THE BRONX — The leader of a drug trafficking ring was indicted Thursday for hiding cocaine and oxycodone in packages of toys, lunch boxes and SpongeBob SquarePants bedding mailed to borough daycare centers, the Office of the Special Narcotics Prosecutor said.
Juan Valdez, who organized the multi-million-dollar operation, was arrested with two accomplices at Sweet Home Daycare Center on 184th Street in Fordham Heights, authorities said. He was charged with conspiracy, the possession and sale of controlled substances, weapons possession and money laundering.
A long-term wiretap investigation revealed that Valdez managed a small team that included the owners of two daycare centers and a livery cab driver that has smuggled cocaine and oxycodone from Puerto Rico into New York since 2009, according to Narcotics Prosecutor Bridget Brennan.
Juan Bernal, a livery cab driver who authorities said transported drugs from JFK Airport to the daycare center, and Ada Padilla, who owns Sweet Home, were also arrested Thursday.
Valdez’s arrest comes more than six months after investigators raided another Bronx daycare center that received his drug-filled care packages, prosecutors said.
In September, DEA agents raided Fun World Childcare on Rosedale Avenue in Park Versailles. Gregorio Hanley and Johanna Vasquez, the husband and wife who owned the center, were arrested on drug and child endangerment charges. Agents found 2 pounds of cocaine, 1,000 oxycodone pills and $15,250 in cash at the daycare center, according to the charges.
During the same raid, agents also found $158,000 in cash and a loaded 9mm handgun in Valdez’s stash house across the street.
Despite the 2013 arrests of his partners, Valdez continued to smuggle drugs into the country, prosecutors said.
"Juan Valdez watched from afar as his co-conspirators got arrested last summer, and continued his illegal distribution not knowing law enforcement was on his tail," said James Hunt of the DEA.
Prosecutors believe that the group smuggled between 5 and 10 kilograms of cocaine into New York City each month.
Bernal and Hanley were charged with conspiracy, the possession and sale of controlled substances, weapons possession and money laundering.
Padilla was charged with conspiracy and possession and sale of controlled substances. Vasquez was charged with criminal facilitation and endangering the welfare of a child.