Department of Justice officials on Wednesday announced that 105 people in Puerto Rico have been charged with federal organized crime charges for their alleged involvement in a powerful and deadly drug gang.
According to a nine-count indictment unsealed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, those charged were members of the "La Rompe ONU" organization, which sold drugs including crack, cocaine, heroin, and marijuana in public housing across the U.S. territory.
"Moreover, members of the organization used violence and intimidation, including murder, to increase the power, territory and profits of La Rompe ONU," the DOJ said in a news release.
According to the indictment, the ONU -- which stands for Organizacion de Narcotraficantes Unidos, or the Organization of United Drug-traffickers -- was formed around 2004 when previously warring drug gangs formed an alliance "that would not bring about the attention of local and federal authorities, thus ensuring increased profits from drug sales for all and reducing the risk of federal charges."
'ONU' is the same acronym used in Spanish to refer to the United Nations.
However, the alliance is said to have splintered around 2007 when a breakaway group, known as La Rompe ONU, sought to battle for control of the drug network. Members were said to be required to kill rivals on sight.
Officials alleged that between February 2011 and August 2012 La Rompe ONU was responsible for the murders of 12 people -- nine of whom were killed in three separate drive-by shooting "massacres."
Of those arrested, officials alleged 35 were responsible for overseeing the gang's drug and criminal activities, 25 acted as "enforcers," 25 as drug sellers, 11 worked as drug runners, eight as drug suppliers, and one person processed drugs.
Josue Vasquez-Carrasquillo was identified by federal officials as the leader of the group, supposedly using the nicknames "Mayito," "Mayo," and "El Father."
"‘La Rompe ONU’ will no longer terrorize law abiding citizens in Puerto Rico," U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez said, describing the indictment as "historic."
Bruce Bagley, an expert on organized crime in Latin America at the University of Miami, told BuzzFeed News some Mexican and Colombian drug gangs have focused efforts in the Caribbean because of anti-drug operations along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Bagley also said the economic troubles in Puerto Rico, which is struggling under $72 billion in debt, had made recruitment "a walk in the park" for the drug gangs.
"It has been an opportunity that too many youth in Puerto Rico accept willingly because there is no real alternatives for them," Bagley said.
Sixty-nine of the defendants are also facing firearms charges, with officials saying 32 weapons were seized during the investigation. Some $82 million was also seized.
The defendants were charged under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, also known as the RICO Act, a federal law designed to combat organized crime.
If convicted, all the defendants face life in prison. The 18 defendants charged with murder are also facing the death penalty if found guilty.
Read the indictment:
David Mack is a reporter and weekend editor for BuzzFeed News in New York.
Contact David Mack at email@example.com.
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