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HIDTA Getting Lots of Calls about 'the Commission'

Aug. 26, 2004 – A law-enforcement task force fighting drug crime in the Virgin Islands is appealing to the public for help in identifying members of what is described as a violent organized crime group called the Commission. And it's getting results.
A spokesman for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency — one of the agencies that make up the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force — said on Wednesday that the response has been encouraging.
The appeal for information about the Commission came from the U.S. Justice Department. On Tuesday agents of the HIDTA Task Force took to the streets of St. Croix, handing out "Wanted" handbills to passing motorists. The flyers appeal to the public to provide "truthful information" concerning members of the Commission, including any that may be in federal custody.
According to a statement issued by HIDTA officials on Wednesday, "federal agents have been impressed with the amount of information that has been received over the last two days."
Wardo Santiago, a public information officer with the DEA's San Juan office, said the appeal is part of an ongoing investigation. "We have been able to develop information, and we have been able to link some of these crimes to some of these individuals that identify themselves as the Commission," he said on Wednesday.
Santiago said it appears that V.I. residents are eager to support the task force efforts. In the two days since the appeal went out, he said, callers have kept two confidential hotlines busy.
"The response from the citizens of the Virgin Islands has been overwhelming on both lines, on the answering machine and also on the direct line to one of the investigators," Santiago said. "People are very interested in providing information, and we want to continue to receiving that information. It's very important."
The numbers to call to pass along information are 713-1497 to access the answering machine and 773-5836 to reach a federal agent. HIDTA officials say all information will be kept in strict confidence.
Investigators are seeking both background details and current information about the Commission and its members.
HIDTA is made up of local and federal law-enforcement agencies in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico including police, the DEA, the FBI, the U.S. Customs Service, the Coast Guard and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Since HIDTA began its appeal, some local broadcast media have reported comments by unidentified sources claiming to be describing the Commission and its activities. The sources say the group began on St. Croix and expanded its activities to include St. Thomas and the British Virgin Islands. They also say the group's violence has escalated to include attacks against law-enforcement officers and their families.
Last January, Angel Diaz Sr., the father of a St. Croix police officer, was shot and seriously wounded in an ambush-style attack while driving his son's vehicle along a dark road. At that time Police Chief Novelle Francis said federal authorities had been called in to assist in the investigation.
On Tuesday, St. Croix Deputy Police Chief Herminio Velazquez refused to comment on whether there is any connection between that investigation and the HIDTA appeal.
Santiago declined to say whether a particular event had prompted the public appeal, pointing only to what he termed a recent increase in violent crimes.
HIDTA's interest is in "promoting a violence-free society and a drug-free society," he said. "And we're committed to providing a safe environment in the Virgin Islands."

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