After police detained 14 migrants following a Nov. 24 raid in Baughers Bay, three men are now facing charges of harbouring and assisting in illegal entry, with two of them facing an additional charge of illegal entry, which carries a maximum sentence of a $100,000 fine or 10 years imprisonment.
According to the allegations read by Crown Counsel Kristain Johnson during a Tuesday Magistrates’ Court hearing, Jerome Hopkins Jr., Cassini Skelton, and Danny Dennevil were implicated in a scheme to transport at least 28 Haitian and South American migrants to St. John. While Messrs. Skelton and Dennevil brought the migrants into the territory after their vessel left them stranded in the ocean, at least 14 of them were sheltered in Mr. Hopkins’ residence while waiting to travel to the US Virgin Islands, Mr. Johnson alleged.
The accused did not enter pleas during Tuesday’s hearing, but in interviews with the police, Mr. Hopkins claimed that he had been renting the apartment where the migrants were found and did not know they were there, and Mr. Skelton accepted the charge of assisting in illegal entry, the prosecutor read.
After Mr. Johnson read the allegations, Magistrate Tamia Richards denied bail for Messrs. Skelton and Dennevil, but granted Mr. Hopkins bail of $40,000 with conditions.
According to Mr. Johnson, police and immigration officers conducted an operation at Mr. Hopkins’ Baughers Bay apartment on Nov. 24 after “receiving information” that people who had entered the territory illegally were being housed in this property.
Police discovered 14 people hiding in the building and saw three other people they suspected to be migrants running into the bushes and escaping capture, the prosecutor read.
Of the 14 taken into custody, seven were Venezuelans, six were Haitians, and one was Peruvian, Mr. Johnson added.
Immigration officials then determined that all 14 landed in the territory without permission, Mr. Johnson alleged.
With the aid of French and Spanish interpreters, several of the migrants were interviewed and gave witness statements.
According to Mr. Johnson,“investigations revealed that” on Nov. 20, a vessel departed from St. Maarten with 28 passengers who had all paid to be transported to St. John, a journey that should only take four hours.
Mr. Johnson did not say when or by whom these investigations were conducted.
Engine failure, however, caused the journey to last 18 hours, he alleged.
At some point, the captain of the vessel contacted Messrs. Skelton and Dennevil to come and transport the migrants to VI shores, Mr. Johnson alleged.
“That vessel arrived on the [VI] territorial shores sometime in the afternoon” of Nov. 21, he read. Messrs. Skelton and Dennevil told the migrants that they would charge an additional $1,000 to bring the migrants to the US Virgin Islands, and then brought them to the Baughers Bay residence, Mr. Johnson alleged.
A number of Brazilian nationals who were able to pay the additional fee only spent one night at Mr. Hopkins’ residence, Mr. Johnson alleged.
$100 per night
Investigations also revealed that Mr. Hopkins made several visits to the residence and charged the migrants $100 a night, Mr. Johnson alleged, adding that “the defendant … was observed collecting cash from the illegal immigrants.”
“Investigations also revealed that all three defendants colluded to extract additional cash from the defendants,” he added.
According to the prosecutor, Mr. Dennevil collected cash from Western Union on behalf of some of the migrants and Mr. Skelton gave cash to Mr. Hopkins.
All three defendants shared concerns that the Haitians Would be unable to pay for housing at Mr. Hopkins’ residence, Mr. Johnson alleged.
At around 7:30 p.m. last Thursday, investigators were interviewing witnesses at the Hotel Castle Maria in McNamara when Messrs. Skelton and Dennevil “arrived there along with female companions,” Mr. Johnson alleged.
Two of the witnesses identified the defendants as the men who brought them to the VI, and roughly 30 minutes later, Messrs. Skelton and Dennevil were arrested under suspicion of smuggling and cautioned, according to the prosecutor.
“They made no reply,” he added.
Officers confiscated their phones “and certain information pertinent to the investigation was documented,” Mr. Johnson alleged.
