Almost 100 Puerto Rican law officers arrested

Nearly 100 current and former Puerto Rican law enforcement officers were arrested Wednesday on drug-related charges as part of the largest police corruption investigation in the history of the FBI.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the two-year inquiry involved 1,000 FBI agents, including 750 federal investigators secretly dispatched to Puerto Rico in the past week to participate in the arrests.

Of the 133 people charged in 26 indictments unsealed Wednesday, 97 are current or former law enforcement officers.. Other defendants include two U.S. Army officers and three soldiers in the National Guard in Puerto Rico.

Court documents allege that all of the defendants accepted payments from undercover federal agents to provide armed protection for what they believed were drug shipments. The payments ranged from $500 to $4,500 per transaction.

"We will not allow the corrupt actions by a few to undermine the good work of so many," Holder said.

FBI Executive Assistant Director Shawn Henry said the probe involved agents from 30 of the bureau´s 56 field offices around the country. Henry said the number of suspects and agents involved made the investigation the largest in the FBI´s 102-year history.

"The American people are growing increasingly intolerant of corruption," he said.

FBI spokesman Richard Kolko said 130 of the 133 defendants had been arrested by Wednesday evening.

In Puerto Rico, where the police department is already the target of a federal civil rights probe into allegations of excessive force and other misconduct, the arrests prompted promises of reform from the highest levels of the U.S. territory´s government.

Gov. Luis Fortuño plans to meet Friday with New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly to discuss new training programs for Puerto Rico´s police. "We are going to continue ... to clean house," Fortuño said in a statement.

Puerto Rico´s U.S. attorney, Rosa Emilia Rodriguez-Velez, said not all of the suspects were part of one group.

She said many did not know others had accepted payments to protect the fake drug shipments arranged by federal investigators.

About $500,000 was paid to suspects during the investigation.

Kolko said the massive deployment of agents was necessary because of the large number of suspects, many of whom had access to firearms.

Rodriguez-Velez said the arrests marked a "very sad day" for Puerto Rican law enforcement.

"We cannot help but be appalled at the criminal conduct charged today against those who have sworn to serve and protect the citizens of Puerto Rico," she said.

(Published by USA Today - October 6, 2010)

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