After Jennifer Smith directed police to a key for the residence where she was allegedly harbouring her boyfriend, escaped prisoner Jose Almestica, officers searched the apartment and recovered a “plethora” of drugs, guns and cash, Director of Public Prosecutions Tiffany Scatliffe-Esprit alleged during an arraignment last Thursday. 

“When I say plethora, … we never found so much of these items in the history of this territory,” Ms. Scatliffe-Esprit Said. 

Ms. Smith is now facing a charge of harbouring a prisoner and Mr. Almestica is facing a charge of escaping lawful custody, Magistrate Tamia Richards read last Thursday. 

Ms. Scatliffe-Esprit said police expect to arrest at least ten more people in connection with the matter. 

Two of those arrested were siblings Shamal and Renee Smith, who police said aren’t related to Jennifer Smith. 

Both were charged with harbouring a prisoner for their alleged role in housing and assisting Mr. Almestica, Ms. Richards read during their Tuesday arraignment. 

Although the DPP alleged last Thursday that police found large quantities of illegal contraband, Ms. Richards did not announce drug or gun charges against any of the defendants in these matters. 

Defence attorney Ruthilia Maximea, who represented Mr. Almestica last Thursday, did not apply for his bail, and Ms. Richards denied attorney Jamal Smith’s bail request for Ms. Smith. 

Before reading the allegations against Mr. Almestica and Ms. Smith last Thursday, Ms. Scatliffe-Esprit made a submission to have the press barred from the virtual court hearing, saying that publicising the allegations against the pair could jeopardise ongoing police investigations. The defence attorneys, however, argued that it was in the public interest for the hearing to remain open, and Ms. Richards decided in their favour. 

The allegations 

Ms. Scatliffe-Esprit read the allegations. 

“As a result of investigations into an unrelated matter,” she said, major crime team and special investigations officers on patrol “found” Mr. Almestica on Dec. 7 and arrested him because they knew he was wanted for escaping from the prison. 

“He was immediately arrested … and they had difficulty in restraining him,” Ms. Scatliffe-Esprit alleged. 

The officers then took Mr. Almestica to a West End residence where he was believed to be staying, the prosecutor read. 

There the police found the drugs, guns and cash, Ms. Scatliffe-Esprit alleged, adding that Mr. Almestica had a gun in his possession when he was arrested. 

Police investigations also revealed that Ms. Smith “was a close associate … of Mr. Almestica,” according to the DPP. 

Before his escape from prison following Hurricane Irma, Mr. Almestica was arrested in August 2016 for unlawful possession of a firearm, unlawful possession of explosives, and possession of the proceeds of criminal conduct, Ms. Scatliffe-Esprit read. 

With his trial scheduled for December 2017, Mr. Almestica was on remand at the prison when Irma destroyed the facility on Sept. 6, and he subsequently made his escape, the prosecutor added. 

Jennifer Smith arrest 

On Dec. 7, police met Jennifer Smith while she was reversing into the parking lot of what they believed to be the residence where Mr. Almestica was living, Ms. Scatliffe-Esprit alleged. 

The search 

When Ms. Richards asked for clarification about the allegations, the DPP read that Ms. Smith led the police to a rock close to the main door, where they retrieved a key to the apartment and subsequently executed their search. 

After being taken to the police station, both Mr. Almestica and Ms. Smith declined to give interviews, Ms. Scatliffe-Esprit read. 

“As a result of those findings, police have currently taken two or more people into custody, with the hopes of apprehending another 10 or so persons,” the DPP read. 

Ms. Scatliffe-Esprit further alleged that Mr. Almestica maybe connected to other criminal offences that have occurred in the territory, and that Ms. Smith and members of her family have been “assisting” Mr. Almestica. 

Food, rental cars 

In addition to harbouring the fugitive, they provided him food and rental cars, “amongst other things,” the prosecutor read. 

Ms. Scatliffe-Esprit clarified that she had read out “the edited version” of the allegations. 

Opposing bail 

After reading the allegations, the DPP said she opposed granting bail to Mr. Almestica, as he has previous convictions and no legal status or community ties in the Virgin Islands. 

She added that police said Mr. Almestica “has made several attempts again to escape” since he has been in custody.

The DPP also opposed granting bail to Ms. Smith, alleging that she and her family members are fully aware of the offences with which Mr. Almestica is involved, and that her access to vessels makes her a flight risk. 

Ms. Scatliffe-Esprit also warned that Ms. Smith “will hinder” ongoing investigations relating to Mr. Almestica. 

She added, “Based on what was found, it is more likely than not that she will receive additional charges.” 

When Ms. Richards asked for details about Ms. Smith, the DPP replied that the accused is a Virgin Islander from Sea Cows Bay, and that members of her family are persons of interest in the matter. 

