Eric Holder, Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez, Shawn Henry
Haraz N. Ghanbari  /  AP
Attorney General Eric Holder, left, accompanied by U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez of the District of Puerto Rico, right, and FBI Executive Director Shawn Henry, at the Justice Department in Washington, Wednesday.
By
updated 10/6/2010 3:01:07 PM ET 2010-10-06T19:01:07

FBI agents arrested scores of Puerto Rican police officers Wednesday for allegedly aiding drug dealers in what authorities said was the national agency's largest-ever police corruption investigation.

About 1,000 federal agents, most of them flown into the U.S. territory especially for the pre-dawn raids, swept up about 130 people, including nearly 90 law enforcement officers accused of providing security to drug dealers on an island where the police force already has been tarnished by allegations of brutality, corruption and incompetence in the face of spiraling crime and rampant drug smuggling.

"We will not allow the corrupt actions of a few to destroy the good work of so many," U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in a news conference in Washington. "The people of Puerto Rico deserve better."

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The suspects include prison guards, members of the U.S. Army and National Guard and civilians.

The indictments that allege law enforcement officers provided security for drug deals in exchange for payments ranging from $500 to $4,500, Holder said.

FBI agents conducted 125 undercover drug transactions between July 2008 and September 2010 that formed the basis of the indictment, Holder said.

Among the charges included in the 26 indictments are conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, attempt to possess with intent to distribute more than five kilograms of cocaine, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a drug trafficking offense.

A total of 77 police officers from state and municipal precincts across the island were indicted, including a member of the governor's motor pool, according to Luis Fraticelli, the special agent in charge of the FBI in Puerto Rico. He said another officer admitted to an undercover officer that he killed a man.

The arrests brought shock and dismay to the island as the governor and other local officials scrambled to denounce the alleged corruption. Officers have been charged with crimes in the past, including providing security to drug traffickers, but nothing on this scale.

Wilson Maldonado, a retired police officer tending to some personal business at police headquarters in San Juan, said he was sickened by the arrests, which he attributed in part to a lack of supervision.

"This is a sad and deplorable moment for the department," Maldonado said.

Calls for reform
The civil rights division of the U.S. Justice Department is pursuing its own investigation into an alleged pattern of abuses including use of excessive force, unconstitutional searches and discriminatory policing. That investigation could lead to the federal government taking a role in reforming Puerto Rico's police.

Calls for reform have mounted in recent days with several high-profile abuse allegations.

One police officer was charged with first-degree murder on Tuesday for allegedly chasing a man down with his pickup truck while off duty and shooting him in the back. Another was charged with second-degree murder a week earlier in a shooting that left a robbery witness brain-dead.

At the news conference, Fraticelli said police need to dramatically improve their recruiting and implement periodic lie-detector tests to restore public confidence in the police.

Police chief Jose Figueroa Sancha, who helped launch the federal investigation as a deputy director of the San Juan FBI office in July 2008, said he has taken steps to improve oversight. He praised 63 honest officers who participated in the probe as heroes.

Associated Press writer Danica Coto contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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