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Puerto Rico/U.S. Virgin Islands HIDTA

Mission Statement: In support of the National Drug Control Strategy the PR/USVI HIDTA investigates high value/sophisticated drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) and their associated criminal operations within the area of responsibility (AOR). Its purpose is to reduce drug availability in local markets, dismantle/disrupt drug organized crime, and reduce use of the islands as entry to the Continental United States (CONUS) drug market.

General Information:
Year of Designation: 1994
Geographic Area of Responsibility:
Puerto Rico: The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico and Islands of Vieques and Culebra
U. S. Virgin Islands: St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John
Contact: (787) 277-8741 and rmr@centennialpr.net

Threat Abstract:

The PR/USVI HIDTA was designated in 1994. Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs) account for trafficking of over 82 - 120 metric tons of cocaine from Colombia using multiple transportation methods. Over 70% of it is destined for the US, Canada and Europe. Colombian narcotic traffickers continue to be the dominant supplier, but are working with other groups, particularly those from the Dominican Republic. Preferred methodology is by sea going vessels, ranging from "go-fast" boats to small island-hopping freighters. The two principal narcotics smuggled from Colombia are cocaine and heroin. Marijuana is primarily imported from California and other Caribbean islands.

Puerto Rico's (PR) drug consumption is estimated at about 30% of the drugs transshipped. The predominant drug of choice in PR and the US Virgin Islands (USVI) is cocaine.

The PR/USVI HIDTA is very attractive to DTOs because PR is a major container port, it is located in close proximity to two of the poorest countries in the Caribbean, and retains strong ties to a Spanish-speaking culture. Additionally, PR and USVI have the strongest economies in the area. The USVI hosts over 2,000,000 cruise ship passengers annually and the PR airport processes over 9,000,000 visitors. This high level of tourism/transient visitors is a contributory factor that complicates surveillance and interdiction.

The geophysical composition of the islands, more than 50 small islets and cays in the USVI alone, also facilitates clandestine activities and correspondingly makes it difficult to patrol. The more than 700 miles of Puerto Rico coastline and the 233 in the USVI make it ideal for smuggling. Being only 450 miles from the South American coast and, in the case of PR, having a high volume of commercial containerized shipments also serves to facilitate transshipment.

Strategy Abstract:

An Executive Committee (EC) comprised of 8 federal and 8 state/local agency heads from PR (12) and the USVI (4), oversees all planning, funding and operations to ensure a joint systematic approach to information sharing, drug interdiction, criminal investigations and prioritizing of resources/funds. Most important, the EC annually reviews each Initiative's goals and outcomes/outputs to enhance performance. A Director and a Deputy Director, hired by the EC, oversee daily management, administrative and support activities for the Initiatives, both in PR and in USVI accordingly. Two Case Management Committees, one each for PR and the USVI, coordinates all investigative efforts and ensures coordination among participating agencies. The committees are comprised of the Initiatives' supervisors and federal and state prosecutors. Over 1,000 state, local and federal law enforcement and support personnel are co-located, co-mingled and strategically positioned across the threat spectrum to enhance coverage within the AOR. There are 17 Initiatives: three Smuggling Interdiction, 11 Investigative, one Regional Intelligence, and two Regional Support Initiatives that address the Threat Assessment.

The saturation of the AOR with law enforcement coverage, constant interdiction activities, methodologies to uncover communication links, following the money trail and detecting new criminal trends, all converge to ensure a systematic joint approach designed to reduce the opportunity to conduct drug related operations. This joint approach focuses on reducing the AOR's attractiveness as a preferred Caribbean transshipment route to and from CONUS for illegal drugs, weapons, illegal aliens and money laundering.

Investigative Support Center:

Comprised of 60 members from most of the HIDTA's participatory agencies, receives information and delivers accurate and timely intelligence on drug related criminal activity to Initiatives. Specific activities include communication linkages among the Initiatives to allow timely sharing of information among all operators of the law enforcement community. An unbiased working environment fosters information sharing among all law enforcement agencies within HIDTA for all of the law enforcement components. The ISC provides one co-located site for all agencies' data services/systems and intelligence personnel and also serves others working HIDTA cases at their home Initiative.

