3 brothers arrested in FBI drug trafficking sting

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) " Three Dominican brothers and a dozen other people have been arrested in New England as part of a federal investigation into alleged cocaine, fentanyl and heroin trafficking.

The U.S. Attorney's office said Thursday that the suspects ran a Rhode Island-based trafficking organization that imported drugs from Mexico and supplied them to street-level dealers in Greater Providence, Greater Boston and Hartford, Connecticut.

Brothers Juan Valdez, 50, of Milton, Massachusetts; and Hector Valdez, 47, and Claudio Valdez, 44, both of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, each have been charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs and unlawful use of communication facilities, such as phones, to commit drug-related offenses. Originally from the city of Bani in the Dominican Republic, they also are being charged with illegally returning to the United States after being deported to the Caribbean country. All have felony drug convictions on their records, and Juan Valdez has been deported four times, the FBI said.

"Let me be clear: The Valdez brothers are not street-level dealers and runners," said Harold Shaw, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division. "They are kilo-weight suppliers at the top of the domestic supply chain."

Investigators said the drugs shipped from Mexico were kept in Rhode Island stash houses in Cranston and Woonsocket, before being re-distributed elsewhere. Agents this week seized about 4 kilograms of heroin, 2 kilograms of cocaine and 1.5 kilograms of fentanyl, a powerful drug that has caused overdose deaths in New England and around the country. Agents also seized cutting agents and luxury cars with hidden compartments.

Twelve other people also face drug-related charges, half of whom could also be facing deportation to the Dominican Republic. Most were arrested around dawn Tuesday in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut, and had their first court appearances on Wednesday. Two other people encountered during the raids were detained on civil immigration violations.

The federal public defenders' office, which is representing the Valdez brothers, didn't return a call for comment.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement Thursday that President Donald Trump "has made dismantlement and destruction of drug cartels a top priority, and cases like these are integral in that effort," though the investigation precedes Trump's presidency. The FBI's Safe Streets Task Force began looking into the brothers in September and named the investigation Operation Triple Play. An affidavit shows agents used wiretaps and undercover informants.

"This will make a difference in the neighborhoods of Providence, Hartford and the Greater Boston area," said Michael Ferguson, a special agent in charge of the New England branch of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

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This story has been changed to correct Hector Valdez's age to 47 instead of 57.

This story has been automatically published from the Associated Press wire which uses US spellings

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