Judge grants Tapia permission to work
Published: October 10, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - A District Court judge granted Roberto Tapia permission Wednesday to work at an apartment complex owned by his mother until he is sentenced for racketeering and drug trafficking crimes he committed while working as the chief of enforcement for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
Tapia pleaded guilty Sept. 24 to one count of racketeering, which includes several drug trafficking offenses committed between September 2012 and May 2013.
His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Jan. 9.
The racketeering charge exposes him to life in prison and a fine up to $250,000, but per a plea agreement, his sentencing guidelines are between 151 and 188 months, with fines up to $250,000 and supervised release of between two and five years.
District Magistrate Judge Ruth Miller said she saw no reason not to grant Tapia's motion to work as long as conditions were set stipulating that when Tapia runs to the store to get supplies for the apartment complex he is accompanied by his mother, Helen Tapia, who is also his third-party custodian.
Tapia is the first of seven men accused of delivering narcotics to a buyer in Puerto Rico in a 34-count indictment to plead guilty. Six other men - V.I. Police Sgt. Angelo Hill, Stephen Torres, Eddie Lopez-Lopez, Edwin Monsanto, Hector Alcenio and Raymond Brown - have pleaded not guilty to charges related to the sale and transport of cocaine.
The trial date is set for Nov. 12.
Tapia was arrested after federal agents caught him with 7.72 kilograms of cocaine May 17. Court documents show that federal law enforcement agents believe Tapia was a ringleader in a smuggling ring on St. Thomas and that he sought a bribe for a DPNR contract and sold DPNR equipment for personal gain. He has been on home confinement since May 21.
Tapia submitted a letter of resignation to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources a week after his arrest.
According to a plea agreement, Tapia is responsible for brokering the sale of at least 104 kilograms of cocaine in seven separate transactions.
According to a motion filed Sept. 30, Helen Tapia wrote a letter to prosecutors on Sept. 12 that her son be allowed to work and attend church services with her. The motion states that Tapia will be allowed to work at Mojica's Place, located at Contant 31, from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and to attend church services with her at Calvary Baptist Church in Altona from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays.
In court Wednesday, Tapia's public defender, Gabriel Villegas, said Tapia's arrest had created considerable financial strain for his mother and that his being allowed to work at the apartment complex would save her money she would otherwise spend on subcontractors.
In her letter, Helen Tapia wrote: "Roberto needs employment to be able to provide financial support to his three minor children, and two college-enrolled children.
"Additionally the employment will provide the means, which will allow him the ability to take care of outstanding financial obligations, such as personal loans," the letter states.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kim Lindquist said he saw no reason to oppose the request and that the prosecution felt no need to inflict undue hardship on Tapia's mother.
"I would hate to see her suffer because of things done by her son," Lindquist said.
On Wednesday, V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer confirmed that a notice of eviction had been filed in V.I. Superior Court last week against Ine's Place, an illegally run bar in Contant that Tapia owns and appears to have tasked his mother with operating, according to a woman who identified herself as the bar's manager.
The bar is the subject of multiple notices of non-compliance and permitting violations from the V.I. Property and Procurement Department and from DPNR, as it is on government-owned land and was modified beyond the terms contained in the lease. It was shuttered and empty Wednesday afternoon.
Lindquist said that the single count to which Tapia pleaded encompasses a broad swath of criminal charges against him because it is a Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization statute.
"Pleading to the RICO is the equivalent of pleading to a number of different illegal activities," Lindquist said.
Other charges that do not fall under the statute but are specific to Tapia in the indictment have not been dropped yet, but they will be dropped at the time of sentencing, Lindquist said.
Lindquist declined to comment about how the sentencing guidelines were arrived at or whether Tapia will be required to testify against co-defendants in the case.
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email email@example.com.