Bail application 

When making the application for his client’s bail, Mr. Smith said Ms. Smith is 26years old and helps her mother care for her “incapacitated” father. 

The attorney added that Ms. Smith and her mother operate a bar and restaurant. 

“She has no other ties elsewhere, is of good character,” and has “no antecedents,” Mr. Smith said. 

The attorney asked that the court consider “this application in light of the care and attention needed for her father.” 

He added that the court could impose conditions on the bail if concerned about Ms. Smith’s access to vessels or the risk of her interference in investigations. 

Ms. Maximea did not request bail for Mr. Almestica, though she said he is a 34-year-old St. Thomas native and has “made frequent trips to and from the British Virgin Islands” since 2016. Both of Mr. Almestica’s parents reside outside the VI, and he works as a landscaper, Ms. Maximea added. 

After considering Ms. Maximea’s application, Ms. Richards declined to grant bail to Ms. Smith, citing the seriousness of the allegation of harbouring an escaped inmate for four years; strong evidence included in the allegations; and the allegations that her family members are involved as well. 

The magistrate adjourned the matter until Feb. 2. 

Shamal and Renee Smith 

While reading the allegations against Renee Smith on Tuesday, Principal Crown Counsel Kellee Gai-Smith said that after Mr. Almestica was captured on Dec. 7, police searched his residence. “The investigations revealed that the premises … he occupied was rented by [Ms. Smith],” Ms. Gai-Smith alleged. 

She further alleged that police found “large quantities” of guns, ammunition, cocaine and marijuana, as well as two motorcycles.

The prosecutor alleged that upon receiving information that Ms. Smith was considering leaving Tortola, police went “to the Road Town ferry, where she was found” and arrested on suspicion of harbouring a prisoner, Ms. Gai-Smith alleged. 

Police executed a search warrant later that day “at her premises,” where they found a receipt for rent paid at the residence where Mr. Almestica was found, Ms. Gai-Smith alleged.

“She was shown the receipt and she made no response,” the prosecutor read. 

Motorcycles 

The Crown counsel added that Shamal Smith was arrested last Thursday when police executed a search warrant on “his premises” and found documents related to motorcycles that were found at “Mr. Almestica’s location.” 

Ms. Gai-Smith read that on Nov. 29, a phone number attributed to Mr. Almestica called a local restaurant to place an order, and that order was later picked up by Shamal Smith in a Mazda owned by Ms. Smith. 

During a recorded interview last Thursday, Mr. Smith said he had met Mr. Almestica in 2020, and that he sometimes ran errands for him and visited him at his residence, the Crown counsel alleged. 

Ms. Gai-Smith read that “he further admitted that he knew that Mr. Almestica was an escapee from Her Majesty’s Prison,” and was formally charged with harbouring a prisoner and cautioned. He made no response upon being cautioned, Ms. Gai-Smith added. 

During a police interview with Ms. Smith, she denied the allegations, but she was formally charged with harbouring a prisoner, Ms. Gai-Smith said. 

The prosecutor read that police found receipts in Ms. Smith’s name for the $5,500 monthly rent of Mr. Almestica’s residence, although she admitted that she made $1,800 a month as a cashier for the BVI Health Services Authority. 

Bail application 

After Ms. Gai-Smith read the allegations against the defendants, their attorney, Stephen Daniels, made an application for their bail. 

According to Mr. Daniels, Ms. Smith is a 33-year-old Virgin Islander who resides in Hannahs Estate and has a 12-year-old child. 

Mr. Daniels also claimed that Ms. Smith had no knowledge that “a prisoner had escaped” from the prison, and added that “as far as my research shows,” there is no perpetual warrant out for Mr. Almestica’s arrest, and there haven’t been any wanted bulletins since an October 2017 notice on the police’s Facebook page and a November 2017 “request” in this newspaper. 

He said that Ms. Smith is not a flight risk and disputed Ms. Gai-Smith’s allegation that she was found at the ferry terminal attempting to leave the territory. 

According to Mr. Daniels, Ms. Smith was found with her mother in the BVIHSA parking lot. 

Mr. Smith, meanwhile, is 31 and has two children, Mr. Daniels said. 

He also works at the BVIHSA as a billings and admissions officer, and was born in the United States VI although he is a belonger. 

When Ms. Richards asked about the prosecutor’s allegation that he admitted in a police interview to knowing that Mr. Almestica was a fugitive, Mr. Daniels replied, “All he knew is [Mr. Almestica] is wanted in another … jurisdiction. That is how I received the instructions.” 

Ms. Richards denied bail for both defendants, citing among her reasons the fact that Ms. Smith appears to have cash resources that would allow her to abscond from the territory, and that Mr. Smith is entitled to live anywhere in the continental US and has admitted “that he harboured a fugitive.” 

“I believe that they each pose an unacceptable risk of fleeing,” Ms. Richards said.


ADVERTISEMENT