18 people charged in drug operation

Ex-Watertown police officer among accused

By Megan McKee
Globe Correspondent / May 25, 2011

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Federal law enforcement authorities unsealed an indictment yesterday that charges 18 people, including a former Watertown police officer, with drug, extortion, and money laundering offenses related to an extensive and organized drug operation, the US attorney’s office announced.

The indictment released by US Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz contains a dizzying array of allegations that includes the seizure of more than $3.3 million, seven gold bars worth $364,000, 80 pounds of marijuana, four weapons, and several vehicles over the course of the nine-month investigation.

Federal authorities said that the illegal operation was aided by Roberto Velasquez-Johnson, a former Watertown police officer who is accused of tipping off alleged drug distributor Safwan “Sammy’’ Madarati, 36, of Watertown that an investigation was underway.

The indictment alleges that Madarati “used his personal connections with 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, who lives in Arlington, is also accused of giving out the home addresses of two police officers so Madarati could intimidate them, according to the indictment.

Watertown Police Chief Ed Deveau said the department has no information that other police officers were involved and said there is no internal investigation underway.

“We don’t want this to be a reflection on the hard work of the Watertown Police Department,’’ Deveau said in a telephone interview yesterday after the indictment was made public. “We have cooperated in every capacity with the federal authorities.’’

Velasquez-Johnston, who also used the name George Diamond, was fired in November 2010 for unrelated misconduct issues, the Police Department said. Velasquez-Johnson had a history of complaints during his 13-year career in Watertown, Deveau said.

“We have high standards, and that’s why he was terminated,’’ Deveau said. “Unfortunately this is a sad day for us, because we always strive to do what we can for Watertown’s integrity.’’

Velasquez-Johnson is charged with conspiracy and lying to investigators about his contact with Madarati. If convicted, he faces five years on each charge.

According to the indictment, Madarati’s distribution, money laundering, and extortion activities involved numerous people and spanned the country: New York, Nevada, California, Florida, and into Canada.

Locally, activities took place in Newton, Burlington, Bedford, Waltham, and Watertown, where Madarati kept an apartment to manufacture and distribute marijuana and ecstasy, according to the indictment.

Federal agents focused on Madarati after they started an investigation into a smuggling operation that was using “warehouses in Massachusetts and elsewhere to offload and distribute large quantities of highly pure, hydroponic marijuana,’’ according to Ortiz’s office.

The indictment was partially unsealed yesterday; six names were redacted.

Ten people have been charged with conspiracy to distribute 1,000 kilograms or more of marijuana, cocaine, and oxycodone: Madarati; Vartan A. Soukiasianm, 35, of Watertown; Hagop N. Sarkissian, 46, of Weston; Antranic Idanjian, 45, of Waltham; Robert Johnsonm, 21, of Stoneham; Sanusie Mo Kabba, 26, of Stoughton; Jeffrey Spinks, 53, of Boylston; Karapet Dzhanikyan, 31, of Watertown; Victor Loukas, 43, of Watertown; and Manuel Khandjian, 36, of Los Angeles.

Madarati, Sarkissian, Mo Kabba, and Ronald Martinez have been charged with extorting money from a Newton jewelry store and a Watertown resident to collect drug debts. Madarati is charged with money laundering.

The indictment lists all of the property seized during the case, including $2.8 million in Lexington and Newton in October 2010; $364,000 worth of gold bars in Cambridge on April 20, 2011; and eight vehicles.

Deveau said that while the allegations against Velasquez-Johnson are not welcome publicity for his department, the arrests are good news for the public.

“We’re extremely happy that this group has been broken up,’’ said Deveau.

Megan McKee can be reached at