On Friday evening, officers with the special investigations team conducted a seven-minute cautioned and tape-recorded interview with Mr. Skelton, during which the accused declined to answer their questions, Mr. Johnson alleged.
Around 7 p.m. that same day, special investigations officers also conducted a cautioned interview with Mr. Dennevil, who said that he and Mr. Skelton had brought food to two Spanish-speaking people staying at Mr. Hopkins’ residence, Mr. Johnson alleged.
“He also admitted to providing details of his identity to two persons and that he subsequently received cash on their behalf, which he kept for himself,” Mr. Johnson read.
At 7:51 p.m., Mr. Skelton was formally charged with illegal entry and cautioned, and refused to sign his charge sheet but “accepted a copy of the written charge,” Mr. Johnson read.
According to the prosecutor, Mr. Dennevil was formally charged and cautioned with the same offence at 7:49 p.m.
He made no comment, Mr. Johnson added.
Earlier that day, at about 3p.m., Mr. Hopkins “voluntarily came” to the Road Town Police Station and was arrested on suspicion of assisting in illegal entry, Mr. Johnson alleged.
After being cautioned, Mr. Hopkins replied, ‘“First time I see landlord,”’ Mr. Johnson read.
The accused then handed the police a receipt and said that he rented the property to someone and did not know what was happening there, Mr. Johnson alleged.
During a later interview, Mr. Hopkins denied the allegations put to him, Mr. Johnson alleged.
At about 5:10 p.m. on Saturday, Mr. Hopkins was formally charged with assisting in illegal entry, cautioned and made no reply, Mr. Johnson alleged.
On Saturday afternoon, Mr. Skelton was given an additional charge of assisting in illegal entry, and after being cautioned replied, ‘“That charge I can accept because all I did was assist them. … I put them on a mooring ball; that was it,’” the prosecutor read.
At 5:56 p.m. on Saturday at the East End Police Station, Mr. Dennevil was charged with illegal entry and cautioned and made no reply, Mr. Johnson read.
“There is something known against defendant Jerome Hopkins Jr., and nothing known against defendant Danny Dennevil or [Mr.] Skelton,” Mr. Johnson read.
Mr. Johnson said that the Crown objected to bail for Messrs. Skelton and Dennevil, arguing that Mr. Dennevil poses a significant flight risk and a risk to “the public interest.”
Although Ms. Richards had not received the complaint by the time of Tuesday’s hearing, Mr. Johnson said that a complaint of obtaining property by deception against Mr. Dennevil has been drafted, signed, and “has been laid for all intents and purposes.”
The prosecutor said that this is a serious offence punishable by ten years of imprisonment and “the strength of the evidence … is of such quality that it also proves the other three offences for which Mr. Deniville has been charged,” Mr. Johnson alleged.
The prosecutor added that Mr. Deniville is currently under $40,000 bail for illegal entry and breach of curfew, and has access to boats and “the ability to flee the jurisdiction at any moment.” Mr. Johnson also objected to granting bail to Mr. Skelton based on the strength of the evidence, as the defendant admitted under caution to assisting individuals at sea,“thus in essence putting himself on the scene where he was in fact identified by three of the witnesses who gave statements.”
The prosecutor also said there is forensic evidence in the form of a two-minute-and-nine-second WhatsApp voice note sent from Mr. Skelton’s phone to a contact in St. Maarten, in which Mr. Skelton “claimed that he had to feed people, pay for their hotel and their accommodations,” referring to the migrants, Mr. Johnson read.
He added that Mr. Skelton is a United States citizen with no status in the territory or significant ties to the community.
“Investigations are ongoing in this matter, from which other more serious offences are likely to be birthed which carry a significant penalty of imprisonment,” Mr. Johnson added.
Attorneys Valerie Gordon, Stephen Daniels and Leroy Jones all applied for their clients’ bail. After listening to their submissions, Ms. Richards denied bail for Messrs. Dennevil and Skelton but granted Mr. Hopkins bail of $40,000 with the conditions that he provide the exact location of his house and follow a daily curfew from 6p.m. to 6 a.m.