Tapia pleads guilty to racketeering
Published: September 25, 2013
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ST. THOMAS - Roberto Tapia, who was the chief of Enforcement for the Department of Planning and Natural Resources when he was arrested by federal agents during a drug sting in May, pleaded guilty to racketeering in District Court on Tuesday.
He now faces a maximum penalty of life in prison and up to $250,000 in fines, in addition to forfeiture penalties and restitution.
His sentencing hearing is scheduled for Jan. 9, according to a statement issued Tuesday by the U.S. Attorney's office.
Tapia, 55, was a ringleader in a drug trafficking organization based on St. Thomas and used his position as a top enforcement officer at DPNR to arrange drug transactions, seek bribes and sell DPNR marine vessel engines illegally. Tapia initially became the target of an investigation in January 2008, and federal authorities had him under surveillance at least since May 2012, when wire taps allowed agents to intercept phone communications between Tapia and a local network of suppliers, according to court documents.
Tapia arranged the sale and transport of more than 58 kilograms of cocaine from May 2012 until his arrest, according to court documents. Agents believe the ring supplied a buyer in Puerto Rico.
A 34-count indictment filed Sept. 12 charged him with drug trafficking, conspiracy and corruption related offenses under the RICO act. The same indictment charges six other men believed to be coconspirators and cocaine brokers: V.I. Police Sgt. Angelo Hill, Hector Alcenio, Raymond Brown, Edwin Monsanto, Stephen Torres and Eddie Lopez-Lopez.
"In entering his guilty plea to racketeering before District Judge Curtis Gomez, Tapia admitted extensive cocaine trafficking activities over a substantial period of time, and utilizing his position with and assets of DPNR to facilitate those activities," the statement said.
Tapia was arrested May 17 at the Red Hook Ferry terminal, when Drug Enforcement Administration agents found 7.72 kilograms of cocaine in a black backpack he was carrying.
Tapia had traveled in his DPNR-issued boat and met with Torres and Lopez-Lopez earlier that day to pick up cash for narcotics, according to the indictment. A black backpack was handed to him, and he later took it to St. John, where, according to the testimony of FBI special agent Jackson Purkey, he was observed meeting Hill.
Hill was arrested May 24 on St. Thomas. Agents believe he sold Tapia the 7.72 kilograms of cocaine and that he, too, was one of the leaders of the trafficking ring, according to the indictment.
Tapia is the first of the defendants to plead guilty.
"This individual chose to abuse his position of trust as a law enforcement officer for selfish gain at the expense of the safety and welfare of the community," U.S. Attorney Ronald Sharpe said in the statement.
Sharpe commended the work of the Public Corruption Task Force and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kelly Lake and Kim Lindquist, who are prosecuting the case.
The trial date for other defendants is Nov. 12.
- Contact Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email email@example.com.