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Drug cartel ‘boss of bosses’ tries to fire attorney at sentencing

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The kingpin of an international drug cartel that was broken up in what the feds dubbed Operation Triple Play asked the court to fire his attorney a short time before he was sentenced.

Juan Valdez, 51, was sentenced to 20 years in prison Friday morning, but decided against firing his attorney Daniel Calabro after Judge John J. McConnell Jr. gave him the choice of finding new counsel or representing himself.

Before deciding to stick with Calabro, Valdez told the court Calabro did not go over the evidence in the case with him, and Valdez also questioned the search warrants.  

“I don’t believe that he ever represented me with a defense in this case,” Valdez said through a translator. “From the very beginning, I did not feel comfortable with his representation.”

Calabro told the court he did not agree with his client’s assessment, and outside court, he said he advised Valdez the evidence was strong enough to prompt a longer sentence if the case had gone to trial.

Judge McConnell offered a similar opinion from the bench, adding he was angered by Valdez’s criminal history after reading the pre-sentencing report.

McConnell said Valdez had dealt drugs since he was a teenager, ignoring “a consistent level of destruction that he caused.”

Operation Triple Play was a reference to Valdez and his two brothers, who ran the cocaine and heroin distribution operation.

The three Dominican nationals pleaded guilty earlier this year to running a drug trafficking operation in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut.

Claudio Valdez was sentenced last month to 20 years in prison, and Hector Valdez will be sentenced next month. 

Juan Valdez also surrendered $350,000 to the government. 

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the trio admitted they were the ringleaders of what the FBI called the Valdez Drug Trafficking Organization. 

The FBI dragnet took down the organization in April 2017, resulting in the arrests of the three Valdez brothers and 13 other suspects.

All 16 of suspects have now pleaded guilty. 

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 U.S. Attorney’s Office said immigration detainers had also been lodged against the three brothers, who are Dominican nationals. Federal prosecutors said the Valdez brothers had previously been deported for other drug crimes and had re-entered the country illegally.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

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