Suspect in 21 killings indicted in Puerto Rico

A man accused of killing 21 people is among five people indicted on federal racketeering charges involving an organization that sold drugs in Puerto Rico, federal officials said Thursday.

The federal grand jury indictment of Alexis Candelario Santana accuses him of 21 homicides from 1993 to 2009, though it does not charge him with murder.

The five face 17 charges including violating the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a charge that is viewed as easier to prove because it targets behavior patterns instead of criminal acts.

"It is a new weapon that we're going to use," said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodriguez.

Authorities say Candelario masterminded an October 2009 bar shootout that killed eight people and wounded more than 20 in an attempt to gain control of a drug-distribution point.

Candelario was arrested in December 2009 on federal firearms charges while aboard a 30-foot (9-meter) boat that entered a marina in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

His lawyer, Jorge Armenteros, said Candelario is innocent. Armenteros said he had interviewed several witnesses who stated they did not see Candelario at the bar the day of the shooting.

Candelario had been released from prison in 2009 after serving a sentence for second-degree murder.

Rodriguez said it is the first time since the 1980s that federal authorities have filed RICO Act accusations in Puerto Rico.

The act allows authorities to pursue some crimes as far back as 1993 that could not have been prosecuted under other laws because of the statute of limitations, said Luis Fraticelli, special agent in charge of FBI operations in Puerto Rico.