ring that allegedly used the Dominican Republic as a hub to prepare airplanes used to smuggle narcotics out of South America was broken up by counter-narcotics agencies, officials said.
The Dominican National Directorate for Drug Control (DNCD) said on Oct. 1 that 15 suspects were arrested, including a lieutenant colonel in the Dominican Army and a prominent businessman who owns a small airline.
The network, made up of Dominicans, Jamaicans, Colombians, Venezuelans, Puerto Ricans, Americans and Bahamians, allegedly brought aircraft into the country and modified them to fly longer distances and carry more cargo.
The group was a key cog in an international ring that used the planes to pick up drugs in South America, principally Venezuela, and fly them north through countries like Honduras and Haiti, according to the DNCD.
In his statement detailing the arrests, Maj. Gen. Rolando Rosado Mateo, the chief of the DNCD, did not estimate the volume of narcotics the organization allegedly helped move under the scheme. But Dominican news outlets on Oct. 3, citing government sources, reported that the criminal band was part of the Norte del Valle cartel, which operates from Colombia and grew in the late 1990s.
The Dominican daily El Día reported the cartel was working with the Mexican Gulf cartel. The newspaper’s story and the array of nationals arrested on Oct. 1 underscore the fears of Dominican officials who have said international criminal groups increasingly have targeted the country.
The Sinaloa cartel, a rival of the Gulf cartel, has established a presence in the Cibao region in northern Dominican Republic, officials have said.
The bust also signals the deep-seated influence drug traffickers have come to wield in the country. Among those arrested were Army Lt. Col. Juan Ramón Rosado Pérez, former National Police officer Carlos Manuel Ramírez and Air Force Lt. Henry Valdez García, who are accused of being paid US$2,500 by the ring to keep aircraft in the country for a month. Army Sgt. Maj. José Antonio Cleto Cruz also was taken into custody for his alleged role in the operation.
The yearlong investigation, assisted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, revealed that soldiers stationed at the small airport in the town of Constanza and the cargo crews in a handful of other airports provided protection for the group.
“This organization managed even to penetrate the airport controls as a result of the assistance received at the cited airports, where they managed to recruit soldiers of different ranks and civilians to conduct their activities without problems or suspicions,” Rosado said.
Agents arrested Rafael Senén Rosado Fermín, the owner of Caribair, a small airline, and prominent businessmen Sergio René Gómez Díaz and José Vicente Figueroa Ortiz. They are being investigated for money laundering.
“Sergio René Gómez Díaz was the brain and he set up the fundamental structure in the Dominican Republic area. His house was the center of operations,” Rosado said.
The DNCD also reported the arrests of Venezuelan José Luis Veras Márquez; Americans Alberto Laureano and Daimon Mario Pérez; Puerto Rican Harry William Nazario; Bahamian Holmer Errol Outram; and Dominicans Víctor Hugo Sánchez Portes, Danny Salvador Ramírez Cabral and Christian Suárez Javier.
The arrests were followed by the seizure of “millions of dollars” worth or property, including six planes, homes, a nightclub, a car wash and an automotive dealership, authorities said.
The investigation took a turn in late September when a small plane crashed in Constanza. DNCD officials said the plane had been brought from the U.S. to the Dominican Republic to be modified to haul large shipments of drugs from South America.
Two men died in the crash, including Police Capt. Anthony Eduardo Leyba, who, it was later revealed, was working undercover. He was allegedly offered US$40,000 to fly the plane to Venezuela. Once loaded with drugs, the pilot and copilot would be paid $250,000 and $150,000, respectively, to fly it to Honduras, officials said.
Investigators identified a second plane for which the group allegedly bought 108 gallons of fuel at the Isabela airport in Santo Domingo. The plane flew to the island of Curaçao on Sept. 25 and then to Venezuela near the Colombian border.
The Cessna 310J plane was built in 1965 and registered to a Puerto Rican address, according to U.S. Federal Aviation Administration records. Rosado said it belonged to Sergio René Gómez Díaz, although it is not registered in his name, according to the records.
Dominican officials continue to search for Luis Alberto Blanco Ascanio, a Venezuelan who allegedly was among the ring’s leaders, and his driver. Officials suspect they are in the Dominican Republic.