Judge sentences Tapia to 70 months

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ST. THOMAS - District Judge Curtis Gomez sentenced Roberto Tapia, former director of enforcement for the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources, to just less than six years in prison on Thursday, while former V.I. Police Sgt. Angelo Hill was sentenced to just less than two years.

Both men were the first of a group of people to be sentenced for participating in a cocaine smuggling enterprise on St. Thomas and St. John.

Tapia, dressed in a khaki jumpsuit, barely looked around the room after receiving his prison sentence, which could have been as much as life imprisonment, based on sentencing guidelines. Instead, Gomez sentenced Tapia to 70 months.

Tapia, 55, pleaded guilty to one count of racketeering, or using his government position to engage in illicit activity. In addition to time in prison, he will be required to perform 300 hours of community service, pay a $100 special assessment fee.

"There are two sides of me: this case and the real me," Tapia told Gomez before the judge delivered the sentence.

Tapia lauded his own work in the community, from initiating infrastructure projects to rescuing the sole survivor of a plane crash several years back, in his remarks addressing the court.

"I have done so much for this community, which I would like to say thank you to," Tapia said.

Gomez also sentenced Hill, a former police sergeant on St. John, to 21 months imprisonment for one count of conspiracy to possess and intent to distribute cocaine.

Hill was more succinct in his statement, reiterating that he was sorry for his actions. He also repeatedly asked that Gomez show leniency in his sentence.

"It's hard, and I'm sorry," said Hill, who also will be required to perform 300 hours of community service and pay a $100 special assessment fee.

During his remarks before sentencing, Gomez said both men benefitted from cooperating with the prosecution, the U.S. Attorney's Office. However, the judge was quick to remind both former law enforcement officials that they had left a "stain" on the reputation of local law enforcement.

"The very purpose of law enforcement is to protect, serve and prevent this kind of behavior, not facilitate it," Gomez said.

Tapia and Hill both were remanded into the custody of the U.S. Marshals Office until they are transferred to a federal prison.

In all, authorities arrested nine men: Tapia, Hill, Raymond Brown, Hector Alcenio, Angel Negron-Beltran, Edwin Monsanto, Stephen Torres, Walter Hill and Eddie Lopez-Lopez.

Tapia and Hill, so far, are the only ones that have been sentenced. The remaining defendants await their sentences on June 5.

Walter Hill and Brown were the only ones to go to trial. Walter Hill - who is Angelo Hill's cousin, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office - was convicted of possession and conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, and also using a telephone to facilitate a drug crime.

Brown was convicted only of using a telephone to facilitate a drug crime.

The majority of the remaining defendants accepted plea agreements with the U.S. Attorney's Office and await sentences on drug possession of conspiracy to possess and distribute charges.

The charges come from a number of transactions that occurred between 2008 to 2013, during which time the FBI was monitoring telephone communications between the defendants in the case.

Tapia was the ringleader of the operation, while Negron-Beltran was one of his main buyers in Puerto Rico. Angelo Hill was a St. John point of contact, who connected Tapia with Walter Hill, also of St. John.

Walter Hill, along with Brown and Monsanto, both of St. Thomas, were suppliers to Tapia, and Torres and Lopez-Lopez are fishermen from Puerto Rico accused of transporting the cocaine.

Alcenio, whose case is in limbo, also is accused of supplying cocaine to Tapia, but he has no scheduled trial date, nor has he signed a plea agreement.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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