100 Dirty Cops Arrested in FBI's Largest Corruption Probe
FBI agents escorted police officers arrested during yesterday’s drug corruption raids in Puerto Rico. US Attorney General Eric Holder called it the largest police corruption case in FBI history. (Ana Martinez/AP)
New York Daily News via YellowBrix
October 07, 2010
PUERTO RICO – The biggest police corruption probe in the 102-year history of the FBI snared more than 130 people Wednesday in Puerto Rico. The bulk of them were law enforcement officers accused of providing security to drug traffickers.
The arrests were the latest blow to a scandal-plagued island police department struggling with soaring crime and dirty cops who allegedly accepted bribes from $500 to $4,500 to protect cocaine shipments.
Officers were allegedly caught on video bragging about smuggling marijuana into jails, offering bullets called "cop-killers’’ for sale and murdering and burying people in lye, said Luis Fraticelli, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in Puerto Rico.
One female officer even planned to use her payoff for a charitable cause: She asked undercover agents for money to buy uniforms for the children in the Police Athletic League.
The Justice Department said nearly 750 FBI agents were flown to San Juan from across the country to conduct the "Operation Guard Shack’’ roundup.
As a major transshipment point for Colombian cocaine, Puerto Rico has long been convulsed by drug-related violence. Wednesday’s arrests underscore the failure to provide adequate law enforcement in the U.S. commonwealth. But demands for more police officers have flooded the island with poorly supervised, underpaid officers with dubious backgrounds, police and federal officials acknowledged.
“For as long as I have been involved in these cases, there has never been a sense of accountability in the police department,’’ said San Juan attorney Judith Berkan, who has specialized in police corruption and brutality cases for 35 years.
“What exists is pure impunity, so much so that it is very common for police officers in Puerto Rico to openly violate the law. . . . I have seen corrupt police officers, violent officers, gangs operating in the police,‘’ she said. ``With these arrests, they are just scratching the surface.’’
The Puerto Rico police has for years been plagued by accusations of graft. Federal investigations were routinely stymied by leaks in local police departments. In the past week, two Puerto Rico police officers were charged with murder in separate incidents.
The arrests were the talk of Puerto Rico Wednesday.
Alvin Torres Martínez, 33, of San Juan’s Puerta de Tierra neighborhood, said his mistrust of the police is so deep that he would never pull over if stopped by an officer.
“They would have to follow me to Puerta de Tierra and we’d get into it over there,’’ he said.
The results of the two-year investigation were announced in Washington by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who was flanked by Puerto Rico’s top federal prosecutor, Rosa Emilia Rodríguez.
FBI Assistant Director Shawn Henry said the investigation required an ``unprecedented level of coordination’’ from 30 of the FBI’s 56 field offices. The FBI flew in surgeons, ambulances and airplanes in case of any mishaps, Fraticelli said.
The charges stem from 125 videotaped undercover drug transactions across Puerto Rico from July 2008 until September 2010, Holder said. ``The officers provided security during undercover drug deals in exchange for payments ranging from $500 to $4,500 per transaction — more than half a million dollars in total,’’ he said.
“This is the biggest police corruption case in the history of Puerto Rico and the United States and the FBI,’’ Fraticelli said at a separate press conference in San Juan.
Of the 133 people charged, 61 were members of the Puerto Rico police, an island-wide force which saw officers arrested in 27 different police stations. Nineteen officers were arrested at the Bayamón precinct alone.