During a cross-examination on Thursday afternoon, defence attorney Theresa Van Vliet made a request of Drug Enforcement Administration special agent Brian Witek.
“Let’s go back in time,” said Ms. Van Vliet, who is representing former Virgin Islands premier Andrew Fahie in his ongoing drug-trafficking trial in Miami.
The attorney was referring to the early stages of an undercover sting operation that led to the prosecution of Mr. Fahie and his alleged co-conspirators, former BVI Ports Authority managing director Oleanvine Maynard and her son, Kadeem Maynard.
The testimony that followed revealed for the first time the United Kingdom’s behind-the-scenes involvement in the sting operation, part of which took place in the VI.
Though then-Governor John Rankin has insisted repeatedly that he was “as surprised as anyone else” when Mr. Fahie was arrested on April 28, 2022 in Miami, the DEA agent’s testimony showed that the UK government was aware of the sting operation at least seven months before the arrest — even though it was kept secret from law enforcers in the VI because of alleged corruption concerns.
The Thursday testimony also offered new hints at the strategy being employed by Mr. Fahie’s defence team, which has previously suggested that the former premier believed he was being “framed” by the UK government.
Ms. Van Vliet, for instance, used her cross-examination to probe the UK’s involvement in the case and to illustrate that no money or drugs changed hands as part of an alleged agreement that would see Mr. Fahie receive $500,000 in cash in exchange for allowing a 3,000-kilogram load of cocaine to be trafficked through VI waters.
She also questioned the reliability of a DEA confidential source who met with Mr. Fahie and the Maynards in the VI and the US.
UK National Crime Agency
Mr. Witek, the second witness for the prosecution, was presented on Thursday, the fourth day of the ongoing trial.
In response to questions from Mr. Fahie’s attorney, he explained that the DEA first discussed the case in August 2021 — about eight months before Mr. Fahie’s arrest.
Shortly thereafter, he said, discussions took place with representatives of the UK’s National Crime Agency, which tackles serious and organised crime.
“You, in fact, travelled to London, England, in the UK, in late September 2021 for meetings with these UK law enforcement officers: Is that correct?” Ms. Van Vliet asked.
“Yes,” Mr. Witek answered.
After the London trip, Mr. Witek and his partner Shad Aschleman, the co-lead investigators in the case, spoke with NCA representatives by phone in November 2021, he acknowledged.
And in February 2022, NCA representatives attended a DEA debriefing session involving a confidential source operating under the name Roberto Quintero, who would become a key figure in the case.
‘Corruption on the island’
Ms. Van Vliet also addressed allegations that Mr. Quintero, who is not expected to testify during the trial, attended a meeting with Mr. Fahie and the Maynards in the VI on April 7, 2022.
“How about the meetings — I’m talking about physical meetings, not telephone calls, so we’re clear — that happened with the [confidential source, Mr. Quintero,] and any of the defendants on the British Virgin Islands side of things. Was there a US law enforcement presence surveilling those meetings?” the attorney asked Mr. Witek.
“No, there was not, because corruption on the island is pretty big,” the DEA agent responded. “And if we were to advise local law enforcement what was happening, the safety and security of the informant as well as US law enforcement would probably have been in danger.”
In contrast, a DEA surveillance team was present at a March 20, 2022, meeting between the Maynards and Mr. Quintero in St. Thomas, Mr. Witek said.
Ms. Van Vliet asked if the DEA had reached out to the UK’s NCA for assistance in surveillance in Tortola.
“Surely, you trusted them,” she said to Mr. Witek.
“We worked closely with NCA in different investigations, and they assisted us in this case, but we did not travel to the BVI,” he said.
“That wasn’t what I asked you,” the lawyer replied. “I asked you whether you asked if they could surveil and assist you.”
“I don’t recall if we did,” Mr. Witek responded.
Ms. Van Vliet then asked if Mr. Quintero was “patted down” before and after the meeting with the Maynards and Mr. Fahie on April 7, 2022, in Tortola.
Mr. Witek said he wasn’t sure if the pat-downs had occurred, but he acknowledged that the procedure is a standard law enforcement practice.
He added that he had used Mr. Quintero as a source in several international cases in the past.
When the cross-examination of the DEA agent resumed after lunch, the lawyer questioned Mr. Witek about an affidavit presented to a judge in support of arrest warrants for Mr. Fahie and the Maynards.
In response to the questions, Mr. Witek eventually acknowledged that the affidavit didn’t discuss “the reliability” of Mr. Quintero, the confidential source.
Ms. Van Vliet then began to question Mr. Witek about that reliability, suggesting that he had become aware in 2018 that “a foreign judge” had “found the CS to lack credibility.”
A heated exchange followed.
