Published May 19, 2013
KINGSTON, Jamaica – Federal agents have arrested the top enforcement officer for the U.S. Virgin Islands environment agency on drug trafficking charges after he was allegedly caught with a cache of cocaine on a government patrol boat.
In a statement issued late Saturday, the U.S. attorney's office in the three-island U.S. Caribbean territory said Roberto Tapia was ordered held without bail pending a Tuesday hearing. He is the director of environmental enforcement for the Virgin Islands' Department of Planning and Natural Resources.
A criminal complaint filed in the U.S. islands' district court alleges federal agents observed Tapia using one of the department's boats in a drug trafficking conspiracy. They allege Tapia was armed, uniformed and possessed a bag containing more than 15 pounds (seven kilograms) of cocaine when arrested Friday.
The case is being investigated by several local and U.S. agencies, including the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Coast Guard and a public corruption task force.
On Sunday, acting Police Commissioner Rodney F. Querrard Sr. said it was a "sad day" when any law enforcer is accused of breaking the laws that they are sworn to uphold.
"I can assure the public that ours is a policy of zero tolerance for any violations of law by those in our law enforcement divisions — zero tolerance," Querrard said from the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Tapia has been charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking.
It was not immediately known if he had a lawyer. He has been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the case. It wasn't immediately clear if Tapia would be paid while on leave.
During a U.S. House committee hearing last month, DEA administrator Michele M. Leonhart told lawmakers that officials were concerned about upticks in drug trafficking in the Caribbean and the corrupting influence it can have on local law enforcement officials in the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
"Traffickers have targeted these islands and you've got also corruption issues within local law enforcement that has caused problems, compromises of the investigations. It's just harder for these hard-working, very dedicated officers and agents to do their jobs," Leonhart said.