The ISC serves as a central mechanism to collect, organize and disseminate information as final intelligence product using the Racketeering Enterprise Investigation (REI). Analysts, provided by USARSO and National Guard, uncovers DTO's sub-groups and linked organizations, enhances ISC productivity by providing instant, accurate, organized and clean intelligence products to meet agent's information requirements, which then translates into investigative or law enforcement operations. Using advanced technology consisting of modern hardware, software and communication devices like Title III (TII/S2 system), STU-III and DEA Forensic Laboratory support, accelerates/enhances investigative capabilities. Serves as an information gathering and dissemination system that provides the necessary evidence for successful prosecution and conviction of criminals. Provide criminal targets of opportunity and assure organizations are dismantled whenever possible by providing the most timely and highest quality intelligence products. Additionally, it serves as the HIDTA's deconfliction center.

Initiatives that were approved to implement the 2000 PR/USVI HIDTA Strategy include:

  1. Air & Marine Interdiction Program (FURA)—provides command, control, communications, coordination & intelligence to PR Police Department led forces to allow for ground, air and marine interdiction up to three miles deep within the coastline of Puerto Rico. This task force includes liaisons from PR National Guard RAID and the air/marine assets from the USCS and USCG.
  2. Blue Lightning Strike Force—led by the VI Police Department, implements long-term interdiction program up to the three-mile limit surrounding the shores of the USVI. Further efforts will be taken to increase surveillance in ports to reduce contraband entry. The FBI, DEA, USCS, USCG, and VI National Guard support this Initiative.
  3. DEA Forensic Laboratory—this stand alone Initiative provides additional forensic support, ensures efficient and effective evidence analysis/processing, and prompt availability of expert witnesses to support successful prosecutions.
  4. Drug Related Mass Murders & Homicides/Public Housing Investigations—led by the PR Department of Justice, Special Investigations Bureau, it conducts investigations into drug related multiple homicides. This Initiative's name and composition was revised to expand their investigative efforts to include public housing communities. It addresses the high and rising incidence of drug related murders within PR.
  5. Drug Smuggling/Money Laundering Interdiction Initiative—USCS led task force, conducts complex investigations and interdiction of sophisticated drug smuggling/money laundering organizations and schemes related to DTOs. Its purpose is to detect/dismantle/interdict DTOs smuggling drugs and laundering illegally obtained cash proceeds from their operations. Other co-located agencies are: PR Police Department, USCS, IRS, PR Treasury Department, PR Department of Justice, Special Investigation Bureau and USPIS.
  6. Fajardo Major Organization Investigations—INS/DEA led, conducts long-term complex investigations geared to dismantle sophisticated DTOs operating in the east coast of PR and includes the offshore municipalities of the islands of Vieques and Culebra. Other co-located agencies are: IRS, USCS, PR Department of Justice, Special Investigation Bureau, PR Treasury Department, PR Police Department, FBI, NCIS and USARSO.
  7. Fire Arms Trafficking/Violent Crimes-PR—led by ATF, dismantles violent crime organizations commonly associated with DTOs and other violent crime groups. Through stemming of the flow of illegal firearms, this task force increases citizen safety. Other co-located agencies are: PR Police Department, PR Department of Justice, Special Investigation Bureau, PR Corrections Department and USARSO.
  8. Firearms Trafficking/Violent Crime—VI—led by ATF, investigates violent crimes associated with narcotics trafficking and other violent crimes within the USVI. Its mission is to reduce the illegal flow of firearms available to the drug related criminal element. Other co-located agencies are: VI Police Department, VI Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General, FBI, USCS and DEA.
  9. High Seas and Coastal Interdiction Enhancement Initiative—led by USCG, addresses regional illegal narcotic/migrant trafficking through 24 hour marine interdiction on and by air. Also disrupts transit and arrival zones over 12 nautical miles specifically associated with PR/USVI, and assists other agencies in the regional marine intelligence trafficking and interdicting illegal drugs smuggling organizations. This Initiative will increase its surveillance efforts along the West and South coast of the Islands to curtail the influx of smuggling activities originating in Haiti or the Dominican Republic. Other co-located agencies are: PR Police Department (FURA), USCS, INS and USBP.
  10. Intelligence Support Center (ISC)—FBI led, provides operating information and coordination support to promote intelligence sharing among all LEAs within this HIDTA. By acquiring, processing and disseminating intelligence, it supports all of the HIDTA subsystems and task forces. Other co-located agencies are: FBI, DEA, USCS, USCG, ATF, PR Department of Justice, Special Investigation Bureau, USPS, USMS, JIATF-E, USARSO Intelligence Analysts and PR National Guard Intelligence Analysts & Case Support.
  11. Management and Coordination Support Initiative (MCSI)—provides administrative and logistical support structure. It provides guidance, direction, administration, training and operational support to all Initiatives in PR and USVI. MCSI serves as a facilitator/resource in the decision making process and provides guidance to ensure cost-effectiveness, accountability and control over all property and funds. Moreover, it offers opportunities for professional development, law enforcement cultural modifications and serves as the organizational process/force. Develops and implements local policies and procedures and ensures compliance with ONDCP directives, rules and regulations.
  12. Ponce Major Organization Investigations—led by the DEA conducts long-range complex investigations geared to dismantle sophisticated DTOs operating in the Southwest region of PR. Other co-located agencies are: PR Police Department, FBI, USCGIS, IRS, PR Treasury Department and USARSO.
  13. Puerto Rico Fugitive Task Force—Led by USMS, disrupts narcotics smuggling, distribution, money laundering and street gang drug related activities throughout PR, by identifying, locating and apprehending fugitives within the island and CONUS. It also uses US extradition treaties to apprehend fugitives in signed countries. Other co-located agencies are: PR Police Department, PR Department of Justice, Special Investigation Bureau, FBI, USCS and DOC.
  14. St. Croix Major Organization Investigations—DEA led Initiative, conducts long-range complex investigations geared to dismantle sophisticated DTOs operating in St. Croix, USVI. Other co-located agencies are: FBI, USPIS, INS, VIPD, USAO, VI Department of Justice and VI National Guard.
  15. San Juan Major Organization Investigations—DEA led Initiative, conducts long-range complex investigations geared to dismantle sophisticated DTOs operating in the North West region of PR. Other co-located agencies are: PR Police Department, FBI, USPIS, INS, PR Department of Justice and USARSO.
  16. St. Thomas Major Organization Investigations—DEA led, conducts long-term complex investigations geared to dismantle sophisticated DTOs operating in St. Thomas, USVI. Other co-located agencies are: USCS, USCG, USAO, VI Police Department, VI Department of Justice, VI Housing Authority Police, INS and USARSO.

