Authorities have arrested 13 members of a narcotics trafficking group that smuggled millions of dollars of cocaine to New York City through snail mail, law enforcement officials said.
Ringleader Ariel Lopez-Acosta was arrested at his home in the Highbridge neighborhood in the Bronx Wednesday after he unsuccessfully tried to flee through the back with a bag of money, officials said. Two Puerto Rico-based drug suppliers, Luis Melendez-Sanchez and Eluid Torres, were arrested in San Juan. Puerto Rico Wednesday morning and will be subject to extradited proceedings.
The three men were indicted on charges of operating as a major drug trafficker under New York State's kingpin statute, which carries a potential life sentence, officials said. The indictment was obtained by the NYC Special Narcotics Prosecutor and the Bronx District Attorney’s office.
Eight other suspected members were arrested by members of the DEA Strike Force (DEA, HSI, NYPD and NY State Police) and U.S. Postal Inspection Services (USPIS) using wire taps and search warrants in New York City, five of whom are Bronx residents, officials said. Two others from the Bronx and Maryland were previously arrested. The defendants are expeted to arraigned Wednesday.
Seven men and one woman were led out of the NYPD's 44th Precinct Wednesday afternoon.
All 13 defendants face various charges, including conspiracy, criminal possession of a controlled substance and operating as a major trafficker, officials said.
Authorities seized 4.5 kilograms of cocaine, a kilogram of heroin, a rifle, a stun gun and drug paraphernalia after conducting searches in Manhattan and the Bronx, as well as at a stash location in Yonkers Wednesday morning, officials said.
Authorities said a court-ordered search of Lopez-Acosta's home yielded about $100,000 in cash, along with $90,000 in jewelry, small quantities of steroids and two vehicles, including a Range Rover.
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Through surveillance, phone calls, text messages and social media, authorities detemined nearly $3 million of cocaine was shipped through the U.S. Postal Service using packaged exercise equipment and children's toys, officials said.
"The United States is in a heroin crisis right now, so any time we seize heroin it's important," said DEA Special Agent-in-Charge James Hunt. "The drug traffickers were ingenious in the methods they used, in this case toys and exercise equipment."
Lopez-Acosta allegedly ran the drug ring from August 2015 to November 2016, with Melendez-Sanchez and Torres arranging narcotics shipments through the U.S. Mail, authorities said. The drugs were then allegedly transported from Puerto Rico to New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Maryland.
DEA agents and officers arrested Lopez-Acosta's wife, Rosanna Duran, in November as she tried to board a plane to the Dominican Republic after they discovered she was smuggling $59,680 in cash profits to family members.