After fugitive Jose Almestica was arrested on Dec. 7 and charged with escaping lawful custody following a search at his residence that yielded record quantities of illegal contraband, Director of Public Prosecutions Tiffany Scatliffe-Esprit said more arrests and charges were likely to follow.
With three others already arrested in connection to Mr. Almestica, the scope of his alleged criminal activities became clearer on Jan. 7, when Police Commissioner Mark Collins announced 28 additional charges against him and described in detail for the first time the extent of the drugs, guns and cash found at his residence.
According to Mr. Collins, police recovered almost 500 kilograms of cocaine worth some $50 million, 5.8 kilograms of cannabis, hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, and 20 firearms, seven of which were high-powered weapons.
In connection with the stash, Mr. Almestica was further charged with 11 counts of keeping an unlicensed firearm; four counts of keeping a prohibited weapon; one count of carrying an unlicensed firearm; eight counts of unlawful possession of ammunition; and four counts of possession of a controlled drug with intent to supply, according to Mr. Collins.
“We consider Mr. Almestica’s recapture [to be] substantial. He is obviously a lead player in the drug and arms trade not just in the BVI but in the [United States Virgin Islands],” the commissioner said.
Other charges likely
He added that other charges are likely to be brought against Mr. Almestica, who he said “spent a number of years traversing the seas between the territories.”
“Law enforcement agencies in both jurisdictions had hoped to recapture him before he was aware he was on the radar, which we did,” Mr. Collins said.
The commissioner also announced additional charges against the three people accused of assisting Mr. Almestica after he escaped from Her Majesty’s Prison following Hurricane Irma.
After initially being charged with harbouring a prisoner, Jennifer Smith, Shamal Smith and Renee Smith each have additionally been charged with 11 counts of keeping an unlicensed firearm, three counts of keeping a prohibited weapon, and seven counts of unlawful possession of ammunition, Mr. Collins said.
While reading the allegations against Mr. Almestica and Jennifer Smith during their arraignment on Dec. 9, Ms. Scatliffe-Esprit said police officers arrested Mr. Almestica on Dec. 7 and then brought him to a West End residence where he was believed to be staying.
The prosecutor also alleged that police apprehended Ms. Smith as she was reversing into the home’s driveway that day.
Ms. Smith pointed the officers to a rock near the main door, where they retrieved a key to the residence and executed a search, Ms. Scatliffe-Esprit said.
In addition to harbouring Mr. Almestica, Ms. Smith and members of her family provided him food and rental cars, “amongst other things,” the DPP alleged
Attorney Ruthilia Maximea did not apply for Mr. Almestica’s bail, and Magistrate Tamia Richards denied attorney Jamal Smith’s application for Ms. Smith’s bail, citing the strength of evidence in the allegations and the alleged involvement of her family, among other reasons.
During the Dec. 14 arraignment of Shamal and Renee Smith — who police said are siblings but not related to Jennifer Smith — Principal Crown Counsel Kellee Gai-Smith alleged the pair also helped Mr. Almestica evade capture.
According to Ms. Gai-Smith, Renee Smith rented the residence where Mr. Almestica was living while Shamal Smith ran errands for and visited with the fugitive.
Their bail applications were denied by Ms. Richards.
“I believe that they each pose an unacceptable risk of fleeing,” she said.