A New York City police officer is accused of assisting a Dominican drug gang that moved hundreds of kilograms of cocaine, in a case that reveals how Dominican transnational organized crime groups have infiltrated law enforcement in one of the United States' major drug markets.
Officer Amaury Abreu was arrested on charges that he allegedly conspired with drug traffickers based in the Dominican Republic and the United States to import and distribute cocaine in the New York metropolitan area from January 2016 to October 2020, the Justice Department announced November 9. During that time, law enforcement seized 350 kilograms of cocaine linked to the group, officials said.
Abreu is charged in a three-count indictment. His lawyer entered a not guilty plea at his November 9 arraignment at a Brooklyn federal court.
Also charged are Julio Bautista, Cesar Diaz-Bautista and Gustavo Valerio, who prosecutors say are high-ranking members of the trafficking ring tasked with overseeing drug distribution in New York.
Coordinating with contacts in the Dominican Republic, the group relied on drug couriers sent on flights to the United States, and also hid cocaine within legal imports and in “mail and tractor trucks” that entered the country from Mexico, according to a November 9 letter filed by US Attorney Richard Donoghue.
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In a separate criminal complaint, a fifth defendant, Junior Ortiz, was also charged as part of the cocaine conspiracy. Ortiz owned and operated an import business in New York that prosecutors allege was used by the ring to move cocaine concealed in boxes of produce, according to special agent Sean Sweeney from the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) branch of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
In May 2018, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) seized 248 kilograms of cocaine hidden in a tomato shipment imported into New York’s Red Hook Port from the Dominican Republic for Ortiz’s produce company. For his help, Ortiz would supposedly get “$50,000 to $60,000 per container,” according to a wiretapped conversation recorded by a cooperating witness who was formerly a “senior member” of the group.
The government informant pleaded guilty to cocaine trafficking charges in March 2019, and is cooperating in hopes of receiving a lighter prison sentence.
Abreu, Bautista, Diaz-Bautista, Valerio and Ortiz were all arrested on November 9. If convicted, they each face a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years and a maximum of life in prison.
InSight Crime Analysis
While unchecked corruption may often characterize law enforcement across Latin America, transnational criminal groups could not operate successfully without the complacency of law enforcement in the United States.
In this case, Abreu was the key link for the trafficking group. He gave its members information on law enforcement operations and checked the New York City Police Department’s (NYPD) database for open warrants against them, according to US Attorney Donoghue’s November 9 letter.
What’s more, Abreu even allegedly distributed cocaine himself on at least one occasion. He also collected drug proceeds that he later handed over to Valerio, one of the high-ranking members in charge of collecting money, according to prosecutors.
The drug trafficking group also made use of a corrupt CBP officer, according to US officials, who allegedly ensured that a number of couriers carrying cocaine were “escorted through customs and baggage claim” after landing at John F. Kennedy International Airport.
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This type of corruption has in part helped US-based Dominican drug trafficking groups rise to “dominate the mid-level distribution” of cocaine in East Coast cities where they have a large diaspora, such as Philadelphia, Boston and New York, according to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Working with suppliers in Colombia and criminal contacts in Mexico, the Dominican groups based along the East Coast have the “infrastructure to handle all facets of drug distribution to include the wholesale, mid-level, and retail sectors,” according to the DEA’s 2019 National Drug Threat Assessment.
These groups also maintain powerful contacts in the Dominican Republic, which plays a significant role as a transit nation in the international drug trade. A recently dismantled crime syndicate headed by César Emilio Peralta, alias “El Abusador,” smuggled more than a ton of cocaine into Puerto Rico and the United States between 2008 and 2017. In just the last three years alone, the ring led by Peralta, who was dubbed the “cocaine king” before his arrest, laundered more than $260 million in drug proceeds.
In recent years, Dominican trafficking groups on the East Coast also became more involved in the fentanyl trade as the US opioid crisis unfolded. In late 2018, authorities in Boston arrested two Dominican nationals with 32 kilograms of fentanyl worth some $30 million. The fentanyl was concealed in a tractor-trailer driven across the US-Mexico border by an alleged associate who was paid $40,000 for transporting the drugs, according to US prosecutors.
As opposed to the razor-sharp focus US authorities have on Central American street gangs like the MS13, Dominican drug gangs have maintained a relatively low profile, relying on strong transnational links to Latin America in order to operate.