The owner of a neighborhood bar and grocery where seven people were shot to death was arrested and charged with drug trafficking Tuesday, authorities said.
The shootout during a party at the crowded bar apparently was
caused by a dispute over drugs between the owner, Wilfredo Semprit
Santana, and another person, Police Lt. Rafael Rosa said.
"This person had alleged that he was going to even the score,
and he did," Rosa said.
Semprit, who was among 20 people wounded by gunfire in the Oct.
17 attack, was indicted on a federal charge of conspiracy to
possess with intent to distribute substances containing heroin,
cocaine, crack cocaine and marijuana, U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia
Police say at least two men barged into Semprit's La Tombola bar
in Toa Baja, just west of San Juan, and opened fire on a crowd
celebrating the bar's reopening.
Seven people were killed, and those injured included a 9-year
girl and a pregnant woman who lost her 8-month-old fetus. Four
people remain hospitalized, Toa Baja Mayor Anibal Vega Borges said.
Police said at least five different types of bullets were found
at the scene - including those from a Kalashnikov - indicating some
people at the bar exchanged fire with the attackers.
Prosecutors plan to file a murder charge for the death of the
fetus as well as for the seven adults.
Police are looking for a man they believe is one of the gunmen,
although he has not been charged, Rosa said. Puerto Rico's justice
secretary recently excused himself from the investigation, saying
he had represented the man in an unrelated case when he worked as a
Semprit was released from jail six months ago on probation after
serving several years on charges of attempted murder, robbery and
kidnapping stemming from a 1990s case tied to drug trafficking,
said Rosa, who is investigating the shootings.
Defense attorney Joannie Plaza Martinez said Semprit will appear
in court Nov. 9. She declined further comment.
If found guilty, Semprit could face between five to 40 years in
prison and up to $2 million in fines.
Initial efforts to investigate the shooting were hindered
because witnesses feared to describe the killers, authorities said.
Police had strengthened security at a hospital where the wounded
were recovering after the shootings, following anonymous threats
that more people would be killed. Semprit, apparently the target of
the attack, was one of the first released from the hospital, Rosa
Rodriguez said the arrest, the first in the case, should help
alleviate fears of more shootings.
"We will continue working ... to prevent further senseless acts
of violence which have become all too common in Puerto Rico," she
More than 700 people have been killed this year in the U.S.
Caribbean territory, and the police chief estimates that 70 percent
of killings are tied to drug trafficking.
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is helping with the
investigation, said Special Agent in Charge Javier Pena.