Authorities say a "staggering" amount of fentanyl and other drugs were seized as the result of a six-month, multi-agency wiretap investigation.
Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel Conley called Operation High Hopes one of the longest, most far-reaching and most successful state wiretap investigations in Massachusetts history.
According to the prosecutors, the operation has taken down one of the Boston area's top traffickers of fentanyl, heroin and other opiates, as well as cocaine. But it did not stop there. It continued up the ladder to identify a second group at the top of the domestic pyramid – one with direct ties to Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel. The leader of that group, 42-year-old Robert Contreras of Dorchester, was taken into custody Thursday morning, along with about a dozen co-conspirators.
Over the past six months, investigators have seized more than 15 kilograms of suspected fentanyl from these two groups – more than 33 pounds of a substance that can kill with just a few milligrams.
The narcotics unit collected seven and a half kilograms of suspected cocaine, about six kilograms of suspected heroin, 6,000 opioid tablets and some $81,000 in cash. The chemical analysis is still ongoing for the more recent seizures.
Investigators are still tallying the drugs and cash recovered this morning, but officials expect the overall seizures over the length of the investigation to weigh in at some 35 kilograms of narcotics and $300,000 in drug money.
"They're profiteers of addiction, trafficking in substances that claim more lives in Massachusetts than all homicides, all suicides, and all car crashes, statewide, combined," said District Attorney Conley.
This investigation began in July 2017. The Boston Police Special Investigations Unit and DEA Task Force Two were attempting to make inroads into a suspected trafficking organization run by 43-year-old Edward Soto-Perez of Roxbury. Using cooperating witnesses, controlled purchases, physical surveillance and other means, they had reliable evidence that he was a kilogram-weight trafficker – but they hit a wall in determining where he stored his supply or who his supplier was.
Soto-Perez was clever and extremely diligent in covering his tracks. He used couriers to make deliveries and take cash payments. He switched cars regularly to foil court-authorized GPS tracking. And he would make as many as five sudden turns in the span of a mile to spot police surveillance teams.
"In fact, he was so adept at protecting his suppliers and stash houses that I took the rare step of approving a wiretap application to get that critical evidence. That first application was granted in September 2017 only after careful review by a Superior Court judge – under all the rules and restrictions of state and federal law," said Conley.
In the months that followed, the court extended the wiretap 11 times and approved interceptions on more than two dozen phones. Investigators doubled as codebreakers to reveal the criminal enterprise as it unfolded. In some calls, the defendants referred to drug shipments as "musicians" and to payments as "tickets" to the party. In others, they discussed purity levels by referring to a kilogram of cocaine as a "car" that could fit "three passengers" – a highly potent original product that could be quadrupled in retail weight with cutting agents.
"Ironically, the wiretap that Soto-Perez' precautions made necessary revealed facts and evidence we might never have obtained otherwise. It identified his partners and led to search warrants on their stash houses in Dorchester. But most importantly, it identified his supplier – Robert Contreras and his drug trafficking organization," said Conley.
Soto-Perez and two co-conspirators – Nelson Catala-Otero, age 37 of Brockton, and Julio Cuello, age 52 of Dorchester – were arrested late last year in the course of the investigation. They are currently held on bails ranging from $100,000 to $250,000 after arraignment in Dorchester court. A fourth man is in custody in Essex County on related charges out of Lynn. All of them will face additional charges as we put the wiretap evidence to the Suffolk County Grand Jury.
Contreras and his co-conspirators, couriers, and high-level customers were apprehended this morning in Brighton, Dorchester, Hyde Park, Roxbury, West Roxbury, Swansea, and Swampscott.
"This case required a huge amount of organizational skill, especially in preparing the evidence for judicial review at every step of the process. I want to thank all of these men and women for contributing to that success," said Conley.