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DEA agent in Chicago charged with conspiring to traffic guns and drugs with international gang

Drug Enforcement Administration agents and Soldiers from the New Jersey National Guard's Counter Drug Task Force dumped prescription drugs to be incinerated at the Covanta Essex Resource Recovery Facility during Operation Take Back New Jersey in Newark, N.J., Oct. 31, 2017. (Master Sgt. Matt Hecht/U.S. Air National Guard)

A former Evanston, Ill., police detective has been accused in a sweeping federal indictment of joining the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration so he could protect a vicious Puerto Rico-based drug organization responsible for numerous killings and other violence.

Fernando Gomez, 41, was arrested Tuesday morning at the DEA’s Chicago field office, authorities said.

Hours later, he was led into U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Cox’s courtroom in a T-shirt and blue jeans and shackled at the ankles. As prosecutors began to detail the allegations, several of Gomez’s fellow agents seated in the courtroom gallery exchanged stunned glances and one appeared to cry.

Prosecutors asked that Gomez be held in custody as a risk to flee pending his transfer to face the charges in New York. Cox set a detention hearing for Thursday in Chicago.

Gomez was charged in a superseding indictment unsealed in New York with racketeering conspiracy for his alleged decadelong affiliation with the Organizacion de Narcotraficantes Unidos, a conglomeration of drug traffickers based in Puerto Rico responsible for importing vast shipments of cocaine into New York and elsewhere.

The 40-page indictment alleged the gang participated in at least eight drug-related killings in New York and Puerto Rico dating to 2005.

One of Gomez’s co-defendants, William Vasquez-Baez, was a police officer in Puerto Rico when he and another alleged gang member killed a rival in San Juan in 2007, prosecutors charged in court records filed in the case.

Gomez began working for the gang when he was a detective for Evanston police, according to the charges. He obtained firearms from drug dealers and provided them to gang leader Jose Martinez-Diaz, also known as “Tony Zinc,” in Puerto Rico, according to the indictment.

“Gomez then joined the DEA so that he could help members of the narcotics conspiracy, including Martinez-Diaz, evade prosecution by law enforcement,” the indictment alleged.

The charges do not allege Gomez personally participated in any of the killings. One of the counts he faces, however, accused him of carrying firearms — “some of which were brandished and discharged” — in relation to a drug-trafficking crime.

Gomez faces a mandatory minimum 20-year sentence and up to life in prison if convicted, Assistant U.S. Attorney Abigail Peluso said in court Tuesday.

Gomez kept his hands clasped behind his back and answered in a soft voice when the judge asked him if he understood the charges. He shook his head slightly as Peluso read aloud a passage of the indictment accusing him of illegally trafficking guns while he was an Evanston cop.

Evanston police Cmdr. Ryan Glew said Tuesday that Gomez joined the force in 2004 as a patrolman and ended up as a detective assigned to the tactical unit, assisting with drug and gang investigations. He left in 2011 to join the DEA, Glew said.

Glew said there’s no indication the guns Gomez allegedly sent to Puerto Rico came from the department’s evidence locker or otherwise were connected with Gomez’s police work.

He declined to comment on Gomez’s disciplinary record, deferring to federal prosecutors.

After court, Gomez’s attorney, Robert Rascia, said Gomez had “a distinguished career” with the U.S. Marines before going into law enforcement. He would not comment specifically on the charges.

In 2016, the Chicago Crime Commission gave Gomez a Law Enforcement Excellence Award for his work for the DEA’s violent gang conspiracy unit in a case against a group of drug traffickers affiliated with Mexican-based cartels such as Jalisco New Generation and Zetas.

The operation “yielded the successful seizure of vast amounts of bulk cash and narcotics in transit between Mexico and Chicago,” as well as the arrest of 12 defendants, including a high-ranking member of the Chicago-based Spanish Cobras street gang, the Crime Commission said at the time.

Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, where the charges were filed, said in a written statement Tuesday the DEA is an organization committed to upholding the nation’s drug laws and conducting a “relentless pursuit of narcotics traffickers.”

“But as alleged, Gomez joined the DEA to betray those laws, and to help narcotics traffickers evade detection by law enforcement,” Berman said. “He will now be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

In an emailed statement, the Chicago DEA said the agency “takes all allegations of misconduct and wrongdoing very seriously.”

“Particularly, when criminal allegations come forward, DEA aggressively pursues those allegations and fully cooperates with all investigating agencies,” the statement read.

A spokeswoman would not provide more details of Gomez’s career, referring a reporter to prosecutors in New York.

Prosecutors in New York have alleged the Organizacion de Narcotraficantes Unidos, which translates to the United Organization of Drug Traffickers, was formed in Puerto Rico in 2004 as part of an alliance among gangs aimed at increasing drug profits while avoiding attention from law enforcement.

The organization quickly became known for its ruthlessness, including shooting rivals on sight and killing or threatening to kill any member caught cooperating with law enforcement — as well as their relatives, prosecutors have said.

The organization gained notoriety in May 2010 when members used assault rifles to shoot up a police helicopter in San Juan that had been chasing a drug suspect, according to court records. The co-pilot was killed and two other officers were wounded as the helicopter made an emergency landing on a baseball field.


© 2018 Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.