Department of Planning and Natural Resources Chief Enforcement Officer Roberto Tapia was back in court Wednesday pleading not guilty to new corruption charges included in an expanded indictment that now involves two more co-conspirators.
Tapia was initially arrested in mid-May by federal agents and charged with conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and possession of a firearm in furtherance of drug trafficking.
The arrest of co-conspirators Stephen Torres and Eddie Lopez-Lopez, along with V.I. Police sergeant Angelo Hill quickly followed and, on Tuesday, a new document, expanding the charges against Tapia and bringing new charges against Raymond Brown and Edwin Monsanto, also emerged in V.I. District Court.
Tapia, Torres and Hill all renewed their pleas of not guilty Wednesday to all charges laid out in the new indictment, while Lopez-Lopez is scheduled to reappear Thursday for arraignment once his attorney is on-island.
The new indictment charges Tapia under the federal Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO), saying that he used DPNR as a front for illegal activities and allegedly pulled others within the department – referred to in the indictment as the "enterprise" – into the ring. The group, according to the indictment, engaged "in a pattern of racketeering activity" from September 2012 to May 2013, while Tapia took advantage of his position as DPNR’s Environment Enforcement director, using his official credentials, uniform, firearms and marine vessels in perpetrating the crimes.
Brown and Monsanto, meanwhile, also pleaded not guilty Wednesday after being advised of their rights and arraigned during the same hearing. Brown, described in the expanded document as a "cocaine supplier and distributor," has been charged with two counts each of conspiracy with intent to distribute cocaine, possession with intent to distribute cocaine and federal use of a communication facility to facilitate a drug crime.
Requests by prosecutors to detain Brown pending trial were denied by District Court Magistrate Judge Ruth Miller, who granted bail of $250,000 – the same amount given to Tapia and Hill. Brown’s mother spoke on his behalf Wednesday and said the family would be putting up their estate in Dorothea – a 10-acre property with five buildings including the popular Thirteen restaurant – up for collateral.
Miller also put Brown on home confinement and ordered that he be electronically monitored, surrender his travel documents and avoid contact with other defendants and witnesses.
Brown asked for a speedy jury trial, which Miller said should start in early September. Brown’s mother, father and grandmother all said they would serve as third-party custodians.
The 51-year-old Monsanto, meanwhile, has been named in four counts and has also been charged with two counts each of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine and use of a communication facility to facilitate a drug crime.
Monsanto’s mother Alda spoke on his behalf during Wednesday’s hearing and said that the family would be willing to put up their land home in Estate Thomas for collateral. His brother, Stephen Monsanto, also said he would post property he owns on St. John.
Miller granted Monsanto $250,000 bail, and imposed the same home confinement and monitoring restrictions.