St. Thomas drug task force honored by White House


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ST. THOMAS - The White House is recognizing federal agents in St. Thomas for their "outstanding" efforts last year investigating regional drug trafficking schemes.

White House Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske awarded the St. Thomas Major Organization Investigations Unit of the Puerto Rico/U.S. Virgin Islands High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program - HIDTA - the 2013 national award for Outstanding Task Force Effort.

U.S. Attorney Ronald Sharpe, who served as the chairman of the regional HIDTA program from June 2012 to December 2013, made the announcement in a press release issued Thursday.

"Close collaboration with our federal and local law enforcement partners is critical to our efforts to reduce the supply of illicit drugs and the violence associated with its distribution and use," Sharpe said.

The unit focuses on the arrest of traffickers and the seizure of the drugs and assets that they are trafficking or are attempting to traffic.

In the last year, much of the unit's best work was through an operation the unit called "Operation Franco's Folly," according to Sharpe's press release.

Through the operation, the unit arrested 28 people, seized 40 kilograms of cocaine destined for Puerto Rico, Florida and Georgia, and seized an undisclosed amount of assets, though Sharpe said the amount was substantial.

The same operation also led to the arrest and prosecution of numerous public employees and officials, including Roberto Tapia, former director of Enforcement and Operations for the V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources, and Angelo Hill, a former sergeant for the V.I. Police Department.

Tapia pleaded guilty to racketeering charges, and Hill pleaded guilty to related drug charges. Both are scheduled to be sentenced in coming months.

All HIDTA programs are run under the Office of the National Drug Control Policy, which provides funding to all 28 HIDTA programs in the country. The programs oversee 16 percent of the nation's counties and 60 percent of the nation's population.

The programs are located in 46 states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.

In the territory, HIDTA works with a number of other agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation; U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration; V.I. Police Department; U.S. Marshals Service; Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division; U.S. Department of Homeland Security; Homeland Security Investigations; U.S. Customs and Border Protection; and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Additional information about the HIDTA program is available on the Office of the National Drug Control Policy web site: www.WhiteHouseDrugPolicy.gov.

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

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