PROVIDENCE – An alleged drug trafficking pipeline that U.S. Postal Inspection Service agents believe may have been responsible for the shipment through the U.S. Mail of upwards of 100 kilos of cocaine into Rhode Island from Puerto Rico was shut down today when five individuals were charged in U.S. District Court in Providence and more than a dozen firearms were seized.
U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) agents and law enforcement agents and officers from the Rhode Island High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force culminated an investigation of the alleged drug trafficking organization with the execution of federal court-authorized search warrants at four locations in Woonsocket, seizing 16 firearms, multiple military style bullet proof vests, ammunition, cross bows, a kilogram of cocaine, a cocaine press, and other items used in the distribution of cocaine.
Also today, USPIS agents intercepted and seized three packages sent from Puerto Rico to addresses in Woonsocket. A federal court-authorized search of the packages resulted in the seizure of eight kilos of cocaine.
According to information presented to the court, 15 unsecured firearms, many of which were loaded, to include handguns, shotguns and rifles, including a modified AK-47, were seized from a Woonsocket residence. The firearms were discovered by members of law enforcement out in the open and within reach of a 6-year-old child who was in the residence at the time. Luis Alvarez, 25, was arrested, charged by way of a federal criminal complaint with conspiracy, possession with intent to distribute cocaine, and using a communication facility (U.S. Mail) to commit a drug felony.
A loaded firearm was also seized from another Woonsocket residence searched today by law enforcement, where William Lugo, 29, was arrested, charged by way of a federal criminal complaint with conspiracy, possession with intent to distribute cocaine, and using a communication facility (U.S. Mail) to commit a drug felony. According to court documents, Lugo is currently on state probation related to a 2016 firearm conviction.
According to court documents, a USPIS investigation identified approximately 55 Priority Mail packages alleged to contain one or more kilograms of cocaine that were shipped from different post offices in Puerto Rico to various addresses in Woonsocket since January 2019. Often times, multiple packages were mailed on the same day. The investigation showed that the parcels’ sender names were not associated with the listed return address, and similarly, the listed recipients were not associated with the Rhode Island addresses to which the parcels were sent. Many of the parcels had similar weights, and some bear similar handwriting.
It is alleged that several individuals worked together to track the shipments through the U.S. Postal Service, retrieve the Priority Mail parcels, and deliver them to other members of the drug trafficking organization at the locations searched today by law enforcement.
Also arrested today, charged by way of federal criminal complaints with conspiracy, possession with intent to distribute cocaine, and using a communication facility (U.S. Mail) to commit a drug felony, were Natasha Belardo, 27, of Woonsocket, and Hector G. Rios, 37, of Cranston.
An arrest warrant has been issued for a fifth person, Victor L. Casanova, 26, of Woonsocket. Casanova is charged by way of federal criminal complaint with conspiracy, possession with intent to distribute cocaine, and using a communication facility (U.S. Mail) to commit a drug felony.
A federal criminal complaint is merely an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The investigation and today’s arrests and seizures are announced by United States Attorney Aaron L. Weisman, Joseph W. Cronin, Inspector in Charge of the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Boston Division, and Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police Colonel James M. Manni.
United States Attorney Aaron L. Weisman acknowledges and thanks the Woonsocket Police Department for their assistance today in the execution of the search warrants and in the arrest of Alvarez, Lugo, and Belardo.
The Rhode Island HIDTA Task Force is managed by the Rhode Island State Police and is comprised of law enforcement agents and officers from the Rhode Island State Police, Lincoln Police Department, Providence Police Department, North Providence Police Department, Middletown Police Department, West Warwick Police Department, Bristol Police Department, ATF, DEA, Homeland Security Investigations, ACI Special Investigative Unit, and Rhode Island National Guard Counterdrug Program.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Christine D. Lowell and Denise M. Barton.