Corrections officer among those charged in NE to Puerto Rico drug trafficking operation

·5 min read

Dec. 16—BOSTON — A former correctional officer accused of bringing a contraband cellphone to an inmate and attempting to smuggle a package of illegal drugs into Middleton Jail was among 21 people charged Wednesday in a drug trafficking ring that stretched from New England to Puerto Rico, authorities said.

More than 10 kilograms of cocaine and $200,000 cash was seized during the investigation into the trafficking ring, which involved local and state police, the Essex County Sheriff's Department and federal agents.

Gregorit Sanchez, 27, of Haverhill, was charged with illegal distribution of narcotics and conspiracy to distribute narcotics, according to federal authorities.

Sanchez is accused of bringing the contraband cellphone into the jail for Elvis DeJesus, 30, of Lawrence, who was held on state firearms charges, according to information released by the Department of Justice.

Then, on Nov. 11, "Sanchez attempted to smuggle a package containing fentanyl, cocaine and Suboxone into the Middleton House of Correction for DeJesus." The package was seized as Sanchez was arriving for work, according to the DOJ.

Sanchez and DeJesus were part of a large-scale drug trafficking conspiracy involving cocaine, fentanyl and other controlled substances with activity that spanned across Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Maine and Puerto Rico, according to federal authorities.

Essex County Sheriff Kevin Coppinger said when authorities "learned Mr. Sanchez may be planning possible illegal activities inside our walls, we immediately reported him to federal authorities and worked cooperatively with these agencies throughout the investigation."

"On Nov. 11, Mr. Sanchez attempted to smuggle in a large amount of illegal drugs into our facility, but we stopped him, seized the evidence, and terminated his employment. He was an employee for less than one year. If we had not caught Mr. Sanchez, his alleged actions would have put our employees and incarcerated population at a significant safety risk," Coppinger said in a statement released Thursday afternoon.

"Stripping Mr. Sanchez of his sheriff's badge does not begin to take away the stain he has left on the courageous and dedicated work of his 570 fellow employees. We are proud of the work we do here and proud of the service we provide to our Essex County communities. We hope that this investigation serves as warning to those on the outside who may be trying to bring their illegal activities into our correctional facilities, Coppinger said. "We will find you and we will prosecute you."

In May 2020, law enforcement began investigating a Lawrence-based drug trafficking organization. Since December 2020, intercepted communications between members of the DTO and their associates revealed that the defendants distributed fentanyl and cocaine in and around the Lawrence area, according to charging documents.

In addition to Sanchez and DeJesus, the following people were arrested Wednesday and charged with conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute fentanyl, cocaine and other controlled substances: — Joseph Correa, 31, of Lawrence, — Jose Martinez, aka Bebo," 28, of Lawrence, — Luis Martinez, 25, of Lawrence and Manchester, N.H., — Alberto Marrero, aka Gordo, 40, of Lawrence, — Madeline Correa-Dones, 50, of Caguas, Puerto Rico, — Mavi Rosario, 30, of Lawrence, — Sonvi Rosario, 31, of Lawrence, — Fauris Guerrero Valdez, aka Duro, 25, of Lawrence, — Luis Perez Frias, 20, of Lawrence, — Freddy Reyes Concepcion, aka Franchve Gonzalez Irizarry, 49, of Lawrence, — Alex Rafael Hernandez Mercedes, 36, of Lawrence, — Felipe Martinez, 59, of Lawrence, — William Rivadeneira, 28, of Haverhill, — Jeremy Eaton, 25, of Lunenburg, — Nestor Emilio Olaverria Fuster, aka Pablo Pizarro-Rosa, aka Chiquitin, 58, of Lawrence, — Othoniel Lara Gonzalez, aka Jose Ramirez, aka Anibal Pena, aka Chirpa, 52, of Lawrence, — Zacharia Mohamed, 26, of South Portland, Maine, — Victor Ramon Melendez, 33, of Norwich, Conn. remains at large, — and Pablo Rosario Pablo, aka Angel Ayala Roque, aka Cuco, 56, of Methuen, was also arrested and charged in a separate criminal complaint with one count of possession with intent to distribute cocaine.

Investigators said the drug trafficking organization is led by Correa, who sold drugs in both wholesale and retail quantities and employed couriers and stash-house operators to store and distribute drugs, including the mother of his children and her sister.

Correa is accused of obtaining obtained fentanyl locally and cocaine from suppliers in Puerto Rico, according to the DOJ statement.

Specifically, it is alleged that Correa, Jose Martinez and Luis Martinez are half-brothers and regularly travelled to Puerto Rico to purchase kilograms of cocaine. They and Correa-Dones, their mother, would then mail the drugs in packages to addresses in New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, according to the statement.

Over the course of the investigation, approximately 7.5 kilograms of cocaine was seized from packages mailed from Puerto Rico to the defendants. In total, over 10.5 kilograms of cocaine, approximately 650 grams of suspected fentanyl and approximately $201,681 in drug proceeds were seized over the course of the investigation, according to the DOJ.

Rivadeneira was allegedly employed by DeJesus and Martinez to assist with distribution of fentanyl and cocaine. According to the charging documents, DeJesus scolded Rivadeneira on an intercepted call for not wearing a mask when working with fentanyl, and warned Rivadeneira, "[Y]ou can get an overdose," according to the DOJ.

The charges of conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute fentanyl, cocaine and other controlled substances, and possession with intent to distribute cocaine, carry a sentence of up to 20 years in prison, at least three years and up to a lifetime of supervised release.

The investigation was part of the Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces Strike Force Initiative, which organizes multi-agency task force teams that work side-by-side in the same location. This approach allows law enforcement from different agencies to collaborate on intelligence-driven, multi-jurisdictional operations to disrupt and dismantle the most significant drug traffickers, money launderers, gangs, and transnational criminal organizations, according the DOJ statement.

Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.

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