A Massachusetts man was sentenced to seven years in federal prison Monday for a heroin trafficking operation in the Myrtle Beach area.
Julio Santiago, 23, of Holyoke, Mass., was sentenced in a Florence federal courtroom for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute and for distributing heroin and fentanyl, according to a release from United States Attorney Beth Drake.
Drug agents seized more than 100 grams of heroin from Santiago’s Myrtle Beach apartment after purchasing more than 50 grams from him on May 20, according to court documents. But an undercover operation revealed more drugs were at play.
Evidence presented at Santiago’s change of plea and sentencing hearings established that in early 2016, members of the Drug Enforcement Administration in Florence, the FBI and the 15th Circuit Drug Enforcement Unit were investigating a heroin distribution organization in the area.
As part of that investigation, agents purchased 31 grams of heroin from Santiago on March 4, 2016, DEA agent Eric Elliott noted in an affidavit filed in the case.
Agents were introduced to Santiago after beginning an investigation into a Myrtle Beach heroin distributor identified as Roberto Velez-Garcia, who went by the name of Rico, in December 2015.
Velez-Garcia had been arrested and convicted on multiple felony counts for controlled substances in the area prior to that December, the agent noted in the affidavit. Agents conducted a controlled buy of 3.5 grams of fentanyl from Velez-Garcia on Dec. 22, according to court records.
On April 7, 2016, agents observed Velez-Garcia drive his 2009 Chevrolet Traverse to his Fifth Avenue North apartment home in Myrtle Beach. Staking out the home, agents spotted a “cooperating defendant,” not named in the affidavit, arrive at the apartment, according to Elliott.
Officers conducted a traffic stop on the defendant’s vehicle as it left the property and learned from the informant that Velez-Garcia had what appeared to be 50 ounces of heroin a few weeks prior, court records state.
Velez-Garcia kept his drugs in an upstairs room at his apartment, they told police.
Undercover agents called Velez-Garcia and arranged a purchase of one ounce of heroin and a second ounce to be “fronted” or provided on credit; Velez-Garcia agreed on May 19, according to the affidavit. The next day, agents purchased about 56 grams of heroin from Santiago, brokered through Velez-Garcia, the affidavit stated.
Officers recovered the official funds agents used to make the purchase and seven more grams of heroin from Santiago in a traffic stop that followed the buy, Elliott noted in his affidavit.
Agents searched Santiago’s Leadoff Drive apartment later that day. The apartment was identified as belonging to Velez-Garcia and as the “newly-utilized residence of Santiago after his release from jail,” according to the affidavit. In a search of the home, agents seized 33 grams of heroin and a 9-mm handgun from a bedroom closet and 72 grams of heroin and a .22-caliber handgun from what was believed to be Santiago’s bedroom, court documents state.
Santiago and Velez-Garcia were arrested May 20 and agents accused the two of conspiring together to distribute the drugs.
The two were charged with distributing heroin and fentanyl, using a gun to further the trafficking of those drugs and the conspiracy charge.
Velez-Garcia initially pleaded not guilty to the counts, but changed his plea to guilty for the conspiracy charge on Wednesday morning in a Florence federal courtroom. All other counts against Velez-Garcia were dropped in the plea deal. He will be sentenced at a later date.
In addition to his prison sentence, Santiago was ordered to serve three years of supervised release.
Assistant United States Attorney Christopher D. Taylor of the Florence office prosecuted the case.