Citing the prevalence of drug-related busts in the territory in recent months, Senior Magistrate Tamia Richards denied Paul Hodge bail during a Monday court hearing following his arrest on Saturday, when police said they found 535.3 kilograms of cocaine valued at $53.53 million in a vehicle he owns.
During a virtual hearing broadcast on Zoom, Ms. Richards read aloud the two complaints filed against Mr. Hodge: possession of a controlled drug and possession of a controlled drug with intent to sell.
She explained that the second offence is “more serious” than the first and could lead to a maximum prison sentence of ten years.
Mr. Hodge, who was represented by attorney Stephen Daniels, pleaded not guilty to both charges.
‘Please don’t be mad’
According to a police statement read aloud by Crown Counsel Kael London, police located Mr. Hodge on Saturday and presented him with a search warrant for his vehicle and home.
Mr. London told the court that Mr. Hodge “pointed toward a bus” and told his father, who was present, “Sorry, I let you down. Please don’t be mad.”
When police approached the bus, they asked Mr. Hodge if anything illegal was inside it, Mr. London claimed.
According to him, Mr. Hodge “took a deep breath” but didn’t reply.
When police searched the vehicle, they found 18 black duffle bags containing bricks of cocaine, which were weighed in front of the defendant, the prosecutor said.
Mr. Daniels requested bail, describing the alleged offences as “bail-able” and noting that Mr. Hodge does not have any previous convictions.
The attorney also argued that the court should consider the strength of the evidence provided by the Crown, and added, “Mere ownership of the bus is not sufficient.”
Mr. London, however, asked the magistrate to deny bail, alleging that the police had heard “unsolicited” statements coming from the defendant even before they entered the vehicle.
“There was no suggestion that he didn’t know of the items in the bus or that it came as a surprise,” Mr. London said. “The prosecution’s evidence is very strong in this case.”
He also noted the prevalence of drug busts in the territory in recent months.
“We are objecting because of the quantity and the various related incidents within the territory,” he said. “This is becoming significantly prevalent and of course suggestive of an underworld as it pertains to the transportation of cocaine in this territory.”
After a few minutes of deliberation, Ms. Richards delivered her decision.
“Considering the large amount of drugs being found in a taxi bus, … I felt that bail was [inappropriate] because of the circumstances and the presence of $53 million of drugs,” she said.
The matter is set for report on April 29.
In November, police said they had recovered a record-breaking 2.3 tonnes of cocaine from a police officer’s property during a raid in Balsam Ghut.
Officer Darren Davis and his brother Liston Davis were arrested and charged in the matter. In December, Emile Jiminez became the second police officer charged in relation to the same bust, police said.
With an estimated value of $250 million, the cocaine was shipped out of the territory in January to be incinerated elsewhere, according to police, who declined to provide the location.
The same month, government employee Devon Bedford was denied bail in connection with a January seizure of more than 259 kilograms of cocaine officials valued at $25 million.
The territory is currently under a commission of inquiry investigation. When announcing the inquiry in January, then-Governor Gus Jaspert noted growing concerns about potential corruption and drug trafficking within the territory