Thursday, March 31, 2011

Florida Resident Sentenced to 37 Years for Oxycodone Conspiracy and Firearms Violations

GREENEVILLE, TN—On Monday, March 28, 2011, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee at Greeneville, U.S. District Court Judge Ronnie Greer sentenced Robert Velez, 26, of Florida, to 444 months in prison for his leadership role in an oxycodone conspiracy stretching from south Florida to northeast Tennessee and his involvement in a shooting incident in Morristown, Tenn., related to an oxycodone debt owed to Velez by a co-conspirator.

Velez was convicted at trial of conspiracy to distribute and possess with the intent to distribute a quantity of oxycodone; the use, carry, and discharge of a firearm during and in relation to a drug trafficking crime; four counts of using a communication facility in committing, causing, and facilitating the commission of a drug trafficking crime; and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

The testimony during the trial revealed that Velez was supplying thousands of oxycodone pills to co-conspirators to transport and distribute in northeast Tennessee. One of the co-conspirators distributing oxycodone for Velez was arrested by the Morristown Police Department and a large number of oxycodone pills were seized from him. The money from the sale of these pills was owed to Velez. Numerous recorded telephone calls were played during the trial involving Velez threatening the co-conspirator if he did not get him the money for the pills. Testimony at trial revealed that Velez proceeded to put a hit on the co-conspirator. This was corroborated by recorded conversations wherein Velez told the co-conspirator that “he would call the dogs off when he got his money.” Velez also told the co-conspirator and his girlfriend that it was “game over” for both of them for not paying his drug debt.

Additional evidence introduced during the trial revealed that Velez instructed two other people to collect the drug debt for him. The two others, acting on the behalf of Velez, approached the co-conspirator with a shotgun and demanded the money. The individual holding the shotgun got Velez on the phone and Velez gave the co-conspirator instructions as to how to get his money to him. At that point, the co-conspirator was able to get back in his car, flee and contact law enforcement officers for assistance. As the co-conspirator was initially leaving, several shots were fired at his vehicle. A high speed car chase ensued in Morristown, Tennessee until the co-conspirator managed to escape and Velez told his debt collectors to hide the guns.

U.S. Attorney Bill Killian praised the efforts of law enforcement and the Assistant U.S. Attorney in this case. “More and more we are focusing efforts on truly serious drug offenders. These individuals are a danger to society and often carry weapons and otherwise commit crimes that harm people. Traveling from south Florida to east Tennessee will not give you safety from law enforcement if you are a serious offender.” said Killian.

The indictment and subsequent convictions of Velez and 10 co-defendants were the result of a joint investigation between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in Johnson City, Tenn., and the Morristown Police Department in Morristown, Tenn., beginning in May 2008.

This case was part of the Department's Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) and the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) programs. OCDETF is the primary weapon of the United States against the highest level drug trafficking organizations operating within the United States, importing drugs into the United States, or laundering the proceeds of drug trafficking. The HIDTA program enhances and coordinates drug control efforts among local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies. The program provides agencies with coordination, equipment, technology, and additional resources to combat drug trafficking and its harmful consequences in critical regions of the United States.

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