On Sunday afternoon, United States and Virgin Islands law enforcement officers chased a boat from US waters onto a Tortola shore, confiscating a stash of cocaine they said is worth $45 million and arresting a man who allegedly tried to flee in a nearby truck.
During the Tuesday arraignment of Olicity McMillan-Lanns, prosecutors alleged that the 24-year-old imported more than 453 kilograms of cocaine into the territory, and Senior Magistrate Tamia Richards denied bail, citing his potential to flee and his possible ties to the criminal underworld.
Leroy Jones, Mr. McMillan-Lanns’ attorney, said his client maintains his innocence and intends to “vigorously defend” himself in court.
Mr. McMillan-Lanns is charged with importation of a controlled drug, possession of a controlled drug, and being concerned in the supply of a controlled drug to another.
After Ms. Richards read the charges, Senior Crown Counsel Patrice Hickson detailed the allegations.
On Sunday afternoon, Mr. McMillan-Lanns and others aboard a 38-foot go-fast boat were spotted east of St. Croix and travelling towards two other vessels, Ms. Hickson alleged.
Officers saw several bales of what appeared to be cocaine aboard the boat, which was speeding towards the VI, according to the prosecutor.
The boat continued towards the western shore of Tortola and a chase ensued, with US and VI law enforcement officers bearing down on the vessel. Meanwhile, people on board the boat were seen throwing bales into the water near Sopers Hole, the Crown Counsel alleged.
In a Monday interview with the Beacon, Customs Commissioner Wade Smith, who also chairs the territory’s Joint Task Force, said at least six JTF officers aboard two boats pursued the runaway vessel in VI waters.
Eventually, the boat ran aground near Fort Recovery, and the boaters abandoned the vessel and drove off in a Toyota Tacoma truck, the prosecutor read.
Officers in a helicopter overhead followed the truck and saw it enter Carrot Bay, Ms. Hickson alleged.
“The defendant was then seen running from the area of the vehicle, and he was taken into custody by the police,” Ms. Hickson said.
She did not say how many other people were aboard the boat or where they went.
Mr. McMillan-Lanns and the truck were both taken to the Road Town Police Station, where he was cautioned and questioned in an audio-visual interview, the Crown counsel read.
Later in the day, she added, a search warrant was executed at his house, where investigators found $2,244.
On Monday the truck was “forensically examined,” and officers removed articles of clothing including a red shirt, Ms. Hickson said.
After the allegations were read, Mr. Jones applied for his client’s bail, stating that he was born in New York but has belonger status and resides in Hannahs Estate.
The lawyer added that Mr. McMillan-Lanns, who he claimed owns a heavy equipment and trucking business, has no previous criminal convictions, and provides financially and physically for his elderly grandparents while also caring for his 7-month-old child.
Ms. Hickson, however, contended that Mr. McMillan-Lanns should not receive bail, saying that his connections to the US and apparent connections to a vessel make him a flight risk.
Additionally, the seriousness of the crimes for which he is charged, the prevalence of such crimes in recent months, the fact that others allegedly aboard the boat remain at large, and the quantity of cocaine that he is alleged to have imported all should disqualify him from receiving bail, Ms. Hickson argued.
Ms. Richards sided with the prosecution.
The amount of cocaine Mr. McMillan-Lanns and his associates are alleged to have brought into the territory suggests “that the defendant must have, if the allegations are true, major underworld drug connections,” Ms. Richards said.
Because of the VI’s proximity to the US and Mr. McMillan-Lanns’ ties to that country, ordering him to surrender his travel documents would not ensure he does not abscond before his trial, Ms. Richards said.
The defendant’s familial responsibilities and connections to the VI also are not surefire safeguards against his leaving the territory, Ms. Richards added.
“It is not as if it’s unheard of that a person … facing a long prison term has never fled this jurisdiction where they are from,” said Ms. Richards, who scheduled his next hearing for May 10.
Speaking to the Beacon on Monday Mr. Smith hailed the operation as a cross-border law enforcement success.
“This was an excellent display of VI and US assets working together to achieve a common goal,” the customs commissioner said.
Mr. Smith said the boat is in the Customs Department’s possession, but he declined to comment on how many people were aboard.