Nyron Erickson
Nyron Erickson was hit with 20 charges on Sept. 25 in the Tortola Magistrates’ Court connection with guns, drugs and money allegedly found at a Ballast Bay residence in 2021 while he was in His Majesty’s Prison awaiting extradition to the United States. (Photo: PROVIDED)

After United States prosecutors decided to drop their four-year-old money-laundering case against Virgin Islander Nyron Erickson last month, he was released from house arrest on St. Thomas last week and sent back to Tortola via ferry.

But his freedom was short-lived.

When he returned to the territory on Sept. 20, Mr. Erickson was arrested on arrival.

After four days in custody, he appeared virtually in Magistrates’ Court on Sept. 25 accused of taking part in a major drug- and gun-smuggling ring in 2021 while he was held at His Majesty’s Prison awaiting extradition to the US.

All told, Mr. Erickson was hit with 20 charges in connection with a record haul of contraband allegedly found at a Ballast Bay residence in December 2021, including 14 guns, nearly 470 kilograms of cocaine, about 12 kilograms of marijuana, more than $550,000 in proceeds of criminal conduct, and $42,300 in forged US currency.

Though Mr. Erickson was incarcerated at HMP throughout 2021, the crown is alleging that he had possession of all these items that year along with accomplices who were operating outside the prison.

Phone messages

The crown’s evidence against Mr. Erickson includes messages that he allegedly exchanged from HMP with one of those accomplices, according to Senior Crown Counsel Khadija Beddeau.

On several occasions in 2021, Mr. Erickson allegedly messaged Jose Almestica, who lived in the Ballast Bay residence where the contraband was seized following Mr. Almestica’s arrest in December 2021, the prosecutor told the court this week.

These messages were reportedly found in chats on multiple phones, including one seized from Mr. Almestica at the time of his December 2021 arrest and another seized from Mr. Erickson during a search at HMP in June 2021, she said.

The chats included voice notes and other messages between the men discussing large quantities of drugs, firearms and US currency being trafficked into the territory, according to the prosecutor.

They also included images that Mr. Almestica apparently sent to Mr. Erickson at his request to prove the quality of the trafficked items, she said.

5,000 kilos

The items depicted in the messages, she added, included contraband seized from the Ballast Bay residence following Mr. Almestica’s arrest on Dec. 7, 2021. The phone conversations allegedly discussed shipments totalling about 5,000 kilograms of cocaine worth some $500 million, according to the prosecutor.

They also included images and video of duffel bags containing US dollars which police suspected to be as worth as much as $3.5 million, she said.

Mr. Almestica — who escaped from HMP after Hurricane Irma in 2017 and remained at large until his 2021 arrest — is also facing a slew of gun and drug charges allegedly linked to the 2021 seizures.

In August 2022, he was also charged with murdering Deverson Williams, who was shot to death in broad daylight on a public road in Fish Bay in March 2021, police said at the time. He is currently on remand.

Bail arguments

On Sept. 25 in Magistrates’ Court, Ms. Beddeau opposed bail for Mr. Erickson, alleging that he is a flight risk and that he may obstruct the course of justice or commit another offence.

However, following a warning from Senior Magistrate Tamia Richards, Ms. Beddeau provided few other details, saying she would seek instruction from her office about whether attendees should be removed from the courtroom before she elaborated further on her reasons for opposing bail.

Defence attorney Valerie Stephens-Gordon then made a lengthy bail application on Mr. Erickson’s behalf.

Mr. Erickson, who has no previous convictions, is a certified marine mechanic who previously lived in West End with his family, she said.

Stressing repeatedly that he was incarcerated at the time of the alleged offences, Ms. Stephens-Gordon argued that the crown had presented no evidence that he had control of the illegal items seized in Ballast Bay. She also argued that Mr. Erickson isn’t a flight risk.

Given that he was in prison when he allegedly committed the offences, she added, “It makes no sense” to send him back now.

Media shut out

The attorney also listed other defendants in the territory who are on bail for drug and gun offences.

After Ms. Stephens-Gordon’s bail application, Ms. Beddeau requested that the media be asked to leave while she elaborated on her opposition to a bail offer.

Ms. Richards agreed, though she suggested that the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions could later provide the media with a summary of the proceedings.

The media were then shut out of the virtual hearing.

The Beacon has received no update from the ODPP, which didn’t respond to an email.

Ms. Stephens-Gordon said on Sept. 27 that her office may follow up on questions about the bail proceeding after receiving instructions from her client.

US charges

The VI charges follow a four-year legal ordeal for Mr. Erickson that began when he was charged in the US.

In August 2019, he was indicted by a federal grand jury sitting in St. Thomas.

The indictment accused Mr. Erickson and two men who had been arrested in St. Thomas in 2018 — Akil Erickson of Orlando and Mikiel Robin of this territory — of international money laundering conspiracy and bulk cash smuggling.

Proceedings against Akil Erickson and Mr. Robin continued until June 2020, when USVI judge Robert Molloy dismissed the charges with prejudice after finding that federal prosecutors had used “intentional and calculated” steps to improperly delay the prosecution.

VI arrest warrant

In the meantime, the US government had issued an arrest warrant for Nyron Erickson on Jan. 17, 2020, and the Royal VI Police Force had followed suit the next month.

Though the RVIPF circulated Mr. Erickson’s photo and appealed for public assistance in locating him, he was not taken into custody until surrendering to the RVIPF on Aug. 30, 2020.

After that, he spent more than two years fighting extradition, but his efforts ultimately dead-ended in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the territory’s highest court of appeal.

He was extradited to the US on Feb. 27 of this year after being held at HMP since turning himself in to police on Tortola in August 2020.

US court case

As court proceedings got under way in the USVI, US prosecutors originally accused Mr. Erickson of conspiring with other men to use the Tortola-St. Thomas ferry to move $130,000 of suspected drug proceeds from this territory to the USVI in 2018.

“Erickson is believed to be a member of a drug-trafficking organisation based in Tortola,” Assistant US Attorney Everard Potter stated in a trial brief filed on Aug. 11.

Mr. Erickson — who has denied the charges and maintained his innocence — was scheduled to start trial in the USVI on Aug. 22.

But after his lawyer moved to exclude certain evidence, prosecutors abruptly reversed course on Aug. 17 and asked the court for leave to dismiss the indictment.

Since then, the US prosecutors and Mr. Erickson’s USVI attorney have been debating whether the charges should be dismissed with prejudice, which would prevent the US from filing them again in the future, or without prejudice.

Return to VI

As the legal wrangling continued, Mr. Erickson asked the court on Aug. 29 to release him from 24-hour house arrest and electronic monitoring on St. Thomas until his US case is finalised.

On Sept. 20, the judge agreed, lifting Mr. Erickson’s bail conditions but requiring him to return to this territory by 5 p.m. on Sept. 22 and to reside here while the US matter is pending.

“The [US] government does not presently have sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction against Erickson,” the judge wrote in the order.

“Thus, there is no dispute that dismissal is appropriate at this juncture. The only question remaining is whether the dismissal will be with or without prejudice. Given the present status of the case, the court sees no reason to continue imposing Erickson’s bail and pretrial release conditions.”