SAN JUAN (Reuters) - FBI agents in Puerto Rico on Wednesday arrested 133 police officers, prison guards and others on drug trafficking and weapons smuggling charges as part of an effort to crack down on corruption in the U.S. Caribbean territory.
In what the Federal Bureau of Investigation called its largest corruption probe ever, some 750 agents fanned out across the island to arrest 61 members of the Puerto Rico police department, a dozen prison officers and two U.S. Army officers, among others.
The defendants, many of whom operated in various groups on the island, were charged in 26 separate indictments with a range of offenses including possession of cocaine with the intent to distribute and illegally possessing firearms.
“Without question, today’s arrests will disrupt drug trafficking operations in Puerto Rico and help to strengthen law enforcement operations across and beyond the island,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters in announcing the charges.
Puerto Rico has long served as a major route for drug trafficking between South America and the eastern United States.
The arrests were the second major corruption takedown by the Obama administration this week. In Alabama prosecutors charged 11 people, including four state lawmakers, with taking part in a conspiracy to bribe lawmakers to pass a bill to legalize certain gambling.
The Puerto Rico cases date back to July 2008 and some of it included undercover buys of drugs as well as police officers providing security services for drug transactions and receiving hundreds to thousands of dollars for such transactions, according to federal prosecutors.
If convicted, the defendants could face sentences of 10 years to life in prison.
The FBI flew hundreds of agents to Puerto Rico to help with the arrests. Four individuals are still at large.
“You had an investigation that lasted over two years, you moved 750 FBI agents from various parts of this country to Puerto Rico and there was not one leak, there was not one disclosure,” Holder said.
Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky in Washington; Editing by Pascal Fletcher and Vicki Allen