With the Caribbean's biggest reputed drug lord back behind bars, law enforcement authorities in the region are on alert for potential bloody feuds among rivals and lieutenants trying to take his place.
With the Caribbean’s biggest reputed drug lord back behind bars, law enforcement authorities in the region are on alert for potential bloody feuds among rivals and lieutenants trying to take his place.
The Saturday capture of Jose Figueroa Agosto in Puerto Rico’s capital after a decade-long hunt was a big break, but it also means that members of his violent group may try to wrest control of his share of the illegal trade, said Javier F. Pena, special agent in charge of the Caribbean division of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
“This guy was truly the leader of his organization,” Pena told The Associated Press on Sunday. “And anytime the top guy is taken down, his people can start to fight one another to assume control. There is always concern that people will be jockeying for position, so it’s a matter of time to see if there will be bloodshed.”
Authorities have painted Figueroa as the Caribbean’s version of Pablo Escobar, the late notorious Colombian drug kingpin of the 1980s.
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For 10 years, the 45-year-old Puerto Rican fed his underworld mystique by pulling off narrow escapes and taunting police in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory that is attractive to traffickers as America’s southernmost border.
But his luck finally ran out this weekend, when Figueroa was caught while driving through a working-class Dominican neighborhood of San Juan. When he realized he was being followed, he tried to run on foot but U.S. Marshals, FBI and DEA agents, and Puerto Rican police captured him. He was wearing a wig as a disguise.
Gov. Luis Fortuno told a news conference Sunday that he phoned Dominican President Leonel Fernandez to discuss the arrest and reiterate the importance of future security collaborations between the two Spanish-speaking governments.
Police chief Jose Figueroa Sancha told the same news conference that the reputed kingpin’s arrest “not only represents a gain for island and federal authorities … it is an international gain.”
“We have arrested one of the major drug traffickers in history.”
Though no one can say exactly how much cocaine Figueroa allegedly moved, the scale of his reputed empire emerged following a botched September raid in the Dominican Republic, which netted several cars, including an armored Mercedes Benz with $4.6 million in cash inside, and a laptop computer full of evidence. Dominican authorities also confiscated a ranch with a small zoo – along with at least nine vehicles, including two Ferraris.
“He’s got properties, boats, cars, jewelry and cash out there,” Pena said.
For years, he “hid” in the open in the Dominican Republic, building ties with upper-crust Dominicans who appear regularly in society magazines. Since the September raid, several people have been jailed on charges that they laundered money or otherwise aided Figueroa.
Investigators are concerned that his conspirators have included police and other officials.
Figueroa reputedly funneled Colombian drugs to the U.S. mainland through Puerto Rico, where he walked out of a prison in November 1999 after presenting guards with a forged release order. He had served only four years of a 209-year sentence for killing a man suspected of stealing a cocaine shipment.
Within a month, he moved to the Dominican Republic, where he was detained as part of a drug investigation in 2001. He was released after two weeks; he used an alias and authorities didn’t know his true identity.
He is wanted in the Dominican Republic on kidnapping, money-laundering, drug-trafficking and murder charges.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had personally pledged full cooperation to capture the fugitive, who was wanted on a U.S. Marshals warrant for his prison escape and for filing a false passport application. He also was the target of a U.S. task force focusing on major drug suppliers to the U.S.