PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — At the same time brothers Andres and Oscar Perez were climbing the ranks of the Providence Police Department, federal agents said their nephew – Jasdrual “Josh” Perez – was running a multistate fentanyl drug ring out of the capital city.
Federal investigators from Massachusetts raided Josh Perez’s suspected stash house and pill-pressing operation in February 2022. The agents allege his “robust long-running drug operation” pumped the deadly narcotic into the streets of several states, including Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York and Tennessee.
“The evidence shows that [Josh] represents a significant danger to community,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lindsey Weinstein wrote in a court briefing last August, arguing the defendant was responsible for manufacturing tens of thousands of pills “for wholesale drug suppliers up and down the East Coast.”
Court documents show the Providence Police Department wasn’t involved in the probe. And when Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins touted the massive drug bust last March, she lauded several Rhode Island local, state and federal law enforcement agencies for their help. Providence was not included.
Target 12 has since learned there’s an active federal investigation into whether Josh Perez benefited in any way from his family ties at the Providence Police Department. As part of that investigation, FBI agents have interviewed both Andres Perez, a sergeant who works drug cases in the intelligence bureau, and Col. Oscar Perez, who was recently named Providence police chief. (The colonel held the rank of major at the time of his nephew’s arrest.)
“At the end of the day, he chose the wrong path,” Oscar Perez said about his nephew Wednesday during an exclusive interview with Target 12, confirming both he and his brother are cooperating with federal investigators.
“It’s not a reflection on us,” he added. “It does not define who I am.”
So far, the investigation has focused primarily on Andres Perez, Target 12 has confirmed. His attorney, Michael Colucci, declined to comment on the specifics of the investigation, but he dismissed the idea that his client has ever done anything untoward.
“Rest assured that Sgt. Perez has not wavered in his willingness to assist and cooperate in the prosecution of any individuals, regardless of relationships and it would be terribly unfair to infer anything inappropriate simply because a relative may have chosen a wrong path to follow, a path that the sergeant is and was completely disassociated from,” Colucci said in a statement.
‘Don’t let your kids touch that [expletive], bro’
Josh Perez landed on the radar of a Massachusetts-based special federal drug task force in September 2019.
The task force spent more than a year gathering evidence, including surveillance, garbage collection, testimony from confidential informants and even video recordings from a camera concealed inside Josh Perez’s truck, according to court documents.
The alleged operation of making and distributing fentanyl pills proved lucrative for the Providence man, who federal agents said owned 12 houses, five trucks and two apartments in Colombia.
He also owned two nightclubs and other property under his mother’s name in Providence, according to court documents, and federal agents said Josh Perez planned to buy 27 three-family homes in Pennsylvania.
“The nature and circumstances of the charges are extremely serious, the penalties are severe, his financial assets are exorbitant and the evidence is strong against Perez,” Weinstein argued in court last year.
Evidence gathered in the case suggests Josh Perez oversaw a crew of nearly a dozen people. They helped manufacture and distribute the drug for him and two other defendants in the case, Erik Ventura and Joel Santana, who both face similar charges.
Federal prosecutors allege the crew pressed the fentanyl into pills disguised as pharmaceutical-grade Percocet or oxycodone, and according to an intercepted communication filed in court documents, the defendant boasted about his drug dealing and how much money the operation generated.
“I sell drugs because I like this [expletive], dude,” he said, according to court documents. “I may not receive payments for a whole month or a month and a half and it’s okay because I have resources. When I collect, it’s like a million and some.”
Prosecutors also argued he clearly understood the dangers of fentanyl. According to an intercepted FaceTime conversation, Perez instructed one of his crew members in February 2021 to count pills at one of his stash houses on Imera Avenue in Providence. The man was living at the home with his young child, according to court documents.
“Don’t let your kids touch that [expletive], bro,” Perez said, according to court documents.
Josh Perez is facing two counts of conspiracy with intent to deliver fentanyl and he faces up to 30 years behind bars if convicted. He has pleaded not guilty and is currently in jail awaiting trial. His attorney, Steven DiLibero, declined to comment for this story.
Despite the size and reach of Josh Perez’s operation, however, he never became a target of the Providence Police Department, where his two uncles work. His only other local run-in with the law happened in 2019 when R.I. State Police troopers spotted him in Warwick trying to get rid of a baseball-sized bag of cocaine. Court records show a second bag of cocaine of similar size was found inside his car.
Josh Perez later pleaded no contest to possession with intent to sell cocaine and received a deferred sentence of five years, 100 hours of community service and a nearly $1,000 fine, according to court records.
Yet even though he never became a target in Providence, his status as a suspected drug dealer was well-known within the department.
“It was known, and I personally knew he was involved in some illegal and criminal behavior,” former Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré told Target 12, adding, “I never knew or had knowledge that he was what the federal government believes was a large-scale drug dealer, so it never came across my desk.”
The former commissioner, who left this year amid changes in the nascent Mayor Brett Smiley administration, said he has been cooperating with federal investigators since last year.
“Like a lot of criminal intelligence and knowledge, sometimes you don’t get evidence to make cases on people you know are involved in criminal activity,” Paré said.
‘He had his life, I had mine’
After the federal investigation into Josh Perez ended with his arrest, federal agents turned their attention to the Providence Police Department.
An FBI spokesperson declined to confirm or deny the existence of the investigation, but Target 12 has independently confirmed federal agents have interviewed both of his uncles, Andres Perez and Oscar Perez.
Paré said the department has fully cooperated with the FBI since last spring and leadership has provided investigators with everything they have requested during that time. He declined to disclose exactly when he last talked with federal investigators, only saying, “My interactions with the FBI both in Providence and in Boston continue.”
“I’ll leave it at that,” he said.
Oscar Perez was adamant his nephew never received special treatment or protection, saying the department has no problem arresting offenders in Providence, even if it’s “relatives, people we know or people we grew up with.”
“This particular case, it just didn’t come onto the radar of the Providence Police Department,” he said about his nephew. “There were concerns, but he had his life – I had mine.”
Target 12 has confirmed the FBI probe has zeroed in on his brother, Andres Perez, who joined the department in March 2002. He is also the secretary of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3, the local police union that represents Providence officers, according to the union’s website. Oscar Perez defended his brother’s reputation, arguing the sergeant has worked for 20 years in the department “with no stains.”
Smiley, who picked Oscar Perez earlier this year to lead the police department, said the chief came to him before getting appointed to disclose the case against his nephew and the FBI investigation.
“It was the first thing that helped build trust between us,” Smiley said.
The mayor also said there’s been no discussion about removing Andres Perez from the intelligence unit, pending the outcome of the federal investigation. And both Paré and Smiley expressed frustration with how little evidence the FBI has shared to suggest Andres Perez has done anything wrong.
“I don’t have very much information and that is frustrating to be sure,” Smiley told Target 12, adding that he doesn’t know anything at this point that would make him want to make a change in personnel.
“If facts and circumstances change it’s something we would consider, but I don’t have any reason to believe that is a necessary step,” he said.
Former Police Col. Hugh Clements, who now leads the U.S. office of Community Oriented Policing Services in Washington, D.C., declined to comment for this report. (Clements was chief in Providence when Josh Perez was arrested.)
A spokesperson for the Rhode Island U.S. Attorney deferred all questions to the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office, which in turn declined to comment.
Eli Sherman (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a Target 12 investigative reporter for 12 News. Connect with him on Twitter and on Facebook.
Steph Machado contributed to this report.