7 accused in $1.2M extortion scheme in Puerto Rico docks

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Federal authorities on Monday arrested seven people including a union leader and various dock workers accused in a $1.2 million extortion scheme targeting shipping companies .

US Attorney Stephen Muldrow said the scheme began in 2005 and affected domestic and foreign commerce, including shipping between Puerto Rico and the US and British Virgin Islands.

He said the suspects at three docks in the capital San Juan were accused of illegally extorting small shipping companies and threatened to stop loading and unloading goods if payments were not made. The payments demanded vary by weight and sometimes range from $10,000 to $20,000 a month, Muldrow said.

The suspects are facing charges including conspiracy to violate the RICO Act, extortion and money laundering.

“Breaking the law cannot be the way to do business in Puerto Rico,” said Joseph González, FBI special agent in charge of the San Juan office.

Local and federal authorities are part of the five-year investigation, with some wearing shirts at a press conference that read “Pier Pressure” in reference to the operation.