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Brutal gang in Puerto Rico killed rivals and fed them to pet reptiles, prosecutors say

A caiman is held by its neck with a pole in a holding tank. Caimans are native to Central and South America, but were introduced to Puerto Rico by stores such as Woolworths that sold baby caimans the size of lizards as pets during the 1960s and 70s. When the caimans began to grow, people released them into the wild, where females rapidly reproduced, laying up to 40 eggs at a time.
A caiman is held by its neck with a pole in a holding tank. Caimans are native to Central and South America, but were introduced to Puerto Rico by stores such as Woolworths that sold baby caimans the size of lizards as pets during the 1960s and 70s. When the caimans began to grow, people released them into the wild, where females rapidly reproduced, laying up to 40 eggs at a time. AP

Federal prosecutors in Puerto Rico announced a sprawling indictment on Wednesday targeting 75 suspected leaders, dealers and enforcers from a brutal drug trafficking gang. And during a press conference announcing the drug charges, U.S. Attorney for Puerto Rico Rosa Emilia Rodríguez detailed the gang’s violence in graphic terms.

“We learned that they would throw their victims, and the bodies of those they had murdered, to their caiman,” Rodríguez said in Spanish, adding that the reptiles (similar to alligators) were pets to the gang members, NPR reports.

The three-year investigation into the gang, which is named Las Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Cantera, or “Las FARC,” was originally branded “Operation Crocodile,” Fox News reports.

“They had [the caimans] as a domestic animal in their homes,” Rodríguez said at the news conference, according to Fox.

Alberto Lopez, another federal prosecutor, said at the news conference that more than a dozen deaths are connected to the group, which primarily spread drugs through public housing in the Santurce neighborhood of Puerto Rico’s capital, San Juan, according to NPR.

“Disputes between gang rivals lead to many shootings and murders, including innocent bystanders who are caught in the crossfire,” Rodríguez said in a statement.

A federal grand jury returned the indictment Feb. 20, charging the large group of accused drug traffickers with conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute and distribution of controlled substances, starting as far back as 2006 — and including drugs ranging from crack, heroin, cocaine and marijuana to Oxycodone and Xanax, according to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Each person indicted faces at least 10 years in prison — and a sentence as long as life — if he or she is convicted, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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Prosecutors said members of the gang also dealt cocaine that was bound “for further distribution in the continental United States.” Las FARC wielded “force, threats, violence, and intimidation” to keep a tight grip on the drug trade in Santurce, according to the news release.

The gang is also accused of abducting and attacking rival traffickers — and even members of their own gang in an effort to keep firm control of the operation, prosecutors said.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said some involved in the gang funneled their drug money into legitimate purchases, such as real estate, vehicles, clothes, vacations, hotels, private parties, nightclubs and more.

Prosecutors said 27 of the drug runners, enforcers, suppliers, leaders and others indicted on drug charges also face charges for possessing firearms to further a drug trafficking crime.

NPR reports that by selling the drugs, “the criminal organization built an empire on the island that eventually amassed nearly $76 million.”

By Monday, authorities had arrested 32 of the 75 people indicted, and one of the accused Las FARC leaders, Emmanuel Pacheco-Marín, was arrested on Wednesday, NPR reports.

A joint law enforcement operation on March 28, 2018, in Cleveland was one of dozens around the country targeting those who buy illegal narcotics like fentanyl on the dark web.

Jared Gilmour is a McClatchy national reporter based in San Francisco. He covers everything from health and science to politics and crime. He studied journalism at Northwestern University and grew up in North Dakota.
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