The April 28 arrest of then-Premier Andrew Fahie in Miami plunged the Virgin Islands into the most uncertain period in recent history and sullied the reputation and political ambitions of a man who has never lost a race for First District representative since he first came to office in 1999.
At a trial that could start as early as next month, Mr. Fahie and BVI Ports Authority Managing Director Oleanvine Maynard would have a chance to clear their names and secure their freedom.
But if other cases are any indication, they face steep odds.
Fewer than 10 percent of defendants facing similar charges go to trial, with many of them taking plea deals, according to Miami lawyer Jeff Weiner, who has argued before the US Supreme Court and was formerly president of the Washington DC-based National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.
And in federal cases, the prosecution is often victorious, Mr. Weiner said.
“In federal court they don’t bring cases unless, generally, the government feels it’s a strong case,” said Mr. Weiner, who reviewed case documents sent by the Beacon, including the April 28 complaint and the May 10 indictment.
Though Mr. Weiner cautioned that his knowledge of the case is limited and he declined to speculate on the outcome, he said the conviction rate in US federal court is well over 90 percent.
And the government’s case, he said, appears “incredibly strong.”
“When you read the complaint, when you read everything, … the evidence against [Mr. Fahie] is overwhelming,” Mr. Weiner said, noting that Mr. Fahie’s purported statements and alleged acceptance of cash could prove particularly important.
Mr. Fahie’s attorney, however, has said he plans to plead not guilty, and his defence team is not without options.
Though Mr. Weiner said he did not know enough about the case to speculate on the defence’s likely strategy, he laid out several possibilities: an attempt to get the charges dismissed by arguing that Mr. Fahie was a head of state at the time of his arrest; an attack on the confidential source who allegedly recorded several conversations with Mr. Fahie, potentially arguing that the CS had side conversations or failed to record calls that cast doubt on the allegations; or a claim that because the arrest was the result of a sting operation Mr. Fahie was a victim of entrapment who was not predisposed to commit a crime.
Following their arrests on April 28, Mr. Fahie, Ms. Maynard and her son Kadeem Maynard were indicted by a Florida grand jury on May 10 for conspiracy to import a controlled substance, conspiracy to engage in money laundering, and attempted money laundering.
But on the May 26 order setting the pre-trial schedule and procedures, only Mr. Fahie and Ms. Maynard are listed as defendants.
While Mr. Maynard’s omission from the pre-trial schedule may be a clerical error, it could also suggest that Mr. Maynard has struck a deal with the prosecutors and may not be tried alongside his co-defendants, according to Mr. Weiner.
On Tuesday, an official at the Southern Florida District Court said that there was nothing to indicate that Mr. Maynard had been omitted from the pre-trial schedule by accident, and declined to comment when asked if he would still be tried.
However, given that Mr. Maynard was arrested in St. Thomas — in a different prosecuting district — he could also “just be going at different times,” the court official added.
Although the trial is initially set for the two-week trial calendar beginning July 18, Mr. Weiner said the beginning of the trial will probably be delayed.
In such a serious case, in which there could be hours of video and audio tapes on top of witness statements and other evidence, most reasonable judges would allow the case to be “continued” and pushed forward on the calendar, Mr. Weiner said.
“I would say the likelihood of this case being tried in July is slim to none,” he added.
On Monday, Ms. Van Vliet indeed requested more time, writing in a filing that she was unable to meet yesterday’s deadline for filing pre-trial motions and “unable to file any anticipated request for a continuance of the currently set trial date until there is access to the discovery.”
As such, Mr. Fahie has requested that all current deadlines be stayed by 14 days so that he can access “the government’s production” with a reasonable amount of time to propose a pre-trial schedule and trial setting, Ms. Van Vliet added.
Possible plea deals
In the meantime, it is also possible that prosecutors will offer one or more of the defendants a plea deal, Mr. Weiner said.
The lawyer said Mr. Fahie is unlikely to be offered such a deal, given that he is the main target of the investigation, but prosecutors are more likely to offer deals to one or both of the Maynards in exchange for testifying against the former premier.
If Mr. Fahie does get a deal, the lawyer said, it would probably not be close to what prosecutors are likely to offer his co-defendants.
Mr. Weiner declined to speculate on what conditions prosecutors are likely to attach to plea deals, citing his unfamiliarity with the case.
While the process of jury selection in US federal court is largely the same regardless of the charges a defendant faces, different judges might choose to approach it in different ways, Mr. Weiner said.
Some judges ask all the questions of potential jurors; others ask a series of basic questions and then allow the prosecution and defence to ask questions as well, Mr. Weiner said.
Also, depending on how long the trial is expected to take, there may be up to two alternate jurors, he added.
For a conviction, all 12 jurors must reach a unanimous verdict, the attorney said.
When Mr. Fahie shows up to trial, he will be arriving to the courthouse from his daughters’ rented apartment, instead of from the Federal Detention Center in downtown Miami where he initially spent weeks in custody.
‘Bobby’ Hodge’s help
After a month-long battle with prosecutors, his lawyer secured a $1 million bond offer for Mr. Fahie, who was released on June 13 after his childhood friend and prominent VI businessman Albion “Bobby” Hodge posted a $500,000 bond and satisfied a Nebbia requirement by proving that the money was not the proceeds of crime.
Besides the $500,000 corporate surety bond posted by Mr. Hodge, Mr. Fahie also had to post a $500,000 personal surety bond co-signed by himself, his daughter and a friend.
As part of his corporate surety bond conditions, Mr. Fahie is required to undergo 24/7 GPS monitoring, and he is prohibited from leaving his daughters’ apartment even for attorney visits.
He also had to sign an extradition waiver, which he did the day of his release.
Ms. Maynard is being held at FDC Miami after a US magistrate judge on May 11 ordered that she be detained pending trial based on her alleged flight risk and danger to the community.
Her son is being detained at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico.