PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The third brother tied to a cocaine and heroin cartel that stored its cache in Rhode Island-based stash houses was sentenced to nine years in federal prison on Friday as part of a government plea agreement.
Juan, Claudio and Hector Valdez organized and ran the operation, selling cocaine and heroin in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
In April 2017, an FBI dragnet dubbed Operation Triple Play – in reference to the three Dominican national brothers – brought down the drug ring, and since then all 16 who were arrested have pleaded guilty.
Hector Valdez’s nine-year sentence is less than half of the 20-year sentences his brothers recieved.
Asst. U.S. Attorney Gerard Sullivan told the court Valdez was “less culpable” and “hit a home run” as a cooperating witness.
According to Sullivan, Valdez was responsible for securing stash houses, finding local drug couriers and working with drug buyers while Juan Valdez maintained the heroin and fentanyl supply and Claudio Valdez worked on obtaining cocaine and crack.
Judge John J. McConnell Jr. said despite Hector Valdez’s cooperation with invesigators, the serious nature of the crime and widespread, damaging reach of the cartel could not be overlooked.
But the judge and attorneys acknowledged that the First Step Act, a prison reform package of laws that was passed last year, restricted the potential length of the sentence.
If he was sentenced last year, Valdez faced a mandatory minimum of 20 years and one month in prison.
Judge McConnell said Valdez deserved 20 years, telling the court when he considers all the factors of the case, “I should throw the book at you.”
Instead, Valdez recieved nine years, and will face deportation once the sentence is complete.
As he read a statement, Valdez teared up, as did two women in the courtroom who were identified as his daughters.
“If I could rewind time, I would do that,” Valdez said through a translator. “I want to be a better person for my daughters.”
He was the last of the 16 Operation Triple Play suspects to be sentenced, after all 16 decided to plead guilty rather than face what has been described as extensive and damaging wire taps and other evidence gathered by investigators betwewen Sept. 2016 to April 2017.
Prosecutors said the Valdez brothers admitted to arranging shipments of large amounts of cocaine and heroin from Mexico, which were hidden in stash houses in Woonsocket and Cranston.
The brothers also pleaded guilty to overseeing the distribution of the drugs to mid- and low-level dealers in the Providence, Boston and Hartford areas.
The 2017 raids netted 4 kilograms of heroin, 1.5 kilograms of fentanyl, 2 kilograms of cocaine, 155 grams of crack cocaine, more than 100 pounds of cutting agents, approximately 12 kilograms of other powdery substances, about $95,000 in cash and nine vehicles, five of which had hidden compartments allegedly used to transport drugs and money.
Seizures in the following months snared more drugs, valuables and additional cash, including $350,000 forfeited by Juan Valdez.