Heroin ring operating out of Northeast Philadelphia broken up by federal investigators

The 2010 Census revealed that Philadelphia had experienced significant changes in its ethnic and racial composition over the preceding two decades, with many neighborhoods undergoing sweeping transformations.

Over the two decades following 1990, the city’s white population fell by nearly a third. The black population shifted to new parts of the city, and the Asian population has more than doubled. Meanwhile, the rapidly growing Hispanic population expanded far beyond its traditional home in the city.

The demographic shifts were especially striking in Northeast Philadelphia, which went from 92 percent white in 1990 to 58 percent white in 2010. In 1990, the Northeast had only small contingents of blacks, Hispanics and Asians. In 2010, it had substantial numbers of all three groups.

Charges filed against Northeast Philadelphia heroin ring members

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania William M. McSwain announced last week that six men were arrested and charged with possession with intent to distribute heroin, as associates of what the Department of Justice calls the ‘Caceres drug trafficking organization’. The six defendants are Juan Caceres, 30, of Elkins Park, PA, Jose M. Suarez-Mendosa, 29, Jerson David Diaz, 31, Ezequiel Regalado-Rosario, 45, Ramcel Duarte-Rodriguez, 21, and Juan Francisco Regalado-Ferreras, 27, all of Philadelphia.

During the execution of simultaneous search warrants in June, Juan Caceres and three other defendants were arrested at a residence in Northeast Philadelphia and charged with possession with intent to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin. At the same time, two other defendants were arrested at a different residence in Northeast Philadelphia and charged with possession with intent to distribute 100 grams or more of heroin.

All six defendants made initial appearances in federal court last week. Caceres – the group's ring-leader – and three other defendants were detained by the court until trial. Two other defendants were scheduled to appear in court for pretrial detention hearings on Friday, June 26. A seventh defendant, Braulizabeth Reyes-Villanueva, 31, of Philadelphia, who was charged elsewhere with conspiracy to distribute one kilogram or more of heroin, was arrested separately and also made a court appearance last week.

A ‘satellite’ heroin trafficking ring in Atlantic City, NJ

In a related investigation, four other defendants were charged by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office in New Jersey and arrested by authorities in that state in June as part of a joint investigation conducted with the Liberty Mid-Atlantic High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area Task Force. Those defendants are Tennille Lee, 43, of Atlantic City, NJ, Ebony Chapman, 40, of Absecon, NJ, Andrew Prater, 38, of Atlantic City, NJ, and Theresa Lockhart, 28, of Millville, NJ.

According to the federal criminal complaint, the defendants from February until June 2020 operated a scheme to package, store and distribute large amounts of heroin in Philadelphia and Elkins Park in Pennsylvania, in Atlantic City in New Jersey, and other locations in that region. During the execution of the simultaneous search warrants, agents discovered a large-scale heroin packaging operation at one residence, which included tens of thousands of packets of heroin, grinders, scales and other paraphernalia, as well as a loaded Glock 42 firearm and a box of 50 rounds. Agents also discovered two children, approximately two months old and four years old, apparently living in the same residence.

The press release from the U.S. Attorney's office adds that during the investigation, agents observed Braulizabeth Reyes-Villanueva and Juan Caceres supplying Tennille Lee with packages of drugs on multiple occasions in an alleyway behind the second Northeast Philadelphia residence. Lee would transport the drugs in her vehicle from Philadelphia to a stash house in Atlantic City.

From there, Lee and the three other Atlantic County defendants were allegedly involved in a drug distribution conspiracy working for a different organization. Reyes-Villanueva is romantically linked with Caceres and is a major facilitator in his organization, according to the complaint. Multiple vehicles used by members of the group are said to be registered in her name.

Possible sentences

If convicted, the defendants arrested in the second Northeast Philadelphia residence face a maximum possible sentence of 40 years in prison, and the defendants arrested in the first residence, as well as Reyes-Villanueva, face a maximum possible sentence of lifetime imprisonment.