Feds: Daycare centers provided cover for drug operation - FOX13 News, WHBQ FOX 13

Feds: Daycare centers provided cover for drug operation

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NEW YORK (MYFOXNY) -

Prosecutors say a sophisticated drug trafficking ring smuggled cocaine from Puerto Rico to New York City using daycare centers as cover.

Two Bronx daycare centers were searched as part of the investigation.

Juan Valdez was arrested at a Bronx home on Thursday. Federal authorities say he was the ring leader of the operation. He was charged with conspiracy, drug possession, weapons, money laundering and other crimes.

Prosecutors say the East 184th Street home houses a daycare center called Sweet Home.

Also arrested were Juan Bernal and Ada Padilla.

Detectives had previously searched the Bronx residence of Gregorio Hanley and his wife, Johanna Vasquez. Their home housed the Fun World Childcare center. Investigators say that Fun World Childcare served as a cover for the drug organization and drug sales even took place at that location.

NYPD Commissioner William Bratton said, "Day care centers are considered safe houses not stash houses."

Prosecutors say that a wiretap revealed that Valdez oversaw the day-to-day activities of the operation with assistance from Bernal and Hanley.

It is alleged that Valdez used couriers who flew from JFK to San Juan, carrying suitcases full of cash to pay for drugs. Bernal, a professional livery cab driver, is alleged to have coordinated shipments of cocaine, drove couriers to and from the airport, and transported drugs and drug money.

Prosecutors say packages of cocaine were sent via the U.S. Postal Service and the drugs were sometimes concealed in items designed for children. One package of cocaine was allegedly wrapped in SpongeBob SquarePants bedding.

Approximately 300 grams of cocaine was also found inside a child's insulated lunch bag hidden in a refrigerator.

"This organization reached an all-time low by using a day care center as a front to conceal their thriving drug dealing enterprise," said Special Agent James Hayes, Jr. "The arrests today serve to make New York City safer for everyone."

Since 2009, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service says it has seized packages containing more than 50 pounds of cocaine (worth $1.4M) linked to the operation.

Valdez, Bernal and Padilla were to be arraigned in Manhattan Supreme Court.

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