Outcomes:

PR/USVI HIDTA has achieved success in its intelligence, operational and organizational developments since its inception. Commencing in FY 1995, with 12 minimally staffed and equipped Initiatives, significant results emerged by FY 1997 when 12 organizations were dismantled/disrupted, including two weapons trafficking organizations. The first joint Threat Assessment was developed at the Intelligence Initiative, then named Information Coordination Center, which served as a viable, joint perspective on where all LEAs needed to direct their resources/efforts. In FY 1998, the 15 Initiatives dismantled 16 DTOs. In CY 1999, exceeding projected outcomes, 34 organizations were dismantled: 32 DTOs, one money laundering, and one weapons trafficking. Ten were state/local organizations and seven were national cocaine/heroin/weapons trafficking organizations.

Since its inception, utilizing our intelligence process made possible only through the HIDTA commitment to intelligence sharing, over 62 organizations were dismantled. Ten of these had a nexus in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Florida, Connecticut, New Mexico, Texas and California. In the international arena, we have exceeded our projected outcomes by dismantling/disrupting 17-drug trafficking and associated criminal organizations with connections to CONUS and other countries.

This HIDTA has achieved 83% of the Performance Measures of Effectiveness and over 90% of the GPRAs. As a result of these efforts, and HIDTA funding, our initiatives are now larger, focused, organized systems and our intelligence structure, now named Investigative Support Center, has increased to over 75 co-located people from multiple agencies. Though utilizing HIDTA concepts, our investigative capabilities have now become a major obstruction to business as usual by DTOs and their related criminal operations.

Participating Agencies:

Federal: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigration and Naturalization Service, Internal Revenue Service, United States Attorney's Office - District of Puerto Rico, United States Attorney's Office - District of the Virgin Islands, United States Border Patrol, United States Coast Guard, United States Customs Service, United States Marshal Service, United States Postal Service, United States Secret Service, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and United States Army South

State: Puerto Rico Department of Justice, Virgin Islands Department of Justice, Puerto Rico National Guard, Virgin Islands National Guard, Puerto Rico Police Department, Special Investigations Bureau, Virgin Islands Housing Authority Police and the Virgin Islands Law Enforcement Planning Commission

Other: Puerto Rico Administration of Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services, Puerto Rico Department of Correction & Rehabilitation, Puerto Rico Department of Treasury and the Virgin Islands Department of Health, Division of Mental Health and Substance Abuse

Information is provided by the Puerto Rico /U.S. Virgin Islands HIDTA.

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