SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, Wednesday April 11, 2012 – Orlando Robles Ortiz, a Santeria leader charged with helping run an organization that allegedly smuggled drugs bound for the US and rigged Puerto Rico’s lottery system to launder money, was among dozens of suspects arrested in San Juan and New York, according to federal agents.
Robles, aka “Babalao”, is accused of helping the group transport US-bound cocaine from St Maarten to Puerto Rico and of consulting with a spirit named “Samuel” on which days were best to do so, officials said.
Robles would also consult the spirit before accepting new members to the organization, said Pedro Janer, acting special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Caribbean division.
Janer noted that while Afro-Caribbean religions have played an important role in drug trafficking here, it is unusual for a Santero priest to help lead such an organization.
At least 18 of the suspects have already been arrested in Puerto Rico and New York following a seven-month investigation known as “Voodoo Sam”.
According to Janer, “The operation was dubbed Voodoo Sam because that is the name of the saint Robles Ortiz consulted, and the spirit resides in the wooden house in his backyard.”
It is possible that “Samuel” was dispirited by his humble accommodation, which contrasted starkly with the priest’s luxurious home in the Monte Carlo residential development in Bayamon. But Janer had a better take on the situation.
“It appears the spirit was on vacation due to Holy Week,” Janer said about the group’s failure to recognize that federal agents were closing in thanks to a tip received from authorities in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The organization had operated since 2003 and is accused of earning US$127 million distributing at least 840 kilograms of cocaine a year across Puerto Rico and to Connecticut and New York aboard commercial planes, said Assistant US Attorney Mariana Bauza.
Among those accused is a former stewardess for American Airlines, the former owner of a local baseball team, and a former local basketball player.
The organization had also established a contact within Puerto Rico’s lottery office that gave them unclaimed winning numbers so they could conceal their earnings, said Assistant US Attorney Jose Capo.
According to Capo, the group bought at least 33 tickets for their actual price plus 20 percent commission and then presented each ticket as if it were theirs. The lottery office would then write a cheque for the winning amount, helping the organization launder more than US$1.4 million.
The suspects face a maximum of life in prison if found guilty of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine.
It is not known whether “Samuel” will act as devil’s advocate going forward.