Roberto Tapia, former director of the Environmental Enforcement Division of the Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources, pleaded guilty Tuesday, September 24, in federal district court to using DPNR as a criminal enterprise to engage in illegal drug trafficking activities.
Tapia, 55, was arrested on May 17, and charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking.
On September 12, he was charged in a 34-count second superseding indictment, along with six other defendants, including Virgin Islands Police Officer Angelo Hill, Raymond Brown, Hector Alcenio, Edwin Monsanto, Stephen Torres and Eddie Lopez-Lopez.
The indictment and plea followed an extensive investigation conducted by the Federal Public Corruption Task Force, which culminated with the arrest of Tapia while in possession of seven kilograms of cocaine.
“Public corruption victimizes every law-abiding resident of the Virgin Islands,” U.S. Attorney Sharpe said. “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. The USAO is committed to fighting public corruption and will continue to target individuals who undermine the public trust.”
In entering his plea of guilty to racketeering before District Court Judge Curtis Gomez, Tapia admitted to extensive cocaine trafficking activities over a substantial period of time and utilizing his position with and assets of DPNR to facilitate those activities.
The announcement was issued by United States Attorney Ronald Sharpe; Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent in Charge Carlos Cases; U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent in Charge Vito Guarino; Virgin Islands Police Commissioner Rodney Querrard; United States Marshal for the District of the Virgin Islands Cheryl Jacobs; Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division Acting Special Agent in Charge Michael DePalma; U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent in Charge Angel Melendez; U.S. Customs and Border Protection Special Agent in Charge Marcelino Borges; and United States Coast Guard Captain Drew Pearson.
Tapia faces a maximum penalty of life in prison and up to $250,000 in fines, in addition to forfeiture penalties and restitution. Sentencing has been scheduled for January 9, 2014, before Judge Gomez.
United States Attorney Sharpe commended the work of the Public Corruption Task Force and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Kim Lindquist and Kelly Lake, who are prosecuting this case.