Department of Planning and Natural Resources Environmental Enforcement Director Roberto Tapia, arrested in May and accused of smuggling cocaine while in uniform and using law enforcement vehicles, pleaded guilty Tuesday in federal district court to racketeering by using DPNR as a criminal drug trafficking enterprise, according to U.S. Attorney Ronald Sharpe.
Tapia, 55, was arrested May 17 and charged with conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine and possession of a firearm while drug trafficking. In September, he was charged in a 34-count second superseding indictment, along with six other defendants, including Virgin Islands police officer Angelo Hill, Raymond Brown, Hector Alcenio, Edwin Monsanto, Stephen Torres and Eddie Lopez-Lopez.
According to the criminal complaint filed in District Court, federal agents observed Tapia using a DPNR boat to make the cocaine pickup. When he was arrested, Tapia was armed, wearing clothing bearing official DPNR insignia, and in possession of a bag containing about seven kilograms of cocaine.
Separately, an unknown number of weapons confiscated from boaters by Tapia are unaccounted for. (See: No Record of Guns Confiscated by DPNR Cop Accused of Drug Smuggling)
“Public corruption victimizes every law-abiding resident of the Virgin Islands,” Sharpe said in a statement following the guilty plea. “This individual chose to abuse his position of trust as a law enforcement officer for selfish gain at the expense of the safety and welfare of the community. The USAO is committed to fighting public corruption and will continue to target individuals who undermine the public trust," Sharpe said.
In his guilty plea, Tapia admitted extensive cocaine trafficking activities over a substantial period of time, and using his position with DPNR and the government agency’s assets to carry out the racketeering, according to Sharpe.
Tapia faces a maximum penalty of life in prison and up to $250,000 in fines, in addition to forfeiture penalties and restitution. Sentencing is scheduled Jan. 9 before U.S. District Judge Curtis Gomez.