On Sunday of last week, the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force got word of a speed boat being pursued by agents of the United States Coast Guard, a prosecutor said last Thursday in Magistrates’ Court.
In response, officers with the RVIPF and Her Majesty’s Customs were deployed to the North Sound area of Virgin Gorda, simultaneously receiving reports of passengers aboard the speeding boat throwing packages of suspected narcotics into the sea, alleged Crown Counsel O’Neil Simpson.
USCG agents were bearing down on the boat as it approached North Sound, at which point the assembled VI authorities closed off any possible exit routes, according to the prosecutor.
The task force countered several evasive manoeuvres, eventually forcing the boat to run ashore, Mr. Simpson recounted.
“The [evasion] tactics proved futile,” he said.
After beaching the boat, three men jumped out and began to run away but were apprehended by officers waiting onshore, the prosecutor alleged, adding that a fourth man also seen fleeing the vessel was caught shortly after.
The four detainees — Virgin Islanders Cryton Brown and Nickel Simon, aged 40 and 25, respectively, and Venezuelans Wilfredo Lopez Vargas and Hober Morillo Ybarbia, 47 and 40 — were brought back to the boat by police and searched, Mr. Simpson said.
The following day, they were held in police custody while the parcels were recovered, weighed and found to contain 309 kilograms of suspected cocaine packed into 276 blocks, according to the allegations Mr. Simpson read.
The haul has a street value of about $30 million, he said.
“If it pleases the court, these are the allegations submitted at this point,” Mr. Simpson concluded.
In court the four men were charged with importation of a controlled drug, and the two Venezuelans were additionally charged with illegal entry, Magistrate Ayanna Baptiste DaBreo said in court.
She set bail at $500,000 for the accused Virgin Islanders, with $100,000 to be paid in cash and the rest in signed sureties.
Ms. Baptiste DaBreo did not offer bail to the Venezuelans, as they have no legal status in the territory, she said.
Mr. Simon, who is represented by attorney Patrick Thompson, pleaded not guilty to the charges, and attorney Leroy Jones, who represented Messrs. Brown, Vargas and Ybarbia, said Mr. Brown did not wish to enter a plea at that time.
Search and questioning
After the men were detained last week, police took Mr. Simon, a Lambert Estate resident, and Mr. Brown, who for 17 years has worked as an accountant for the VI government, to the Road Town Police Station, Mr. Simpson said in court.
There, police read the accused their prisoner’s rights, issued official arrest documents, and conducted further questioning, according to Mr. Simpson.
During this questioning, police informed Mr. Brown that while executing a search warrant of his residences in Virgin Gorda and Cane Garden Bay, they observed at his temporary home in Cane Garden “paraphernalia” including a vacuum sealer and a money counter, Mr. Simpson alleged.
“These findings were brought to the attention of the accused,” he said, adding, “He made no subsequent reply.”
Police did not find anything illegal in Mr. Simon’s home, Mr. Simpson said.
Meanwhile, in the presence of a translator, interviews were conducted with Messrs. Vargas and Ybarbia, according to the allegations.
Following their questioning of the accused Virgin Islanders, police weighed blocks of suspected cocaine and determined their worth, Mr. Simpson said.
As conditions of Messrs. Brown and Simon’s bail, the defendants must report to the Road Town Police Station Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., in addition to surrendering travel documents, Ms. Baptiste DaBreo ruled in court.
She remanded the two Venezuelans to Her Majesty’s Prison.
The four are set to return to court on Nov. 26