A former Watertown police officer pleaded guilty last week in federal court to tipping off a suspected drug dealer to a federal investigation and providing him sensitive information, including the home addresses of two fellow officers.
Roberto Velasquez-Johnson, 45, could face up to five years in prison for one count of conspiring to obstruct a federal investigation and one count of making a false statement, prosecutors said.
He was among 20 people caught up in a federal probe in 2011 of an organized drug operation that spanned from Canada to California with a hub in Watertown.
Relying on extensive wiretaps, federal investigators alleged that Safwan “Sammy” Madarati, a Watertown resident and the operation’s ringleader, conspired, along with his associates, to distribute 1,000 kilograms of marijuana, cocaine, and oxycodone.
Investigators seized more than $3.3 million, seven gold bars worth $364,000, 80 pounds of marijuana, four weapons, and several vehicles during the investigation.
Madarati is scheduled to appear in federal court in the case next week, said Christina DiIorio-Sterling, a spokeswoman for US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz.
All but three of the defendants have pleaded guilty. Two are currently on trial, and another is scheduled to go on trial in October, DiIorio-Sterling said. Five of the people identified in the case are still fugitives, she said.
According to court documents and investigators, Madarati befriended members of the Watertown Police Department, including Velasquez-Johnson, “to obtain information about law enforcement activity in order to impede and obstruct investigations into his drug trafficking activities in Watertown.”
Velasquez-Johnson was a 13-year employee with the Watertown Police Department until he was fired in November 2010 for unrelated misconduct issues.
While he was on the police force in June 2010, Velasquez-Johnson warned Madarati that agents from the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement were part of the investigation. In another phone call, three months later, Velasquez-
Johnson told Madarati that someone was talking. He called them “rats” and said they were making Madarati sound like he was “the biggest mule in Massachusetts,” according to court documents.
On April 20, 2011, Velasquez-Johnson gave Madarati the home addresses of a Watertown and a Waltham police officer so that he could intimidate them and “protect his drug distribution activities.”
Madarati had received incorrect information that the two officers had assaulted his drug associates, DiIorio-
When federal agents asked Velasquez-Johnson the next day when he had last spoken to Madarati, he told them he had not spoken to Madarati “for about a week,” leading to the charge against him of making a false statement.
Velasquez-Johnson was not implicated in any of the other aspects of the alleged drug-
distribution ring and only spoke with Madarati as a friend, said his lawyer, Melinda Thompson.
The bulk of the conversations between Velasquez-
Johnson and Madarati that were caught on the wiretaps concerned their families, going to the gym, and the mundane details of life, Thompson said.
Still she said, “he has taken responsibility for those actions and regrets those actions.”
Since he was charged, Velasquez-Johnson has not been in contact with anybody on the Watertown Police Department, Thompson said.
Ed Deveau, chief of the department, did not return phone calls. But when Velasquez-Johnson was first charged, Deveau said the department had no indication that other officers were involved with Madarati.
Velasquez-Johnson is one of two former Watertown police officers implicated in federal drug charges in the past two years.
Last March, federal authorities accused retired police officer Joseph Deignan of stealing an ID while he was with the department and using it to get oxycodone and other prescription drugs. Deignan, of Framingham, has been charged with unlawful possession of a controlled substance by fraud and fraud in connection with identification documents.