“This was a case that the confidential source was involved in in Mexico, and had mentioned it to us,” Mr. Witek said. “We weren’t part of that, and it had nothing to do with the United States.”
He added a moment later that the DEA was unaware of the details of the incident because it had occurred in Mexico.
With her voice rising, Ms. Van Vliet pressed further.
“I’m not asking if you knew the details,” she said. “Did you know the general proposition that a foreign judge had found your CS to lack credibility?”
“I don’t recall. It was a long time ago,” Mr. Witek replied.
“Wouldn’t that be something that might stick in an agent’s mind: that a confidential source has been found by a judge to lack credibility? That’s not something that would stick out and you’d remember?” the lawyer asked.
The DEA agent said that he’d “never had any issues” with Mr. Quintero’s reliability.
After a few more moments of questioning, in which the agent occasionally gave extended answers to yes or no questions, Judge Kathleen Williams interjected.
“No, no, no, no,” she said.
She then sent the jury out of the room and admonished the witness.
“This is not coming as a galloping shock to you that you were going to be asked these questions,” she told Mr. Witek. “But you must answer the questions: not what you’d like to talk about, not what you think the question might be, but the actual question.”
The judge brought the jury back and testimony resumed.
Ms. Van Vliet then asked Mr. Witek about statements he made in a May 2022 affidavit submitted to a magistrate as part of the case against Mr. Fahie.
The lawyer asked if the agent had denied knowing that questions had been raised about information provided by Mr. Quintero.
Mr. Witek replied, “During that time period, I was thinking about my own experiences in working cases with the CS, and that’s why I said no at the time.”
Upon redirect examination by prosecutor Kevin Gerard, Mr. Witek testified that he became aware of the finding made by the Mexican judge about Mr. Quintero in “approximately 2018.”
The DEA agent added that although the finding came in 2018, the prior case that gave rise to it “happened many years ago.”
“Actually, [in] a later court ruling, we learned he was found to be exonerated,” Mr. Witek said.
In response to further questioning, he added that the UK’s NCA played “more of a partnership role” in the criminal case against Mr. Fahie, and that the DEA led the investigation and made the investigative decisions in the case.
Before Ms. Van Vliet’s cross-examination, prosecutors used Mr. Witek’s direct testimony to explain and introduce electronic evidence.
It included transcripts of several recorded phone calls and meetings that took place between March 22, 2022 and April 27, 2022 involving the Maynards, Mr. Fahie and Mr. Quintero.
Mr. Witek also revealed that when the defendants were arrested, DEA agents took a Samsung Note 10 cell phone and a Microsoft Surface Pro laptop from Mr. Fahie; three cell phones from Ms. Maynard, including one with a floral case bearing the image of the VI flag; and three phones from Mr. Maynard.
The data from those devices was “extracted” in a forensic analysis process and preserved for the case record, Mr. Witek said.
Following the special agent’s testimony on Thursday, jurors heard from William Cortes, a digital forensic analyst with US Customs and Border Protection who had performed the digital extractions on the electronics in the case.
Earlier in the day, jurors also heard the culmination of testimony from Jossue Dominguez, the detective who had acted the part of a “godson” to Mr. Quintero’s more senior cartel trafficker in the sting operation.
Mr. Dominguez had previously testified about attending a secretly recorded meeting with Mr. Fahie and others on the evening of April 27, 2022 at the Embassy Suites hotel in Miami.
During the meeting, he told the jury, the parties discussed the proposal to traffic cocaine through the VI and the $500,000 that Mr. Fahie allegedly was to receive in compensation for facilitating the drugs’ passage.
The same day, Mr. Fahie was offered a flight aboard a private jet to Philadelphia arranged by Messrs. Quintero and Dominguez, the detective said.
The next morning, the two men picked up Mr. Fahie and his 18-year-old daughter and drove them to the Miami-Opa Locka Executive Airport, Mr. Dominguez testified.
In the airport lobby, the group met the “pilot” of the plane, who was in fact an undercover law enforcement officer, the detective explained.
At that point, Mr. Quintero addressed the purported pilot, according to a recording played for the jury.
“Do you have the other one just to show it to him?” Mr. Quintero asked on the recording.
Mr. Dominguez told the jury that this exchange referred to a second plane on the tarmac, which was carrying the $700,000 in fake cash that Mr. Fahie had been told would be flown back to Tortola.
On the plane
Mr. Fahie agreed to go to the plane while his daughter stayed behind in the lobby, according to Mr. Dominguez.
On the plane, Messrs. Quintero and Dominguez showed Mr. Fahie orange cardboard boxes bearing the logo of luxury goods maker Louis Vuitton — actions captured in a video showed to the jury.
As seen in photos also shown to the jury, the boxes appeared to contain neatly pressed stacks of hundred-dollar bills, wrapped in cellophane and bound with multi-coloured rubber bands.
