More defendants in Tapia drug trafficking case plead guilty


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ST. THOMAS - Four defendants involved in a high-profile drug trafficking ring involving former DPNR officer Roberto Tapia and former V.I. Police Sgt. Angelo Hill pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court.

Edwin Monsanto, 53, of St. Thomas, pleaded guilty alongside Eddie Lopez-Lopez, 37; Stephen Torres, 27; and Angel Negron-Beltran, 53, all of Puerto Rico. They changed their pleas before District Court Judge Curtis Gomez for their respective roles in a conspiracy to smuggle and distribute cocaine.

Negron-Beltran, Monsanto and Torres pleaded guilty to conspiring to traffic in cocaine, and Lopez-Lopez pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Negron-Beltran, Monsanto and Lopez face sentences ranging from 10 years to life, and maximum fines of up to $10 million. Torres faces up to 20 years in prison, and a maximum fine of up to $5 million.

All four defendants were remanded to the custody of the United States Marshals Service pending sentencing, which is scheduled for June 5.

The charges against the four defendants arose in connection with the investigation and prosecution of Tapia, the former director of the Environmental Enforcement Division of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and Hill.

Tapia, who was caught in Red Hook by federal agents carrying 7.72 kilos of cocaine in a backpack on May 17, pleaded guilty to racketeering in September for exploiting his status as a DPNR officer in a criminal enterprise to engage in illegal drug trafficking activities. Tapia's sentencing is scheduled for Feb. 13.

Hill, who was arrested a week after Tapia, on May 24, pleaded guilty in December to drug conspiracy after being charged with supplying Tapia with the cocaine he had when agents arrested him. Hill's sentencing is scheduled for April 17.

Hector Alcenio, another co-defendant, also pleaded guilty to related charges and is awaiting sentencing.

The remaining two defendants in the case, Raymond Brown and Walter Hill, who pleaded not guilty during their initial arraignments, are scheduled to go to trial on Feb. 18.

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

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