SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A group of 105 people in Puerto Rico face murder, drug and weapon charges in one of the largest racketeering cases in the history of the U.S. Department of Justice, authorities said Wednesday.
The suspects are suspected of running a drug-trafficking organization in the U.S. territory for nearly a decade that generated an estimated $82 million in profit, said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez. The group also is suspected of committing at least 28 killings in recent years, with 18 of the suspects eligible for the death penalty.
"It is one of the most violent, if not the most violent, group in Puerto Rico," Rodriguez said. "Once again, Puerto Rico makes history. Unfortunately, negative history."
Members of the group are charged with selling crack, cocaine, heroin and marijuana in public housing complexes in the capital of San Juan and other nearby areas. Three of the 34 suspects arrested by early Wednesday afternoon were detained in Tampa, Florida, and another 32 were already in jail on other charges, authorities said.
Some 700 federal and local agents were involved in the arrests, which began around dawn on Wednesday.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and Puerto Rico police were in charge of the investigation, which began in 2011, said Felix Rios, Puerto Rico-based ATF resident agent in charge.
"This has been a very important investigation for ATF," he said. "Puerto Rico can feel a little safer because we have gotten 105 extremely violent criminals off the street."
The suspects arrested went by names including "Fat Boy," ''Bimbo" and "Massacre," and were part of a group known as the "Rompe ONU." It broke away in 2007 from a local drug-trafficking alliance known as the "ONU," the Spanish acronym for United Nations. The ONU was formed in 2004 to resolve conflicts among rival Puerto Rico drug gangs and protect drug sales amid a federal crackdown.
The arrests come as the U.S. territory of 3.5 million people sees an ongoing drop in the number of killings after a record 1,136 homicides in 2011. Last year, a total of 680 killings were reported. Police say 299 people have been killed so far this year, compared with 381 in the same period last year.
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