Video of the meeting on the plane shows Mr. Fahie sitting down and examining a box of the fake cash in his lap.
After a few minutes on the plane, Mr. Fahie exited and was detained by DEA agents, Mr. Dominguez said.
The detective and Mr. Quintero then entered the “second phase” of the investigation, picking up Ms. Maynard and another woman at the Embassy Suites, according to the detective.
The women were also shown the cash aboard the plane on the tarmac, and both were taken into custody. The other woman was later released without charges.
Upon cross-examination from Ms. Van Vliet, Mr. Dominguez said he first became involved in the case “a couple of days before” the April 27 meetings.
However, his participation in the investigation was largely limited to the undercover role, he said. He acknowledged that he hadn’t reviewed any of the recordings involving Mr. Fahie, Mr. Quintero and the Maynards prior to his involvement.
Ms. Van Vliet also questioned the detective about a “side deal” that he said he had discussed with the Maynards in Mr. Fahie’s absence.
The proposal involved the Maynards working with the cartel to bring 60-kilogram batches of cocaine into the VI for sale at the price of around $11,000 per kilogram, Mr. Dominguez said.
The defence attorney distinguished the “side deal” arranged in Mr. Fahie’s absence from the “test” run that he allegedly knew about, which sought to allow 3,000 kilos of cocaine to pass through the VI in exchange for cash.
Ms. Van Vliet used the cross-examination to illustrate that no money or drugs changed hands under either proposal.
“The side deal and the test deal: none of that was real,” she said. “There was never ever going to be any 60 kilograms into the Virgin Islands from [Mr. Quintero] and going to Kadeem to sell, correct?”
“Yes: [not] that I was made of. Correct,” the detective responded.
Ms. Van Vliet pressed further.
“The point being, this undercover scenario — both phases: the one dealing with the Maynards exclusively and the one in which Mr. Fahie is charged — are all pure fiction in terms of no cocaine is going anywhere. No real cocaine. Correct?” the lawyer asked.
“Correct,” the detective responded.
Ms. Van Vliet added that the cash wasn’t sent to the VI either.
The detective confirmed this to be true.
Ms. Van Vliet also asked for more details about a lunchtime meeting which Ms. Maynard and Messrs. Quintero and Dominguez held in Mr. Fahie’s absence on April 27, 2022 at the Embassy Suites hotel.
During the questioning, Mr. Dominguez acknowledged that Ms. Maynard said she did not want Mr. Fahie to know about the $200,000 she was to receive in exchange for providing services meant to facilitate the proposed drug trafficking.
“There’s just a whole lot of back and forth on that, correct?” Ms. Van Vliet asked.
“They spoke about it,” the detective replied.
The attorney also asked Mr. Dominguez about his knowledge of the relationship between the UK and the VI, inquiring if he was aware that the UK is in charge of the territory’s security and foreign relations.
“I’m aware the United Kingdom oversees the BVI. The exact specifics of what they do, no,” the detective testified.
She also asked if he was aware that Wade Smith was the VI customs commissioner, to which the detective replied yes. The attorney did not ask further questions about Mr. Smith.
Ms. Van Vliet also asked Mr. Dominguez to confirm that Mr. Fahie asked “a number of other questions” during the evening meeting on April 27, 2022, at the Embassy Suites.
“Yes, he asked questions,” the detective replied.
The attorney noted that Mr. Fahie had asked about how the money for future 3,000-kilogram loads of cocaine would enter the VI; how Messrs. Quintero and Dominguez transported cash into countries; and how “go-fast boats” are used to transport drugs.
“He was also just asking how you guys do this generally, was he not?” the attorney asked.
“He was curious,” the detective replied.
The attorney then asked Mr. Dominguez about his “understanding of what a go-fast boat is.”
The detective replied, “It’s a boat that goes fast in the water, smuggles drugs.”
Ms. Van Vliet then noted that Mr. Fahie also asked Messrs. Quintero and Dominguez about where in the VI traffickers would dock their boats; about how cryptocurrency could be used in the operation; about how the $700,000 would be packaged and placed on the plane; and if the cash would be placed in a secret compartment.
Free to leave
During redirect examination, prosecutor Brian Laughlin asked Mr. Dominguez if Mr. Fahie was “free to leave” at any point during the April 27 meeting. The detective replied in the affirmative.
The prosecutor then asked, “Whose idea was it was it to pick him and his daughter up the next morning?”
“The defendant’s,” the detective replied.
“Did you or Roberto have to drag him to the jet to show him the $700,000?” the prosecutor asked.
“No,” Mr. Dominguez replied.
The day’s testimony concluded at 2:30 p.m. on Thursday. The trial did not resume on Friday due to a scheduling conflict, and it was instead scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. Monday, Judge Williams said.