This report has been updated with information from Dominican and U.S. authorities, and additional research by Kharon.
Dominican Republic authorities on Tuesday announced a massive operation against a drug trafficking organization, as the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on the group, its leader, eight others and six entities.
Cesar Emilio Peralta leads the Peralta Drug Trafficking Organization (Peralta DTO), according to the U.S. Treasury. Peralta is a Dominican kingpin with a lengthy criminal record for his involvement in drug trafficking and violence, the Treasury said. From their base of operations in Santo Domingo, Peralta and the Peralta DTO coordinate the transshipment of cocaine and opioids through the Dominican Republic, and onward to the U.S. and Europe, the Treasury said.
The U.S. sanctions came as Dominican authorities announced a raid on the Peralta DTO that involved more than 40 simultaneous searches in an operation conducted by more than 700 people, including at least 500 agents. Several people, including three suspected top Peralta DTO leaders, were arrested, authorities said. None of the three men — Baltazar Mesa, Jose Jesus Tapia Perez and Sergio Gomez Diaz — were sanctioned Tuesday by the U.S. Treasury.
Peralta, who is also known as “Cesar El Abusador,” is a fugitive, Dominican authorities said. Peralta operated in the drug trade for more than two decades in the Dominican Republic and the U.S., starting as a member of other well-known historical criminal organizations, Dominican authorities said. Over the years, he learned from his bosses, rose in the ranks and created his own criminal structures, they said.
Dominican nationals Ramon Antonio del Rosario Puente and Kelvin Enrique Fernandez Flaquer were also sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury for providing support to Peralta and the Peralta DTO. Del Rosario Puente, who is also known as “Tono Lena,” was arrested in May 2018 by Colombian authorities and is awaiting extradition to the U.S., according to the Treasury.
Authorities in the Dominican Republic identified 18 people linked to the drug trafficking organization, including Luis Castillo and Octavio Dotel, both former journeymen Major League Baseball players in the U.S. Local media reported that both athletes were arrested, but other reports indicated that Castillo hasn’t been detained; his status is unclear. On social media, Castillo said: “Only God knows the truth; and for the truth Jesus died. Amen.”
Their alleged roles in the network weren’t detailed in the announcement made by Domincan Attorney General Jean Alain Rodriguez, according to a report in The Daily Beast.
Peralta and the Peralta DTO also coordinate the shipment of bulk currency proceeds of the narcotics trafficking activity from the U.S., and the subsequent laundering of the proceeds in the Dominican Republic, the Treasury said.
A primary avenue for laundering the funds is a series of nightclubs in Santo Domingo owned or controlled by Peralta via front persons, according to the Treasury. Peralta reportedly employed women trafficked from Colombia and Venezuela at the clubs, the Treasury said. Many of his nightclubs are places where aspiring artists perform to gain notoriety, according to Dominican media. Peralta’s control over most of the local clubs enabled him to pay performers lower rates, and he refused to book those who declined his offers, according to one local media source.
The U.S. sanctioned several of the nightclubs; Dominican media reported that three of the clubs were raided, as was a luxury apartment held by Peralta. Music promoter Yader Rafael Jaquez Araujo and former Dominican military officer Carlos Ariel Fernandez Concepcion were also sanctioned by the U.S. for their role in managing and promoting these nightclubs.
Analysts from the Latin America team contributed to this report.